October 12, 2008

Grace and Charity in Wonderland

This past week, my parish church, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, received a letter from Robert G. Devlin, “chancellor” of the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” It included, as an enclosure, a copy of the stipulation agreed to by all parties in the Calvary lawsuit and signed in October 2005. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the letter was sent to each of the churches that have declared that they are remaining in The Episcopal Church.

The letter said, in part:
It is our prayer that you do not wish to separate yourselves from the Diocese, but whatever your position, we wanted to make you aware of the Stipulation and Order signed by President Judge Joseph M. James of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Specifically, the Stipulation and Order directs certain steps that a Parish Church shall take if it elects to disaffiliate with the Diocese.
The Rev. Jim Simons, president of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh recognized by the church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was quoted in the Post-Gazette story as saying, in response to the Devlin letter, “It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland.”

Indeed it is. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and, I hope, most “normal” people have one view of reality. What the Post-Gazette calls the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” has quite another.

Bob Devlin, of course, was writing for those former Episcopalians who voted to “realign” at the October 4, 2008, diocesan convention. They are not part of a diocese, since they have created no new organization. They have improperly claimed to represent a diocese of The Episcopal Church, while claiming not to be in The Episcopal Church, and they are temporarily—and, I assert, illegally—in possession of many of that diocese’s rather considerable assets. They are not in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, as that province’s constitution and canons do not provide for dioceses except “in the Republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.”

I should also note that, as much as I appreciate the Post-Gazette’s attempt to distinguish between the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” and the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican),” not only is the latter not a diocese, but the Episcopal Church diocese has more right to be called “Anglican,” both institutionally and theologically.

Let me return to the stipulation, about which Mr. Devlin was reminding his correspondents. Calvary Church sued Bishop Duncan and other diocesan leaders on behalf of the Episcopal Church diocese, in an attempt to keep diocesan leaders from improperly transferring property out of the control of The Episcopal Church. Defendants in the lawsuit managed eventually to have the diocese added as a defendant, a move that had the primary effect of allowing their legal costs to be paid by the diocese (and, therefore, in part by the potential victims of their depredations).

The stipulation that was agreed to by plaintiffs and defendants in 2005 had two provisions that are now of great moment. The first item deals with property directly controlled by the diocese:
Property,.whether real or personal (hereinafter "Property"), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter "Diocese") for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
The second item deals with parish property and begins:
In the event a parish in the Diocese (hereinafter “Parish Church”) shall elect to disaffiliate with the Diocese, the Parish Church shall give written notice of that election to the Diocese by delivering a copy of the notice, signed by the Rector and the Vestry, to the Diocesan Bishop (hereinafter “Bishop”), to the Board of Trustees of the Diocese (hereinafter “Board of Trustees”), to each member of that Parish Church and to the Rector and Vestry of each other Parish Church of the Diocese. Upon receipt of such notice, the Bishop and the Board of Trustees shall meet with representatives of that Parish Church and any other parties expressing an interest to discuss in good faith the disposition of all Property specifically held for or in the name of the Parish Church.
The stipulation goes on to specify a complex negotiating process whereby disposition of the parish property is to be determined. This, of course, is the process in which Devlin suggests parishes wishing to remain in The Episcopal Church need to engage.

Devlin—why does this sound like a name from an allegory?—assumes that “Diocese” means the entity of the realigners. According to the Post-Gazette story, Devlin “said the language in the stipulation refers to the diocese that signed it in 2005, meaning the diocese that voted to join the Southern Cone.” The first part is certainly true; there was only one diocese to talk about in 2005. In fact, the diocese that voted, albeit invalidly, to join the Southern Cone was still the diocese of The Episcopal Church.

Devlin then went on to say, “The entity that adopted the resolutions [to realign] on Saturday is the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” He seems to put a good deal of stock in the fact that Bishop Duncan registered a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation called “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” this past spring. (The Episcopal diocese has always been an unincorporated association.) The rub, of course, is that the stipulation states that diocesan property stays with “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America [emphasis added].” How can this be whatever entity Mr. Devlin thinks he is representing if its members claim not to be in The Episcopal Church?

The October 4 story from ENS quoted some of Bishop Duncan’s remarks at a news conference after the convention. He described the way the convention had done its work as “graceful and charitable.” “[W]e wanted to show ourselves to be Christian people who followed Jesus in a way that speaks of his charity, his grace and his love,” he said.

The rest of Devlin’s letter, however, belies any protestations of Christian grace and charity. He emphasized that “the Diocese”—whatever it is that Devlin thinks he represents—“is committed to following” the stipulation’s process for negotiating parish property. As we have seen, however, “the Diocese” must be the Episcopal Church diocese, so the negotiation should be between the diocese whose Standing Committee is headed by Simons and the parishes trying to leave The Episcopal Church, thereby turning Devlin’s view of what must happen on its head.

Devlin then went on to threaten parishes’ insurance coverage: “[I]f you have decided not to remain part of the Diocese, then we need to promptly schedule a time to discuss your parish’s continued participation in various Diocesan insurance plans.” He ends his letter with this disingenuous line: “You are in our prayers at this difficult moment in your parish leadership.”

Lewis Carroll was never so imaginative.

Parishes are being advised to ignore Devlin’s letter.

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