This last point brings us to the crux of our disagreement with Bishop Whalon: does TEC’s Constitution create a “metropolitical authority” superior to the diocesan bishop? Bishop Whalon thinks it does. Without citing or alluding to a single provision of the Constitution, he merely asserts: “the metropolitical authority… resides in the General Convention….The General Convention is at the top of our hierarchy.” We disagree. And it is important to emphasize that our disagreement with this conclusion is based fundamentally on an undeniable legal fact: nowhere does TEC’s Constitution state what Bishop Whalon asserts.
“Metropolitical authority” is a very precise and technical ecclesiological term. “Top of the hierarchy” is a very colloquial allusion to a legal concept that is widely used and readily identified in constitutions and legal documents. The legal term most often used to express this concept is “supremacy,” as in the English Act of Supremacy by which the Church of England separated from Rome and the oath of supremacy that all Church of England bishops continue to swear to this day. There are also other terms that are recognized legally as expressing this concept, but none of them is used in TEC’s Constitution. If there were any constitutional article stating that the General Convention is the supreme or highest or metropolitical authority in the church, we can be quite confident that Bishop Whalon would have quoted it rather than relying on mere colloquial assertion.
Again it is important to stress the context of this debate: a legal brief to a civil court. Given the constraints of the First Amendment, secular courts of law can draw conclusions about church polity only when those conclusions are stated plainly in recognizable legal language in the church’s governing instruments—in other words “on the face of it.”
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