August 29, 2008

Sarah Who?

I just heard that John McCain has picked Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his running mate. Like virtually everyone else in the country, I was surprised. I thought that the smart choice would have been Tom Ridge, a popular former governor of my state, Pennsylvania, and the first head of Homeland Security. Ridge has a good résumé and had the potential to deliver a large state that is most certainly in play in the fall.

Of course, I want McCain to lose in November, so I have to be pleased by his vice-presidential choice. On the positive side, from a Republican viewpoint, anyway, Palin’s plusses include having a strong anti-choice and reform-minded record and, in an election season in which Hillary Clinton energized women over the prospect of there being a woman to vote for, being female. Oh, and she apparently was runner-up for Miss Alaska in 1984. At 44, she is still a looker.

Alas, Palin doesn’t have many other obvious credentials for a job that, at least in the past eight years, has become very powerful. McCain has certainly found a way to grab headlines the day after Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, however.

The good news, from the Democratic viewpoint, is that the selection of Palin takes the question of qualifications off the table. If Obama’s qualifications for President are a little thin, Palin’s qualifications border on nonexistent. And, should McCain win, she will be a heartbeat away from taking over from an elderly President with a worrisome health record. Of course, should she become Vice President, we can expect that, unlike the current meddlesome office-holder from the heart of darkness, she will likely spend most of her time in her house at the Naval Observatory playing with her children.

But she can always do that in Alaska.

August 26, 2008

Fallback Position Redux

My last post, on the Trinity Cathedral resolution (see “Fallback Position”), brought in an unusual amount of mail.

Some of that mail addressed the particular details of the plan to share Pittsburgh’s cathedral with rival dioceses resulting from “realignment.” I appreciated this mail if only because I had not analyzed in depth the many details of the Trinity resolution before I wrote my essay.

More unexpected were a number of messages from members of the Cathedral Chapter. These were not aimed at chiding me for what I wrote but were, I think, seeking a fair hearing for the Trinity proposal. I don’t know what sort of feedback Chapter members may have received, but, given the polarization in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, it would not surprise me if they were criticized from both right and left.

Whatever my personal opinions on the wisdom, charity, or practicality of the Trinity Cathedral proposal, I am convinced that the Chapter is totally sincere in putting forward what it has. Moreover, whether or not the Chapter has found the “right” path for Trinity Cathedral, its members have to be admired for trying, to the best of their ability, to protect their church home. Other parishes with divided congregations seem to be accepting Bishop Duncan’s reassurances that all will be well after the realignment vote at face value and are taking no special action to achieve the best possible outcome for their churches in the aftermath of a split.

I suggested to one of my correspondents, Ed Murry, a member of the Chapter elected by members of Trinity, that I let him speak for himself in this forum, and he agreed to let me post his initial message to me:
Dear Dr. Deimel,

After reading the entries on your blog today, I would like to offer some insight and clarification relative to some important points regarding the resolution in question, and particularly the genesis of it. Let me first be clear that I am not speaking in my capacity as Senior Warden and Chair of the Executive Committee at Trinity, but as a congregant there, and as an observer of the process.

The concept for this agreement was formed in the winter of 2007 in discussions between members of our congregation and our clergy regarding ways to keep our Cathedral family intact during the difficult times ahead. From there, our Provost, Canon Cathy Brall, conceived the kernel of the idea that became the resolution that is now before us. Her ideas and this concept were first presented to our Congregation in a sermon and in our newsletter this past spring. The wording of the resolution was developed by various Chapter members and Cn. Brall. The two Chapter members who contributed the most to the actual drafting of the document, and to working out the innumerable details that it contains, are known to hold opposing views on the issues that are necessitating the resolution itself.

The document was vetted in full Chapter before being presented to Bishop Duncan—both as the Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and as Dean of our Cathedral, which is currently in Transitional status—about two weeks ago, and we received his endorsement, as you know, last week.

It must be understood that the purpose of the actions proposed by the resolution is a very simple one—to preserve the Church that is our Church, with it’s foundation in Christ. Past the unpleasantness that is pervading our Denomination is the desire to continue to function as a Church family, to preserve our traditions, our bonds, our outreach, and our spiritual home.

It is my hope that among the critiques, oratories, and pontifications regarding the actions that we propose, our true purpose will not be lost.

