A More Judicial Attitude (1936)

BISHOP MANNING’S LETTER, published in this issue, in which he states that our editorial in The Living Church of March 28th gives “a distinctly wrong impression” as to his relation to the Torok case, requires an editorial reply, despite our disinclination to pursue the matter further. Since the Bishop’s letter revolves about four main points, we shall endeavor to answer these seriatim.

(1) Bishop Manning says: “Your claim that ‘The Living Church has taken no part in this controversy’ is an extraordinary one in view of the editorials and other statements on this matter which you have published during a period of more than two years.”

The controversy referred to in the sentence that Bishop Manning partially quotes is not the general question of the status of Bishop Torok but the particular controversy between Bishop Manning and Bishop Wilson, of which we said: “The Living Church has taken no part in this controversy except to record the news as it has developed.” We have recorded the news as it developed, that being a legitimate function of the Church press. Editorially, here is exactly what The Living Church has said about these matters since the original letter of protest by Bishops Mann, Ward, and Manning last December. In our issue of December 14th, after enumerating their charges, we said: “These are very serious charges indeed. The Living Church does not venture to express any opinion about them one way or another but does insist that both justice and honor demand that they be sifted fully and impartially.” The only other editorial in which we discussed this matter was in our issue of January 25th, in which we stated: “It seems to us that both parties to the controversy are acting in good faith and are justified in their contrary views of the attitude of the House of Bishops. . . . Justice to Bishops Wilson and Torok and the good name of the Church require that the House of Bishops cease evading the issue and render a clear, unequivocal, public decision in the matter at its next meeting.” If to demand a full and fair investigation and a just decision is to take part in a controversy, then and then only is Bishop Manning right in charging that we have been a party to this controversy.

(2) Bishop Manning says: “The case is far indeed from being one mainly of discussion between the Bishop of Eau Claire and myself.” Bishop Ward also makes this point in his letter in this issue.

We agree, though the controversy has revolved about the discussion between these two individuals. Bishops Wilson and Manning each claim the support of about 48 bishops for their respective positions. (We have heard on good authority that, incredible though it seems, there are several duplicates on these two lists!) Of course the matter is one that concerns not only the bishops but the clergy and laity of the entire Church.

(3) Bishop Manning says: “The primary question is not that of Dr. Torok’s fitness for the office of a bishop in this Church, as your editorial indicates. That question has now fallen into the background.”

We must respectfully disagree with the Bishop of New York at this point. If the issue as to Bishop Torok’s fitness has fallen into the background it is none the less the underlying element in the whole discussion. Bishop Manning himself has on several occasions made public but veiled references to “other serious matters” in connection with the Torok case. He has never said what these “matters” are and has thus succeeded in throwing a shadow of suspicion on Bishop Torok’s character. Is he now going to let that question slide into the background without bringing his charges into the open so that the man he accuses of nameless “matters” can have an opportunity of answering them?

(4) Bishop Manning says: “The question now before the Church is, Has the Bishop of Eau Claire, or any individual bishop, the right to ‘receive’ one who claims to hold the office of bishop, and give him status as ‘a bishop in this Church’?”

It is true that this question is now before the Church and we do not yield to the Bishop of New York or anyone else in our desire to have it settled. But there is another question before the Church that is at least equally important and perhaps more so. It is this: Has the Bishop of New York or any other bishop or priest the right to make grave charges that cast a slur upon the character of a fellow-clergyman without giving him a fair opportunity to reply before a duly constituted tribunal?

In any secular matter the civil court would protect the right of the accused to be squarely faced with the accusation against him and would permit him to testify in his defense and call witnesses to support his testimony. Will the Church be less just in protecting the rights of an accused bishop than the State is in protecting the rights of the defendant in a civil case?

If the Bishop of New York and those who support him in his contention that no investigating committee should be appointed but rather that the House of Bishops should consider the matter directly will agree that Bishop Torok be permitted to defend himself before the full House of Bishops and bring witnesses there to support his defense, then we shall feel that their contention is a just one. If, however, Bishop Manning and his associates intend simply to present their side of the case before the House of Bishops, probably in secret session, and expect the House to arrive at an ex parte decision, then we are forced to the conclusion that they are demanding an unjust method of procedure and one that is not worthy of the Church.

In a letter to the editor, accompanying his public letter, Bishop Manning writes: “I wish it were possible for you to take a more judicial attitude in the matter.” We for our part wish it were possible for Bishop Manning to take a more judicial attitude; but since he has chosen rather to be cast in the role of prosecuting attorney we hope he will find it possible to permit the defense the same privileges that he claims for the prosecution.

The Living Church, April 4, 1936, pp. 423-424.


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