June 16, 2008

Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?

I just posted the latest news summary on Pittsburgh Update, a Web site intended to keep people in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh aware of news events that will or might affect them as our diocese heads toward schism.

One item is particularly interesting in this week’s post. (A post is made every Monday.) It concerns something that has been known by a number of Episcopal Church supporters in the diocese for a couple of weeks, and something Bishop Robert Duncan has known we know. There was uncertainty, however, about whether we should publicize the facts we had learned, particularly as they may have some effect on the ongoing litigation between diocesan leaders and Calvary Church.

Any concerns anyone might have had about not talking about what we knew are now moot, as Calvary’s rector, Harold Lewis, has spilled the beans himself in the parish newsletter.

As the Rev. Dr. Lewis explains in Agape—Lewis’s essay “What’s in a name?” is well worth reading, by the way—Bishop Duncan has registered a new nonprofit corporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Its name (“mirabile dictu!,” as Lewis puts it) is “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (The registration is listed here.) The corporation was officially registered 4/28/2008, but the articles of incorporation, in the bishop’s handwriting, is dated 12/29/2006. (The application is reproduced in Agape.) Since the Secretary of State’s office processes new corporations with relative dispatch, it is unclear why the above dates should differ by nearly a year and a half. The paperwork was received by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on 1/2/2007.

In any case, the move by the bishop was, until very recently, not known to any members of the Board of Trustees or Diocesan Council, as far as I can tell. The bishop is said to have been advised by his chancellor to file the incorporation to protect diocesan property. (The stated purpose of the new corporation is “[u]pholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”)

For historical reasons that I do not pretend to understand, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has existed for all of his history as an unincorporated entity and has, from all I can tell, been none the worse for wear as a result. (The Board of Trustees of the diocese, on the other hand, is explicitly incorporated.) So why is “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” now being incorporated? Presumably, it is to give the bishop, who is likely to be deposed by The Episcopal Church before he can “realign” the diocese, a better claim to be the legitimate leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It has long been clear that Duncan subscribes to the legal theory that The Episcopal Church is a voluntary federation of dioceses. According to this theory, a diocese can, at any time, choose to leave the federation. Here is not the place to explain why this notion is demented, but I invite the reader to think of the relationship of South Carolina to the United States before the Civil War. In any case, it is clear that the good bishop thinks that he can remove the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh from its parent church and have it still be the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. (See “Frequently Asked Questions About Realignment.”) Presumably, he will claim that the preĆ«xisting diocese is the one being incorporated, and that he is in control of it. Although I am not a lawyer, I suspect that this is a stretch.

More importantly, the incorporation may largely be irrelevant. In Calvary’s lawsuit, an agreement was reached concerning ownership of diocesan property and the procedures by which property might be alienated from the diocese. In that agreement, “Diocese” is defined as “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” It is unclear how “Diocese” in that agreement could possibly refer to any entity, by whatever name, that is not in The Episcopal Church. “Realignment,” however, by definition, requires the removal of the diocese from The Episcopal Church. (For more information about the stipulation in the Calvary lawsuit, see question 4 in Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh’s “Realignment Reconsidered.”)

So how can the new incorporation do Bishop Duncan any good in his attempt to remove assets from The Episcopal Church? I have no idea. His chancellor had better have a better theory than is presently apparent.

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