As additional information, the meeting that you note as being scheduled for September 14th is for the purpose of a vote on this resolution by our full Parish.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like any additional information or clarification, and to share the contents of this email as you may wish.

Ed Murry

I have nothing more to add except for a final comment on the parish meeting on September 14, a point clarified in later correspondence. There will be a vote on the resolution at that meeting, at which time the resolution will become a plan that the Chapter will try to follow, or it will simply become a rejected proposal.

August 22, 2008

Fallback Position

I just received a press release from Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral. The cathedral church of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has increasingly come under the influence of Bishop Robert W. Duncan, who is trying to take the entire diocese and all its assets out of The Episcopal Church.

The press release reports on a resolution from the Cathedral Chapter that, if approved by the congregation, “would make it possible for Trinity to continue to be the cathedral church for all who are currently part of the diocese, regardless of their future Anglican affiliation.“ According to the press release, the initiative “has the full support of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.”

Here is the full release:
August 22, 2008


This September, Trinity Cathedral members will be discussing a resolution of Cathedral Chapter that would make it possible for Trinity to continue to be the cathedral church for all who are currently part of the diocese, regardless of their future Anglican affiliation. Their work has the full support of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan.

The Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will consider whether or not to realign as a diocese with another province of the Anglican Communion during its annual meeting on October 4. While a majority of the diocese's elected deputies supported the proposition on its first reading at the diocesan convention in 2007, other individuals and congregations have made it clear that they will remain with The Episcopal Church in the event that realignment receives final approval.

The resolution states that the Cathedral "does not wish to be compelled to make an exclusive choice" between Anglican worshipping communities. It goes on to lay out a practical system by which the Cathedral could serve both groups. That system envisions giving seats on the Cathedral's governing bodies to representatives of both contingents, inviting the bishops of both to serve as co-presidents of the Cathedral Chapter, and working with both on issues such as clergy appointments.

According to Cathedral Provost Canon Catherine Brall, the draft resolution was prepared over the last several months by the Cathedral Chapter and sent to all active members of the Trinity on August 22. Cathedral parish members will have a number of opportunities to discuss the resolution over the next three weeks, and then will come together for a final all-parish meeting on September 14.

Canon Brall praised the work of the Chapter, saying that the ideas encapsulated in the resolution "grew out of a very thorough and wonderful season of Chapter members seeking to envision how Trinity Cathedral might best position itself to fulfill its unique identity and destiny as a historic Penn Land Grant Church deeded to foster and preserve Anglican and Episcopal worship."

Bishop Duncan also thanked the Chapter for their work and commended the resolution to the Cathedral parish membership. "Trinity Cathedral, more than any other church building in the diocese, belongs not just to whoever may "win" the right to administer it in our sad divisions, but to all of us, to the city, and the whole region. I see this resolution as a good initiative to acknowledge and protect that unique role and to protect the Cathedral's future as Mother Church of all Anglicans and of the City," he said.

The Cathedral Chapter Resolution is available here (pdf):

This story is available online at:

I don’t want to get into the details of the resolution here. The Cathedral Chapter has clearly been busy, as the resolution is four pages long and is quite detailed in certain areas.

I had heard rumblings that such a resolution was in the works. Although it is being represented as a Cathedral Chapter initiative, I have a suspicion that it is an integral part of the bishop’s realignment strategy. At last year’s diocesan convention, the bishop’s address contained a section called “Behaviors for the Time Ahead.” I reproduce a subsection titled “Forgive” below, from pages 112 and 113 of the 2007 Convention Journal:
Do not dwell on the hurts. Let go of the things that wound. Make your confession often. It is our Lord’s direction to us in the prayer He Himself taught us.

It is in this spirit that I share with you one of my convictions about what our God is calling us to in our stewardship of assets in the years ahead of us. It is my growing conviction that all the things we presently hold in common need to continue to be administered for the good of all, even if we find ourselves in two different Anglican Provinces at the end of the day.

Consider Trinity Cathedral. It is, more than any other church building, the city’s and the region’s parish church, a true cathedral. It belongs to the whole community, not just the Episcopal Diocese, and certainly not just to those who may “win” the right to administer it. I intend to challenge the Cathedral Chapter at their annual January retreat to make plans for how our Cathedral can continue to serve all of us and all of the community – in the separated future that lies ahead. Magnanimity and grace can characterize our future, if we choose it.

