Dixon's Weakening Position
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Wed May 9 00:07:17 EDT 2001
DIXON'S WEAKENING POSITION
By Robert Stowe England
Today once again there was no bishop visiting Accokeek to sit in the
congregation on behalf of Suffragan Jane Dixon, who in March threatened
to send bishops weekly until she got her way at Christ Church.
Dixon, who continues to refuse to accept the parish's lawful call of
Fr. Samuel Edwards, appears to be losing on just about every front. It
has been my opinion since at least the collapse of the talks with the
vestry that she would not back off until she exhausted every option and
she was almost in a position of being forced to give in. We have not
arrived at that point, but Dixon's losses continue to mount.
Let us count how Dixon is losing the battle of Accokeek.
1. She has utterly lost the battle within the parish. The opposition
has simply folded and walked away, with only a few exceptions. It's not
known whether Dixon continues to send her letters to all current and
former parishioners. If so, it's a huge waste of diocesan funds.
2. Dixon has lost the public relations battle on the substance of the
dispute. In the beginning she tried to put out a whole collection of
lies and misstatements in an effort to defame Fr. Edwards to such an
extent that the parish would be fighting a rear-guard to try to
overturn her propaganda. This would, if it worked, ultimately put the
parish's legal case in jeopardy. At this point the only people who
really believe Dixon's claims regarding Fr. Edwards and what he did or
did not say are either voluntarily self-deluded or completely clueless.
In those two categories, there are significant numbers only among the
The clueless, however, are slowing being enlightened. Fair press
coverage of the events in Accokeek by both the Washington Post and
Washington Times, as well as excellent national coverage on Fox News
Network, is helping to inform the clueless. The excellent coverage and
editorial in The Living Church also helped. The true story is getting
out on the Internet, too, much to Dixon's horror, and is filtering into
virtually every single parish in one way or another. A recent letter
from the American Anglican Council of Washington calling Dixon's
rejection "a tremendous abuse of power" brings the story home to every
Senior Warden in the diocese.
The fact Dixon ceases to refer to her laundry list of supposedly
horrendous statements made during her Inquisition of Fr. Edwards at the
now-infamous "interview" in March is a powerful indication that even
she realizes she has lost on this front. It's now clear to just about
anyone who knows the circumstances of the dispute that Fr. Edwards
would accept her administrative authority and would not try to take the
parish out of the Episcopal Church.
Dixon has been left making only a handful of claims. She says that Fr.
Edwards did not submit to an interview with the 30-days she had to
review the case and that this gave her the right to extend the 30-days
indefinitely. This is a very weak substance on which to build a jihad.
Furthermore, Dixon has fallen even further behind in the battle for
public opinion to the point she now has to trying to make the case that
she did not originate this crisis, when clearly she did. She is
claiming that parishioners concerned about Fr. Edwards's writings
contacted her and this prompted her intervention. The only problem is
that she's said that this happened last fall. That would have given her
plenty of time to review Fr. Edwards's writings and be prepared to act
3. Dixon has lost ground in her efforts to persuade the larger House of
Bishops of the rightness of her cause. With now six bishops on the
record openly denouncing her or criticizing her, Dixon is on the
defensive. Only one bishop, Bishop Montgomery, has made a statement
supporting her in public and he has reportedly distanced himself from
her in private since then.
Dixon's effort at lining up the support of bishops to visit Christ
Church Accokeek on her behalf has gone completely bust. Most of those
bishops came from the Diocese of Maryland, which has its own problems
worrying about how the Maryland Vestry Act may come back to bite them,
and worrying that Dixon's actions may prompt parishes in their diocese
to leave the Episcopal Church. Curiously, although former Washington
Bishop Ronald Haines told the Washington Times he supported Dixon 110
percent, apparently that was not enough to get him to drive down to
Accokeek. I think his support would be better stated at about 10
This battle for support in the House of Bishops is very important over
time, as the failure to win a significant amount of support for her
will make it very difficult for Dixon to sustain litigation against the
parish and to conduct a propaganda campaign of lies and innuendo
against the parish and Fr. Edwards.
