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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69


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The object which the compilers of this pamphlet have in view is to set forth a few facts in connection with the Primacy election and the subsequent proceedings, which, they believe, are not so generally known as they should be, or, at least, have not been sufficiently emphasized in the discussions which have taken place on the question. They are of opinion that Bishop Suter has been most unfairly treated and completely misjudged throughout. Anonymous opinions, it may be urged, are not entitled to much weight. Possibly so; but the facts upon which they are based may be well deserving of consideration. These facts will be stated as briefly and concisely as possible. The readers are asked to form their own conclusions.

To begin with, the Primacy had not been vacated when the Synod proceeded to the election. Had the vacancy been created previously, as it should have been, Bishop Suter would have been President of the Synod. This was carefully guarded against. The election was in direct contravention of the Synod's laws. This is admitted, indeed it cannot be denied. But it is argued that this is a matter of no importance—that the Synod is supreme and can act as it pleases. It is not stated in which capacity it is to be regarded as supreme, whether as lawmaker or law-breaker. Clearly supremacy cannot be claimed for it in both capacities.

The Canons provide against any competition or rivalry amongst the Bishops for position of Primate. There are to be no avowed candidates offering themselves for the office. The results of the ballots as they proceed are not to be made known. In the late election what was the course of procedure? It was known beforehand that Bishop Suter was the favourite of the laity, and if their vote could not be changed, that he, as Senior Bishop, would succeed to the Primacy in the absence of a majority in all three orders. This would not suit the Clerical element, so two Bishops (Wellington and Melanesia) and the Dean of Christchurch interposed, and obtained the sanction of the Synod to the results of the ballots being declared. Then, when it was seen how matters stood, and that Bishop Suter had received a larger total of votes than any of the other Bishops, the Episcopal influence was again brought to bear upon the laity, and successfully. They were told it would be exceedingly unsatisfactory if the Primacy were allowed to go by default, and on this ground they were persuaded to support Bishop Hadfield, whose election was secured by a transference of their votes. It does not appear to have occurred to those who made use of this argument, that it must be equally unsatisfactory that the Primate should be elected by the votes of those who had previously declared their opinion that he was not the most suitable of the candidates for the office. Thus, from beginning to end, the election was in direct violation of both the letter and spirit of the Canons, and was, moreover utterly unfair to Bishop Suter.

After the session had closed, Bishop Suter was advised that irregularities had taken place which might lead to future complications of a very grave character. Being impressed with their importance, he wrote to bishop Harper informing [unclear: n]of them, pointing out the difficulties that might arise if he were to resign, the Primacy, and asking him, in view of the alleged illegality of the election, to defer sending in his resignation, and to consider the position. Bishop Harper replied to the effect that he was satisfied of the legality of the proceedings, and forwarded his resignation forthwith to Bishop Suter, as Senior Bishop.

Two days after the receipt of the resignation. Bishop Suter wrote to Bishop Hadfield again placing before him the view which he took of the position of affairs, and suggesting either that the matter be referred to the Standing Commission, or as "a speedier method" To have a Special Meeting of the General Synod Convened at Wellington for the Purpose of Validating me Proceedings of the Synod. [See extract below] Bishop Hadfield, in his page 4 reply, made no reference to the proposal to summon the [unclear: Synod] but contented himself with telling Bishop Suter that, if he believed he had a case for the Commission, he agreed with him that it should be submitted without delay.

The Senior Bishop and the late Primate, conjointly, then submitted a case to the Standing Commission.

The Commission decided that the election was illegal, and that the Primacy devolved upon Bishop Suter.

Two or three days later, Bishop Suter received a letter from Dean Jacobs, addressed to him as Primate, requesting him to proceed with the arrangement for the appointment of Archdeacon Julius as Bishop of Christchurch. This Bishop Suter did, and has since done everything in his power to facilitate the [unclear: consetion] of the Bishop elect.

Later on, Bishop Suter received an informal intimation from Bishop Harper to the effect that it was probable that two Bishops would request him to [unclear: conv] the Synod, not for the purpose of validating the election of Bishop Hadfield but to consider the decision of the Standing Commission. Bishop Suter in replying expressed the opinion that there was no necessity to summon the Synod, and that it would be inexpedient to do so giving his reasons for so thinking. But he received no request and gave no refusal. Between an expression of opinion on the desirability or otherwise of adopting a certain course, and a definite refusal to grant a request, it is needless to point out the difference.

A torrent of abuse has since been poured upon Bishop Suter. Has he deserved it? Not for his actions, for Dean Jacobs in a letter to the Christchurch "Press," dated 18th February, says:—"It is not his action which requires explanation. "His alleged sins, then, are not those of commission. But some excuse must be found by the Clerics, to whom Bishop Suter is unacceptable as Primate, for attributing blame to him, so the Dean proceeds to say—"it is his inaction in taking" no steps for the convening of a special session of the Synod, which require "explanation," and he goes on to ask "why his Lordship, under the circum "stances, did not immediately on the decision of the Standing Commission being" given, move two other Bishops to request him to convene it?" But why should Bishop Suter 'move the Bishops'? Why have not the two Bishops, if it be so essential to hold a meeting of the Synod, requested him to convene it without waiting to be moved thereto? It is perfectly competent for them to do so; it is in fact their manifest duty if it is so important that the Synod should meet. Wherein lies the fairness or the justice of blaming Bishop Suter for the neglect of the "two other Bishops"? Can it be that the Prelates with whom the motion should originate, are afraid to make the request, lest by so doing they should be deemed to have recognised Bishop Suter as lawfully occupying the position which the Standing Commission has adjudged him to be holding?

Let it be distinctly borne in mind that, according to Dean Jacobs—who may be accepted as an authority on such a subject—the only blame to be attached to Bishop Suter throughout the whole of this painful affair is for not moving two Bishops to do that which they were entitled to do, and should have done, on their own motion. In the light of this admission of the Dean's, the readers this pamphlet are invited to say whether the discourteous articles from the "Press" quoted therein, and similar outpourings which have appeared elsewhere are in the smallest degree justified; and whether public opinion upon the merits of the dispute has not been formed upon a misconception of the real facts of the case.

The Lay-members of the Church, who are certainly respecters of the law, however regardless of it the Bishops and Clergy may be, are invited to carefully read the extracts from Bishop Suter's letter to Bishop Harper, the then Primate, which appear in the article re-published from the "Nelson Evening Mail." They can then say whether Bishop Suter, acting with a full knowledge of the misinterpretation which he felt sure would be placed upon his actions, was not inspired solely by a spirit of loyalty to his Church in upholding her laws whether, by his appeal to the Primate to stay his hand in the matter of his resignation and to consider the position before sending it in, he did not clearly and unmistakeably show that his object was not to temporarily gain for himself an empty title, but that he was actuated by the single desire of asserting the laws of the Church?

These are a few considerations which have not hitherto been placed prominently before the Laity, who are now respectfully invited give to them their earnest and unbiassed attention.