Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Record of Depositions (1927)



Bishop of Vermont

I HAVE been asked by the Editor to write a note for THE LIVING CHURCH on the new provisions in Canon 36, making a distinction between (1) Depositions as acts of discipline, and (2) the Release of a man, on his own voluntary renunciation, from the obligations of the ministerial office, with deprivation of its gifts and spiritual authority; and on the manner in which, in my judgment, these should respectively be recorded. Special reference is asked to the note and list on page 251 of the Living Church Annual for 1927.

1. It should be remarked that no “new canon” was passed, at New Orleans. Number 36, “Of Renunciation of the Ministry,” remains with certain modifications and newly inserted provisions.

2. It had been long felt by some that a plainer and broader distinction should be made-both for the sake of the Church and of the man-between Deposition as an act of discipline for cause, and Removal from the Ministry where there was no foregoing misconduct or irregularity, but perhaps conditions of health or realization of a mistaken vocation. This was only partially met by the declaration and certificate that the Deposition was for causes not affecting the man’s moral character; the ugly term “Deposition” remained. On the other hand it was felt that simply to accept a man’s resignation and remove his name from the roll of the clergy (as was proposed in the House of Deputies in 1877) would be to set free from any restraint a man still in Holy Orders, who might (in some cases) claim again to exercise his ministry with the possible consequences of the forming of schismatic congregations or the administration of doubtful Sacraments. The declaration that in accepting the man’s renunciation the Church also acts and withdraws the spiritual powers given at Ordination was felt to be vital, and with this addition the release from ministerial obligations was adopted.

3. The effect of “Deposition” and “Removal” is the same, the deprivation of the gifts and spiritual authority as a minister of God’s word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination. This and nothing else is the real meaning of “degrade” (the term used in 1801), “displace” (in 1817), “depose” (in 1850), “remove” (in 1925), whatever further references may have been drawn from one or the other of the terms.

4. In the late months of 1925, after the revision of the canon by General Convention at New Orleans, but before the revision came into operation (January 1, 1926), there were three Depositions, all certified as for causes, not affecting the man’s moral character, according to the old provision. In the early part of 1926 some bishops apparently had not noted the new provisions of the canon and acted under its unrevised form. In 1926 there have been five unqualified Depositions, and five accompanied by the certificate, three of them specifically marked as Removed or Released under the new provisions. For the future it is clear that the bishop should plainly declare under what canon he is acting, and what is the exact sentence pronounced: simple Deposition, or Removal from the Ministry.

5. In whatever publication the list is given, the distinction should be marked. This, I should have thought, was required under the earlier form of the canon. The declaration that it was for causes not affecting the man’s moral character would be recorded in each bishop’s list, and, it seems to me, should be reproduced in any paper. or almanac which professes to recount ecclesiastical acts. The almanac takes no responsibility in reproducing the bishop’s official notice; it does become responsible for any deviation from this.

6. I do not contend that the canon is altogether satisfactory. “Few patched and mended canons are. This one has been materially amended twice within recent years: (1) in 1910 to guard against hurried Deposition in the case of a man’s renunciation, requiring both delay and the advice of the Standing Committee, and (2) in 1925 providing in certain cases for Release and withdrawal of spiritual authority as distinct from simple Deposition.

7. From what is the man deposed or removed? Clearly from the office to which he was appointed and commissioned at Ordination of a Priest (or Deacon) in the Church of God; not from any narrower office or position such as merely a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Our authority does not extend beyond our own communion; if any other religious body chooses to accept and employ any minister so deposed, it must be on their own responsibility and by their commission, not by virtue of his previous Ordination with us; we have withdrawn whatever authority we conferred. This is expressly stated now, more clearly than in the older form of the canon.

The deposed clergyman retains the “character” conferred in Ordination, but has no authority to exercise his ministry. Accordingly he may be authoritatively restored to the exercise of the ministry without repeated Ordination. In this light, Deposition is of the nature of permanent suspension.

The Living Church, January 22, 1927, p. 402.


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