5. Dixon is losing the strong backing of her only influential ally,
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. While Griswold pledged his "complete
support" for Dixon originally, his actions subsequently raised
questions about whether the two had colluded to deceive the Anglican
Primates gathered in Kanuga, N.C. in late February and early March, and
then, when they were safely out of the country, allow extremists like
Dixon to initiate a crackdown on traditionalists.
Perhaps even Griswold now realizes that he took on an enormous risk in
backing the irascible Dixon, who seems not to have an "off" switch on
her passions. She revved herself up into battle mode and can not seem
to get out of it.
I think it is safe to assume that Griswold was told in late April by
the visiting Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, that he should try
to find a compromise, as the issue was beginning to get considerable
coverage in Britain, as well as among the Primates, thanks to the word
being carried there by Virtuosity. Or perhaps during their talks they
both came to this conclusion. Certainly Carey did come to the
conclusion, and has explicitly stated so to this writer.
Griswold, having made such a public defense of Dixon, will now find it
hard to publicly backtrack. This may explain why the kinds of
statements are leaking out that we have now heard from such people as
Fr. George Werner, president of the House of Bishops, who found Dixon
made a "mistake" when she "personalized" the dispute. Werner is now
saying that both sides should work out a compromise. Several sources
are now saying that Griswold is giving only "qualified support" in
private and talking of finding a resolution to the dispute.
To be sure, one should not rule out the possibility that Griswold is
speaking with a forked-tongue when he tells people in private he now
only provides qualified support to Dixon. He may just be doing his
usually shmoozing, lying and deception, which so far has won the day
for him in any number of crises. Let's hope he is being honest this
time, but we can not count on it.
The loss of Griswold's support could be the straw that breaks the back
of the camel carrying Dixon into a desert like the one where Bishop
Pike was lost and eventually died. If so, it might save Dixon from her
own complete self-destruction. Without Griswold's strong support, Dixon
may now face a more difficult time within her own diocese in convincing
the extreme revisionists who are in power to provide the kind of
funding that will ultimately be required to pursue litigation against
Accokeek. The various cases involving Accokeek could cost anywhere
between $500,000 and $1 million or more if they drag on, which they may
very well do. The Diocese of Massachusetts is believed to have spent
more than $1 million in its efforts to destroy St. Paul's Brockton and
its priest, Father Hiles. It now seems the height of fiduciary
irresponsibility to have spent so much money on this and other legal
matters. Are there no auditors or overseers of this wretched excess?
Maybe that legal nightmare in Massachusetts may open the eyes of
Also, if Griswold thinks Dixon is threatening harmony within the
Episcopal Church, which he might very well think, he would not be so
likely to appoint a coven of revisionists to the presentment panel that
Dixon might be facing. Presumably, he could stack any panel and the
panel could very well find some obscure and wholly unconvincing reason
not to let the case go forward. Griswold faces enormous risks if he
were to stack a panel that determined that the 30-day canon really is
subordinate to the subjective views and whims of any bishop.
If a Dixon presentment panel were to make this ruling, it might usher
in an era of complete canonical lawlessness in which orthodox and
conservative bishops, who have been willing to uphold the canons so
far, might feel free to intervene in revisionist dioceses in a host of
ways. The revisionists have benefited mightily from selective
enforcement of canon and doctrine, but they have been able advance with
this detestable strategy only because moderates, conservatives and
traditionalists continued to uphold the canons. If everybody thinks the
canons are meaningless, then the advantage to revisionists is gone.
They lose Big Time.
6. Dixon has a very weak legal case that is further weakened by her
loses in the public relations arena, her waning support from Griswold,
and the changing array of opposing and supporting forces that she might
have to deal with.
What sort of case does she have? It seems to be largely one of
intimidation. Accokeek followed all the rules and procedures and made a
lawful call. They gave Dixon notice they were drawing up a contract.
Dixon indicated no opposition to Fr. Edwards until the Primates Meeting
was almost over, nearly 90 days after the call. Up until the last day
she claimed she was "praying" and "thinking" about it.
Dixon is in trouble because Accokeek is not intimidated. Neither is Fr.
