The following information has been prepared in response to queries about recent developments in the Diocese of South Carolina. It includes an overview and timeline of events related to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Mark Lawrence, including pastoral outreach, details of Title IV, and next steps.
- Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori along with members of her staff have taken many steps to work with Bishop Lawrence, and she continues to encourage openness to various paths forward.
· Title IV actions were initiated by members of the Diocese of South Carolina, not the Presiding Bishop.
- Once Title IV actions are initiated, the Presiding Bishop must abide by the canons and has no influence over the proceedings.
- Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church. While some clergy and individuals may choose to leave, congregations and property remain in the diocese to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church (The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society).
Pastoral outreach to Bishop Mark Lawrence has been ongoing over a period of several years, including up to the time he announced his intentions.
The Bishops of Province IV gather twice a year, and Lawrence was in attendance at most or all of those meetings. During each gathering Lawrence was asked what was happening in the Diocese of South Carolina, to which he repeatedly claimed he was “trying” to hold diverse opinions together and keep the Diocese in the Episcopal Church.
In spring 2010 a private meeting was held in Charleston at the request of the Presiding Bishop to see if the trajectory that was apparent could be changed. Also in 2010 several letters and conversations were exchanged between Lawrence and Bishop Clifton Daniel of East Carolina, who is President of Province IV. Additionally during this period, the Presiding Bishop and Lawrence engaged in private conversations. Other bishops, most notably Bishop Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina, attempted to intervene and to offer practical help.
Repeated attempts have been made to discuss the situation with Lawrence and to offer help in achieving resolution.
Title IV Overview
In 2009, General Convention adopted new or amended provisions for Title IV Disciplinary Canons discipline of clergy, including bishops.
New Canon IV.16(A) provided that the body to examine evidence of putative abandonment by a bishop was to be a new “Disciplinary Board for Bishops” created under Canon IV.17(3). The Disciplinary Board for Bishops is composed of 10 bishops elected by the House of Bishops and four lay and four clergy persons elected by the House of Deputies.
When the Presiding Bishop receives such a “certificate” from the Disciplinary Board that a bishop has abandoned the Episcopal Church, several canonical actions must ensue, including that the Presiding Bishop “shall then place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop. . . .” Canon IV.16(A)(1). The canons state that the “restriction” is to last “until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.” In this case, the House of Bishops meeting is slated for March 2013. There is no provision in the canons allowing the Presiding Bishop to waive or terminate the “restriction” except under precise provisions noted below.
While the “restriction” is in effect, “the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.”
Within 60 days after the bishop’s ministry has been restricted, he or she may appeal to demonstrate that the facts alleged in the “certificate” are “false,” or make a “good faith retraction” of such facts, in which case the Presiding Bishop with the consent of the Disciplinary Board, “shall terminate” the restriction. The bishop may also voluntarily renounce his or her ordained ministry in this Church under Canon III.12(7). Canon IV.16(A)(2).
If none of the foregoing occurs, the Presiding Bishop must “present the matter to the House of Bishops” at its next meeting. If the House consents, the Presiding Bishop “shall depose the Bishop from the ministry” of this Church.
On November 28, 2011, the Disciplinary Board announced that it had received information from a group of communicants in the Diocese of South Carolina allegedly showing that Lawrence had abandoned the Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church.
In its November 28 statement in response, the Disciplinary Board stated that “[b]ased on the information before it, the Board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Church.”
On September 18, 2012, the Disciplinary Board signed a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church and Statement of the Acts or Declarations Which Show Such Abandonment” in the case of the Bishop of South Carolina.
In its “certificate,” the Disciplinary Board announced that it had “reviewed complaints from twelve adult communicants in good standing resident in the Diocese of South Carolina and two priests canonically resident in that Diocese. . . .”
