Allegations fly in Episcopal Church e-mail row between ACI and Some Activists

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A "dirty tricks" campaign has blown up in the faces of liberal activists in the Episcopal Church, as the publication of purloined e-mails has led to allegations of "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" being lodged against the leader of the gay-pressure group Integrity and a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council.

Bishops associated with the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) have asked the bishops of Los Angeles and Delaware to look in to the conduct of the Rev Susan Russell and the Rev Canon Mark Harris for having surreptitiously obtained and then posting on their blogs the text of private correspondence exchanged among the ACI and its attorney.

A request has also been made to Bishop John Chane of Washington to review the actions of one of his staffers in the anti-ACI campaign. The dispute centres around e-mails published by Canon Harris and Ms Russell though written and exchanged by the ACI leadership on the crafting of a position paper entitled the "Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church", released last month by the ACI and subsequently endorsed by 14 bishops.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsSexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)Same-sex blessingsWindsor Report / Process* Culture-WatchBlogging & the Internet

26 Comments
Posted May 28, 2009 at 6:31 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Newbie Anglican wrote:

Of course, Ms. Russell has engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy for a long time.  But anyway . . .

May 28, 7:20 am | [comment link]
2. Stefano wrote:

Having known many of the personages mentioned in the article I can confidently assert that the professors and bishops of the Bishops Statement on Polity are thoughtful, careful and Godly workers of ministry. I and countless others have benefited from their personal integrity, wise counsel, teaching, and their prayers.
  As to some of others, the safest thing to say, at least on this blog, is that Susan Russell wears very nice scarves.

May 28, 7:47 am | [comment link]
3. Cennydd wrote:

What she did is morally and civilly wrong, and she knows it.

May 28, 10:14 am | [comment link]
4. Brian from T19 wrote:

The investigator’s report concluded the e-mails made their way outside the closed ACI circle when one individual mistyped the e-mail of the Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt Rev D Bruce MacPherson. Rather than typing DBM3WL@ followed by the name of the internet service provider or ISP, DMBE@ with the same ISP was inadvertently added to the “cc” line of the email. At least 12 more e-mails over the next two days were sent to DBME, an address belong to a Honolulu physician and gay activist named Dr David B McEwan.

I teach my students in my Business Communications course the old adage “Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”

Not only did the ACI put things in writing, they actually *although unintentionally) published them.  There is no case here.  No discipline is necessary (except for the person sending the e-mails).

May 28, 10:32 am | [comment link]
5. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

No discipline ... that’s pretty much the mantra of the ECUSA/TEC/GCC/EO-PAC - unless one happens to be a believer and aligned with the Faith Once Delivered.  Then there’s plenty of scorched earth-ites calling for “discipline” - especially among the ones who cannot read the canons and twist them to suit their scorching of the faithful.

I am sure that were the situation reversed, the calls for discipline would be invoking the abandoment of communion and other fantastical canon interpretations popular amongst the powers-in-charge today.

May 28, 10:49 am | [comment link]
6. Mitchell wrote:

I have to agree with Brian from T19 on this.  Email is a dangerous thing, and once you lose control of an Email, you have no way or right to get it back.  If someone sends me an Email, I am free to forward it to the world unless I have agreed otherwise.  You cannot impose your desire to keep something secret on people who do not agree it should be kept secret.  That is simply the way things are.
Kick yourself for making a mistake, but don’t blame others.

May 28, 11:20 am | [comment link]
7. Philip Snyder wrote:

While there, probably, no legal case here, what Susan Russell and Mark Harris did was ethically wrong and it was conduct unbecomming of an ordained person in TEC.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

May 28, 12:29 pm | [comment link]
8. Brian from T19 wrote:

Actually Phil, it was ethical.  While they may have known that the e-mails were not intended for the public, upon their discovery they were made aware of the seditionist actions of Bishops and others within TEC.  So not only were they ethically bound by their vows, but they were also bound by Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

May 28, 12:37 pm | [comment link]
9. Betty See wrote:

Brian from T19 #4,
Surely you aren’t suggesting that lawyers have no right to expect that their communications with their clients will be privileged if they “put it in writing” or that the ACI should never have any e-mail communications with their attorneys unless they “want to see on the front page of the New York Times.”
The ACI should not be intimidated to limit their writings or communications with their attorneys simply because they have been misrepresented by unethical priests.

May 28, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
10. Mitchell wrote:

Actually the law is unclear on what happens to the privileged nature of a lawyer’s communication with his client when, by reason of the lawyer’s or client’s negligence, the communication falls into the hands of an opponent.  Frequently this is addressed by a judge on a case by case basis.