Edwards. He put his entire priesthood on the line. Dixon is in no
position to bring charges against Fr. Edwards because he is not
resident in this diocese. She will also have difficulty making the case
that there is no priest conducting services at Accokeek, and claiming
this gives her the authority to move in and appoint a priest. This is
her likely line of legal attack. Expect that argument on May 27. But,
again, Accokeek is not intimidated. They will not allow Dixon to
conduct services that day or give her another forum, now that she has
so clearly indicated she will pursue litigation.
If she sues, Dixon expects to be counter sued by the vestry for
interference in a lawful contract, according to several well-placed
diocesan sources. If this happens, Dixon does not have much of a leg to
stand on in try to fight that counter suit. Chancellor JoAnn Macbeth
has stated that Fr. Edwards, by showing he was willing to abandon the
contract if the vestry was willing to abrogate it, shows that the
contract could be broken. This is a very thin reed.
Another idea floated by Dixon cronies is that the vestry has violated
the Maryland Vestry Act by accepting women on the vestry, thus making
the entire force of the act invalid. This is an extremely thin reed.
You can not make an entire area of the law invalid because one party
may have violated one area of it. From such reasoning comes complete
legal and social chaos.
Dixon has also utterly failed to make a case that Fr. Edwards is not a
duly qualified priest in the Episcopal Church. Citing his opinions will
not carry the day. His own bishop says he is a duly qualified priest in
the Episcopal Church, as now have five other bishops. As noted earlier,
Dixon has lost the public relations war on these points. Even more to
the point, she has not established a compelling legal case on this
point. MacBeth's often hysterical and mean-spirited legal diatribes
suggests the case is very weak and that she is trying to make up for
the lack of substance with lots of saber rattling. Memo to JoAnn: no
one is really swayed by your overwrought and bellicose letters.
I find it hard to find one area where Dixon has any strengths in either
secular or church canons. If I have missed something, someone please
let me know.
In spite of all these weaknesses, Dixon is the kind of person who may
very well "go forward," as she is fond of saying, with her litigation.
Dixon has only forward gears and no reverse gears in her gear box of
choices and options. Plus she doesn't seem to have a brake. Thus, if
she is headed for a cliff, she can only slow down. She must "go
forward" and right over the cliff.
The diocese might think it can wear down Accokeek, their valiant and
devoted attorney Charles Nalls, and the brave and noble Fr. Edwards.
She might pursue a war of attrition, using clever and expensive lawyers
to prevail. That is a distinct possibility and this seems to be the
only way that Dixon could ultimately prevail. But, this whole
litigation mess would go on long after she has retired, given the
determination of Accokeek, Nalls and Fr. Edwards. Indeed, now the
American Anglican Council is helping raise money for the parish. It
could be that the parish may be able to make the battle so costly for
the diocese that even a war of attrition could not ultimately prevail.
So, now the ball may be in the court of the Standing Committee, a group
of people in the diocese who, though extremely revisionist for the most
part, are not necessarily complete and total fools. They have the
ability to pull the plug on Dixon or at least move toward the plug, put
their collective hand on it and tell her. Either settle this or we pull
this plug. I doubt the Standing Committee has reached that point. They
may, in fact, be incapable of mounting a serious challenge against
Dixon. If they are not persuaded of Dixon's folly, then Dixon may
become the "elephant in the living room" during the coming election of
a new bishop, which will become in the process a referendum on Dixon's
handling of the Accokeek matter.
Here, the revisionists who have controlled this diocese for so long
have something big to lose. They may find that the diocese is so fed up
with Dixon's shenanigans that delegates may elect a moderate bishop or
even someone who may support revisionist views on key issues, but who
also respects other parties in the diocese and in the Episcopal Church
and is not intent on eradicating those parties from the life of the
diocese and the larger church. This new bishop might even be elected on
a campaign to end the battle of Accokeek.
In the end, assuming the diocese's own Standing Committee is unable to
persuade Dixon to back off, I think it will take some heavy pressure
from someone like Griswold to bring this matter to an end. He could
warn her that he would appoint a balanced panel to consider her
possible presentment. If that doesn't get her attention, then I think
nothing will and we will just go forward and hope that a new bishop can
end what litigation emerges in the coming weeks and months.
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