October 31, 2006

What Does the Diocese of Pittsburgh Really Want?

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh holds its annual convention this Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4. The main business of the convention this year will be dealing with a resolution approved by the standing committee and Bishop Duncan on June 28, 2006. Among other things, that resolution appealed “to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion, and the Panel of Reference for immediate alternative Primatial oversight and pastoral care.” The diocesan convention is being asked to declare that it “accepts ... the resolution adopted by the Bishop and Standing Committee on June 28, 2006, as its own resolution.”

Of course, the original resolution is schismatic, and asks for an unconstitutional dispensation that none of the persons to whom it is addressed is empowered to grant. This being the Diocese of Pittsburgh, led by the moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, such trivialities will not stand in the way of a little (or, I suppose, a good deal of) episcopal grandstanding. There are other problems here, however.

The first problem, though perhaps not the more important one, is semantic. What does it mean to make your own a document that says, for example, “the Bishop and Standing Committee believe it is necessary for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to disassociate itself from those actions of the 75th General Convention”? Should the convention interrogate the bishop and standing committee members, so that the body can conscientiously attest to what they sincerely believe. Actually, it might be interesting to do so in order to learn if they indeed “recognize that the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church has elected to walk apart from the Anglican Communion” or whether they are just looking for an excuse to, once again, trash their current church home. Why does the resolution before the Pittsburgh convention not ask the convention to make its own declaration of what it believes?

The bigger problem is that the resolution that the diocesan convention will rubber stamp this Friday asks for alternative primatial oversight. (The actual resolution to be voted on incorporates the earlier resolution. Whoever put this together has read Robert's Rules rather too often.) Alternative primatial oversight is what the leadership of the Pittsburgh and several other dicoeses requested as an immediate reaction to the 75th General Convention. The Archbishop of Canterbury was apparently not pleased with receiving multiple requests from Network bishops—one must suspect that he was not pleased with receiving any requests at all—so he asked that the requests be consolidated. Because not all dioceses had asked for the same thing, the replacement combined request did not correspond exactly to what was asked for previously. In particular, although Pittsburgh had asked for “alternative Primatial oversight,” the combined request asked for the appointment of a “Communion Commissary.” (The Bishop of London sent representatives called commissaries to the Colonies in pre-revolutionary times. The colonists actually wanted bishops, however.) That request was dated July 20, well in advance of this week’s convention.

So, what does Pittsburgh actually want? Why is the convention being asked to endorse a request that essentially has been withdrawn, rather that supporting a request that is actually on the table? Is the Bishop of Pittsburgh just trying to confuse matters? Did no one have the energy to draw up a new resolution? Are we asking for two things, in hopes that we will get one or the other? Who knows?

One thing is clear: the militant traditionalists who are disrupting The Episcopal Church have consistently made outrageous requests, so that they can claim to be persecuted when those requests are not granted. Aren’t two outrageous requests better than one?

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As has been its custom, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) has prepared briefing papers on issues related to the diocesan convention. Papers on the resolution discussed above and on the proposed budget, along with diocesan documents such as the pre-convention journal, can be found on the PEP Web site. The briefing papers “Being Episcopalian and Anglican” and “Alternative Primatial Oversight is Unnecessary and Unconstitutional” are of particular relevance to the matters discussed above.

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