The Disciplinary Board recited three “Acts” by the bishop to show such abandonment:
- First, resolutions came before the diocesan convention in 2010 proposing, among other things, to amend the diocesan Constitution to qualify the diocese’s accession to the Constitution of the Church and to remove any provision acceding to the canons of the Church, as well as proposals to amend the diocesan Canons to remove all references to the canons of the Church. The Disciplinary Board found:
“The failure of Bishop Lawrence to rule these resolutions out of order or otherwise to dissent from their adoption, and in fact his endorsement of these resolutions in his address to the 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
· Second, in October 2011, Bishop Lawrence, as President of the diocese’s nonprofit corporation, filed amendments to the corporate charter deleting all references to the Church and obedience to its Constitution and canons. The Disciplinary Board found:
“Bishop Lawrence’s action in signing, executing, and filing of the Articles of Amendment altering the stated purpose of the nonprofit corporation known as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
· Third, in November 2011, Bishop Lawrence either signed or directed others to sign, “quitclaim deeds to every parish of the Diocese of South Carolina disclaiming any interest in the real estate held by or for the benefit of each parish.” The Disciplinary Board found:
“Bishop Lawrence’s action in directing the issuance of these quitclaim deeds in an effort to impair the trust interest of The Episcopal Church and of the Diocese of South Carolina in the affected real estate, and in personally executing such quitclaim deeds, violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duties to ‘safeguard the property and funds of the Church’ and to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
The Disciplinary Board therefore “request[ed] that the Presiding Bishop record this Certificate and Statement and take such further action concerning Bishop Mark J. Lawrence as may be required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.”
Presiding Bishop’s actions
On Monday, October 15, 2012, the Presiding Bishop notified Lawrence by telephone that the Disciplinary Board had certified to her that he had engaged in conduct “constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
The Presiding Bishop in the same conversation notified him that shortly before she placed that telephone call she had in writing “placed a restriction on the exercise of ministry of Bishop Lawrence ‘until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.’” She explained that the document also stated that “[d]uring the period of such restriction, ‘the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.’”
On the same day, copies of both the Disciplinary Board’s “Certificate,” together with all pertinent attachments, and the restriction on the exercise of his ministry were e-mailed to Lawrence through his Chancellor.
In her call to Lawrence on October 15, the Presiding Bishop told him that she would not make the developments public until after Monday, October 22, when Lawrence and Bishop Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, together with their Chancellors, were scheduled to have a confidential meeting with the Presiding Bishop in New York. She understood Lawrence to agree to the confidentiality of these developments until that time.
The Presiding Bishop received a telephone call from Lawrence on Wednesday, October 17, in which she understood him to say he could not keep the agreement to hold the Board’s “Certificate” and the restriction on ministry in confidence until after the following Monday’s meeting. She understood him to explain that the Chancellor of the Diocese had concluded that under the Diocese’s rules, the disciplinary action against Lawrence had triggered a change in the status of the Diocese to the effect of its having “disassociated” from the Episcopal Church.
On the same day, an announcement on the diocesan website stated that the “leadership” of the Diocese “had in place resolutions which would become effective upon any action by TEC [i.e., Church].” The statement continued: “As a result of TEC’s attack against our Bishop, the Diocese of South Carolina is disassociated from TEC, that is, its accession to the TEC Constitution and its membership in TEC have been withdrawn.”
Later that week, Lawrence telephoned the Presiding Bishop to say that he was not in a position to meet with her and Bishop Waldo in New York the following Monday as planned.
The Continuing Diocese of South Carolina
Leading lay and clergy persons in the Diocese of South Carolina have begun to plan for the reorganization of the continuing Diocese. A small group of persons representing the breadth of the Diocese has agreed to recruit persons to form a Steering Committee to undertake preparation for a meeting of the Diocesan Convention within the next few months. This follows the pattern set by other dioceses where the former bishop and lay and clergy leaders had left the church.
The next annual meeting of the diocesan convention has previously been set for March 8, 2013.
(Note: Lawrence and diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church have called a meeting for November 17 purportedly of the diocesan convention. This meeting is not a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina.)
The Steering Committee at the same time sought assistance and guidance from the Presiding Bishop’s Office.
On Thursday, October 25, representatives of the Presiding Bishop met in Charleston with a small group of lay and clergy persons of the Diocese of South Carolina to outline steps that could be taken by such a Steering Committee. Such a group would, among other things, also be in close communication with the Presiding Bishop during the reorganization effort.
The Presiding Bishop’s Office expects this Steering Committee to announce its formation, its members, and the elements of a reorganization plan in cooperation with the Presiding Bishop within the next several days.