May 28, 2:56 pm | [comment link]
11. D. C. Toedt wrote:

1. As to copyright:  I suspect that few U.S. courts would have any difficulty concluding that publication of such newsworthy emails, in full, was ‘fair use’ under the standard four-part analysis of 17 U.S.C. § 104. Susan Russell, quoted in the article, was right: The emails’ content made them fair game for exposure to the light of day.

2. As to unlawful ‘interception’ of electronic communications:  Here’s a money quote from Conger’s article that seems to put paid to that notion:

The investigator’s report concluded the e-mails made their way outside the closed ACI circle when one individual mistyped the e-mail of the Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt Rev D Bruce MacPherson. Rather than typing DBM3WL@ followed by the name of the internet service provider or ISP, DMBE@ with the same ISP was inadvertently added to the “cc” line of the email. At least 12 more e-mails over the next two days were sent to DBME, an address belong to a Honolulu physician and gay activist named Dr David B McEwan. Requests for comments or clarification sent to Dr McEwan’s email address by the investigator and CEN were not answered. However, the investigator’s e-mails to the DBME account were forwarded to the e-mail address of a Hawaiian union organizer who is also active in pro-gay causes. The tracked e-mails were then forwarded and read on blackberry device linked to an IP address maintained by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. [Emphasis added.]

This wasn’t ‘interception,’ it was a mistake — by the (unidentified) email sender, not the recipient. It could happen to anyone; although you’d think that, under the circumstances, the sender might have been a wee bit more careful, no? 

This episode brings to mind the infamous Chapman Memo of a few years ago, in which the author said, “Please keep this document confidential, sharing it in hard copy (printed format) only with people you fully trust, and do not pass it on electronically to anyone under any circumstances.”  The naivety on display causes one to shake one’s head in wonderment — and to conjecture about the competence of some of the leaders of the separatist movement.

May 28, 3:06 pm | [comment link]
12. Philip Snyder wrote:

Brian #8,
The paper is not seditious.  It simply states the ACI’s opinion (backed up by facts) that the Diocese is the central unit of TEC and always has been.  You may disagree with that, but it is not seditious to say so.

What they did was highly unethical.  They took what was considered private emails and posted them to the world without the writers’ approval or knowledge.  Remember, this is hte same group that believes the contents of a listserve that anyone can join are considered privileged! 

They published out of a desire to hurt the “cretins”  This is not the act of a Christian person, let alone a priest in Christ’s Church.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

May 28, 4:34 pm | [comment link]
13. Brian from T19 wrote:

Phil

The paper is not seditious.  It simply states the ACI’s opinion (backed up by facts) that the Diocese is the central unit of TEC and always has been.  You may disagree with that, but it is not seditious to say so.

The e-mails are designed to assist in lawsuits and to ‘divorce’ the Diocese from TEC.  The definition of seditious:

Sedition is a term of law which refers to covert conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws .... A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition. - Wikipedia

TEC, its House of Bishops, House of Deputies and leadership have stated in civil court and numerous other forums that the Diocese is beholden to TEC.

What they did was highly unethical.  They took what was considered private emails and posted them to the world without the writers’ approval or knowledge.

The e-mail ceased to be private when it as distributed outside of the group.  The writer need not approve. 

Remember, this is the same group that believes the contents of a listserv that anyone can join are considered privileged!

That is because anyone who joins the listerv is required to pledge not to publish the e-mail without consent.  If the e-mail goes to someone that did not pledge this, then that person does not have any obligation.

Again, I refer you to the Scriptures where Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

May 28, 5:05 pm | [comment link]
14. Larry Morse wrote:

These arguments will not do under the circucmstancves. To suggest that Susan Russell is to be held ONLY to a legal standard is to overlook that the standards of those involved are fully meant to be of a higher order than the quotidien. If one uses the quote re: Nicodemus, then there can be no privacy for anyone; the stool pigeon and the Deep Throat will uniformly be the standard of merit. Moreover, one need not call for hard evidence to believe that behind the exposure, there moves malicious intent. See old Nick again: Shall we accept malice as just cause for exposure of the “truth.” LM

May 28, 7:52 pm | [comment link]
15. Brian from T19 wrote:

If one uses the quote re: Nicodemus, then there can be no privacy for anyone; the stool pigeon and the Deep Throat will uniformly be the standard of merit. Moreover, one need not call for hard evidence to believe that behind the exposure, there moves malicious intent. See old Nick again: Shall we accept malice as just cause for exposure of the “truth.” LM

Actually Larry the standard of Nicodemus’ lesson applies to those things where “what he has done has been done through God.”

In the preamble to their statement, they say:

We write as Bishops of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are joined by distinguished theologians known for their long service throughout the Anglican Communion.

so it is safe that they are claiming to speak the truth through God.

