July 9, 2008

Calvary’s Cavalry Again Rides to the Rescue

As the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh heads toward a “realignment” vote on October 4, 2008, when Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan plans to declare the entire diocese removed from The Episcopal Church to become a diocese of the province of the Southern Cone, loyal Episcopalians in Pittsburgh are becoming increasingly anxious about the looming apocalypse. Yesterday, however, they were given some reason to cheer, as Calvary Church attorney Walter P. DeForest rode to court on his white horse to file papers with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Calvary is petitioning the court to appoint a “monitor to inventory and oversee property held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to assure compliance with this court's order of October 14, 2005,” as well as to request “creation of an additional escrow account(s)” for parishes concerned about the use of their funds by the diocese for the benefit of a church other than The Episcopal Church.

Recall that Calvary sued Bishop Duncan and other leaders of the diocese in October 2003, as resolutions proposed by the bishop and passed by a special convention in September were clearly designed to facilitate the removal of property from the control of The Episcopal Church. The suit was described in a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on October 25, 2003. The original filing and subsequent court documents may be found on the site of the county prothonotary.

The legal battles seemingly reached a resolution two years later, when the parties filed a stipulation, enforceable by the court. This agreement asserted, among other things, that property held by the diocese (“the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America”) would remain with the diocese, even if some parishes left The Episcopal Church. The stipulation also laid out an elaborate procedure for dealing with parish assets of congregations wishing to leave the church. These provisions, from the standpoint of the plaintiffs, anyway, were intended to prevent a sympathetic diocese from making sweetheart deals with dissident congregations. I doubt that anyone thought that agreement to the stipulation would put an end to the litigation, but it closed one chapter in what has been an ongoing saga.

Recently, of course, Bishop Duncan has made his plans as clear as anyone might desire; he expects to leave The Episcopal Church and take the diocese with him, lock, stock, and barrel. (See “Frequently Asked Questions About Realignment” from the diocese. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has analyzed this document in its “Realignment Reconsidered.” A quite different argument against realignment has been made by the Rev. Dr. Jim Simons.) Although the bishop’s scheme has been known with certainty for more than a year, and although Pittsburgh Episcopalians are planning for a post-Duncan future (see my post “Whither Pittsburgh”), Calvary has made no substantive move in court until now. I suspect that Bishop Duncan’s registering a new Pennsylvania corporation called “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” (see “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”) may have been the final straw that moved Calvary into action.

The new filing can be read here. (This version of the prothonotary’s PDF is searchable and loads faster.) In particular, Calvary seeks to have a monitor appointed with the following duties (this is taken from page 16):
  • To conduct an accounting of the Property (real and personal) held or administered by the Diocese and its use since October 14,2005;

  • To oversee the Property (real and personal) held or administered by the Diocese, and assure that there are no transfers of Property (real or personal), held or administered by the Diocese, outside of The Episcopal Church in the United States of America and that such Property is not used for purposes of separation from the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Calvary also seeks to allow any parish wishing to do so to pay its diocesan assessment into an escrow for the time being. The provisions requested are the following (this is taken from page 17):
  1. Any and all amounts that have become or become due and payable to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (the "Diocese"), except for payments due for insurance coverage and/or other direct pay benefits obtained by the parish through the Diocese, may be deposited with Plaintiffs' counsel in an interest bearing escrow.

  2. Promptly after deposit of any such payment into escrow, counsel for Plaintiffs shall provide notice to counsel for Defendants of the date and amount of such deposit and the identity of the parish on behalf of which the deposit has been made.

  3. Payment into escrow by each parish of funds that have become due and payable to the Diocese to date or that become due and payable in the future shall be treated as payment to the Diocese of such funds on the date of such payment into escrow for any and all purposes related to the good standing, rights, responsibilities, and/or privileges of the parish as a member of the Diocese and, upon making such payments, the parish shall not be considered delinquent or in arrears in its payments to the Diocese or, for that reason, deemed a Transitional Parish.

  4. Any assessment or other funding that the parish has been paying, or pays, directly to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States shall not affect, or be affected by, this Stipulation, and may continue without bearing on the instant action or the parish's good standing, rights, responsibilities, and/or privileges as a member of the Diocese.

  5. Upon subsequent Order of Court, counsel for Plaintiffs shall promptly disburse all sums deposited in escrow in accordance with the Court's ruling and instructions.

  6. This stipulation is without prejudice to Defendants' defenses and objections to the petition as set forth in, inter alia, Defendants' amended new matter and is without prejudice to the right of any party to move to terminate or amend this escrow agreement.
It should be interesting to see how Bishop Duncan and his legal team try to convince Judge James that the requests of Calvary Church are not justified by the facts.

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