Tuesday, December 16, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

Everyone agrees. Bishop Skilton is a good  man with good intentions. He wants to bring peace, healing, reconciliation and closure to the gaping wound in his beloved old Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Admirable. Unfortunately, and tragically, we now see the very opposite effect. The wound is worse than ever. Everyone should agree that this is a sad outcome for a man who had contributed so much in the past to the church in South Carolina.

Skilton was elected Bishop Suffragan in 1995 topping a competitive field including Henry Parsley who later became the revered bishop of Alabama and front-runner for presiding bishop in 2006 (in the end the ultra-conservatives cynically cast their votes to elect Jefferts-Schori). However, when the search committee to nominate a new bishop formed in 2005 it did not consider Skilton. Indeed, the standing committee unanimously "requested" Skilton's resignation with a reward of a $20,000/yr stipend. He compliantly resigned in December of 2006 in order to give incoming bishop Lawrence a clean slate to run the diocese as he wished. The pro-Lawrence party simply and coldly pushed Skilton aside.

Skilton remained a conservative voice; he was one of 12 bishops who signed a declaration condemning the resolution of 2012 allowing the blessing of same-sex unions. He is now an Episcopal bishop retired from South Carolina and from the Dominican Republic. He is listed as clergy in good standing on the independent diocesan website, but not on the Episcopal Church diocesan website.

According to the documents that Skilton provided in the DSC website on December 15, early on, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg of ECSC asked him not to officiate publicly on the non-Episcopal Church side. In March of 2013, presiding bishop Jefferts Schori asked him not to "function sacramentally" on either side until things settled down. Apparently Skilton rejected both bishops' requests. He felt instead that it was important for him to preach and celebrate the Eucharist in the non-Episcopal churches of the old diocese.

On December 2, 2014 Bp. vonRosenberg sent Skilton a letter complaining about Skilton's adding to the confusion of the situation. There is plenty of confusion. To anyone attending the trial last July or reading the transcript, confusion abounded from first to last. Judge Goodstein burst out in frustration more than once, and in the very end showed bewilderment on when and how the "disassociation" had occurred even though Runyan had hammered the previous thirteen days that it did not matter, the diocese was an independent and self-contained entity.

In his letter of December 2, vonR told Skilton he would not be permitted to "function sacramentally" in a church of the Episcopal diocese. In addition, Skilton would not be allowed to represent the Episcopal diocese in any official capacity. In response, Skilton sent a letter to vonR on Dec. 11 and wrote another to "Anglicans/Episcopalians in Lower South Carolina" on Dec. 12. He did not have to publicize this correspondence, but he chose to do so anyway. He gave all three letters to the independent diocese that promptly posted them all on its website on Dec. 15 for all the world to see. Since then the anti-Episcopal Church blogosphere has predictably exploded in wrath against their favorite whipping horse, Jefferts Schori, with vonR thrown in for good measure. Badly treated by the pro-Lawrence party before 2008, Skilton was now allowing himself to be used by those same people for their anti-Episcopal agenda.

William Skilton remains officially an Episcopal bishop. He has not committed offenses that would get him removed as a bishop by the House of Bishops. He has not ordained clergy or administered confirmation in non-Episcopal churches, wrongdoings that would get him deposed right away. There is no indication that he is about to be removed.

I wrote a post here recently giving my thoughts about reconciliation. I think it will come down the road, although far down, and it will not be done by well-meaning but misdirected people. Jefferts Schori and vonR are right; there does need to be some clarity at this moment about what has happened since the majority of the old diocese broke away from the Episcopal Church. They left but still claim to be "the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." By its own self-declared action, the independent diocese has no connection whatever with the Episcopal Church. It is not the Episcopal Church diocese. Neither is it in the Anglican Communion. However, I expect that if you ask the average person-in-the-pew in a breakaway parish, they would tell you, Oh yes, we are the real Episcopal Church and we are in the Anglican Communion. We are because our bishop told us so. If that is not confusion, nothing is. Meanwhile, we await the impending judgment from the circuit court. More confusion anyone?