May 28, 8:36 pm | [comment link]
16. Betty See wrote:

Phil Snyder, #12,
Thanks for bringing some reality to this discussion by pointing out the fact that “The paper is not seditious.  It simply states the ACI’s opinion (backed up by facts) that the Diocese is the central unit of TEC and always has been.”
Accusations of sedition are not appropriate to this discussion but It seems to me that Priests who seize private information from Bishops, and use it to incite secular groups, fit the definition supplied by Brian of T19.

May 28, 9:37 pm | [comment link]
17. Brian from T19 wrote:

It seems to me that Priests who seize private information from Bishops, and use it to incite secular groups, fit the definition supplied by Brian of T19.

Betty, I am not certain how it would be possible for this statement to be any more wrong.

1. It wasn’t priests, it was a lay person.
2. It wasn’t seized, it was sent.
3. Because it was distributed to someone outside the group, the information isn’t private.
4. It was provided for para-church organizations, not secular groups.
5. It doesn’t fit the definition because none of the people involved are members of the ACI or Common Cause.

May 28, 10:17 pm | [comment link]
18. Ken Peck wrote:

If I read the law correctly, emails while (potentially) public, are not in the poblic domain—that is, the writer does have a copyright which can be violated by further distribution unauthorized by the owner of the copywrite. Whether or not Ms Russell et al. made “fair use” of the email cannot be determined without seeing what use was made of it. If, for example, the whole email was distributed, that would “tilt” toward a violation of the standard. And, under certain circumstances, even quoting a small part of the whole can be a violation of copyright. There was a case in which some 300 words of a 2000 word speech by President Ford was deemed a violation of his copyright.

I don’t think that what the draft contained would fit the definition of sedition. I suppose it could be deemed “covert” or “secret” as a group worked on what would become a final draft which would have been made public.

There does seem to be more than a bit of paranoia on the part Ms Russell et al.

May 28, 11:19 pm | [comment link]
19. Betty See wrote:

Brian, #17,
I have to admit that I am unaware of any para-church organizations authorized by the Episcopal Church. Are you referring to “Integrity” (a LGBT organization) as a para church organization? When and how did this secular organization become a para-church organization?

May 29, 12:38 am | [comment link]
20. dumb sheep wrote:

So, the ACI has been outed for what it is—a Godly, Orthodox, Anglican group willing to state the historic truth about TEC’s diocese-centered polity.  What’s so outrageous about that?
Dumb Sheep.

May 29, 9:02 am | [comment link]
21. Brian from T19 wrote:

Betty

Here is the definition of a parachurch organization:

Parachurch organizations are Christian faith-based organizations which work outside of and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism, usually independent of church oversight. These bodies can be businesses, non-profit corporations, or private associations.

If they were “authorized” by the Episcopal Church, they would not be a parachurch organization.

May 29, 10:07 am | [comment link]
22. Betty See wrote:

Brian from T19,
Thanks for the definition.
If you want to correct my post #16 you can substitute the words para-church special interest groups for the words secular groups.

May 29, 12:40 pm | [comment link]
23. Mark Johnson wrote:

I don’t think they went breaking into computers.  Someone foolishly and mistakenly sent the email to the wrong person, that’s their fault, not the recipient’s fault.  If you’re plotting things political, the lesson in this is to check twice before you click “send.”

May 29, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
24. Brian from T19 wrote:

no problem betty…but my name creates some confusion on occasion…I have no relationship to T19, other than a poster…a while back, I needed to register over at the blog Stand Firm in Faith.  Alot of people knew me from T19 so I registered as Brian from T19…but then TitusOneNine moved to the same server and my name here makes me look like I am “official.”  (Although my posts should DEFINITELY distinguish me wink )

May 29, 3:57 pm | [comment link]
25. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “TEC, its House of Bishops, House of Deputies and leadership have stated in civil court and numerous other forums that the Diocese is beholden to TEC.”

No—“TEC” didn’t.  Which is what is being argued in court.  In fact, “TEC” said something entirely different.

And oh my!  The bishops, deputies and “leadership” “stated” something?

Why then!  It must be so!!!  ; > )

Of course, the demonstration that dioceses aren’t owned by 815 is not at all “sedition”—since 815 is not the “authority” anyway. 

In fact, the actions of the excellent authors of those ACI treatises are the actions of loyalists to TEC.  One might call them “Episcopal patriots.”

I’m on record pretty clearly as saying I don’t think that publishing the emails was either legally or morally wrong.

But boy oh boy—thank God for those treatises by McCall et al.

Most excellent.  And useful too.

May 29, 4:51 pm | [comment link]
26. Betty See wrote:

Brian from T19, I was NOT under the impression that you were officially connected with T-19.

May 29, 8:00 pm | [comment link]
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