How will those who hold Calvary Camp or the Common Life Center Property or the Growth Fund or Pool One administer these assets? For all, or just for some? These matters are a choice, after all.

I do not need to remind the Convention of how Diocesan Council dealt with St. Stephen’s Church in Wilkinsburg during the period when they were joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: we fully supported their Youth Program despite the conflict between us. The present diocesan leadership has a track record, as does the national Episcopal Church. Locally, we also have a vision: “One Church of Miraculous Expectation and Missionary Grace,” impelling us to support each other wherever we can support each other, in areas and in concerns where we do agree. Forgiveness is Jesus’ witness from His undeserved cross. May it be our witness too.
Readers not thoroughly familiar with recent Diocese of Pittsburgh history should be reminded that any evaluation of the diocese’s generosity toward St. Stephen’s—likely the diocese did not wish to suffer the public relations fallout from killing a youth program for disadvantaged African-Americans—should also take into account the fact that the bishop, at an earlier convention, threatened to throw plaintiffs Calvary Church and St. Stephen’s Church out of the diocese if they did not drop the lawsuit against the bishop and other diocesan leaders.

As I remarked at the 2007 convention, Bishop Duncan was essentially saying that he is willing to share any diocesan property he is unable to steal outright. His fallback position is, at least from my perspective, less than a model of Christian charity.

No doubt, members of the cathedral are looking for ways to stay out of the crossfire that will be the result of a successful realignment vote. They are nurturing a vain hope; Trinity Cathedral is too prominent a diocesan asset to sit out the coming power struggle. Members should reject the resolution and steel themselves for some very rough times ahead.

UPDATE. Since I wrote the essay above, I realized that I may have misinterpreted the resolution on one point. According to a footnote, after formal Chapter approval and “legal review,” the special resolution will be “brought before a duly convened meeting of the parish congregation on Sunday, September 14, 2008.” The resolution says nothing about the congregation voting on the resolution.

A member of the Chapter (one elected by the Trinity congregation) wrote and assured me that the resolution did not come from the bishop. I did not, of course, suggest that it did, although, as far as I know, he was the first to propose a sharing arrangement such as is embodied in the Trinity resolution. I reject my correspondent’s further assertion that “the Cathedral property is neither his [the bishop’s] nor TEC’s to share, but Chapter’s.” This congregationalist attitude is inconsistent with Episcopal Church polity.

Whereas I can appreciate the reconciling spirit that motivated members of the Chapter, I question whether useful reconciliation is possible at this level. The resolution is not a peace treaty, but a battlefield truce. The resolution may buy time for Trinity Cathedral, or it may only invite litigation that, absent the resolution, would be directed elsewhere. The resolution cannot bring long-term peace, which would have to be negotiated (or litigated) at a higher level.

August 12, 2008

Another Take on Rowan’s Thinking

Shortly after writing my last post, “Mistaken Primate,” which questioned the clarity of the thinking of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, I discovered the essay “Too big a tent,” by Savitri Hensman, on the Guardian Web site. Hensman, you may recall, wrote the well-researched paper “Rewriting History: Scapegoating the Episcopal Church.”

I don’t often write posts primarily to refer readers to material elsewhere, but I want to make a rare exception in this case. My point in “Mistaken Primate” was that Rowan Williams’ priorities seem misplaced. (At best, they are counterintuitive to this Episcopalian.) I have no doubt that many will view my comments as being pedantic and uncharitable. Hensman, on the other hand, points to an instance of distorted priorities on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury that rises to the level of being life-threatening, though it is not his life that is being threatened. Her last paragraph:
Meanwhile, at the Lambeth conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury appealed for a “covenant of faith” that would “promise to our fellow human beings the generosity God has shown us”, and suggested “a Pastoral Forum to support minorities”. But to him, those needing greater generosity and pastoral care were mainly Christians with strong objections to same-sex partnerships. While he is a humane man, his priorities seem strange. If Anglicans are to remain relevant, and a force for good, bishops need to listen more carefully to people like Michael Causer’s family.
As Hensman explains earlier in her piece, Michael Causer was recently killed in an apparently homophobic attack. Seemingly, however, people like the 18-year-old Causer are less in need of “generosity and pastoral care” than, say, Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert W. Duncan or Bishop John-David Schofield, late of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Surely much of the value of the Anglican Communion lies in the willingness of its spiritual leader to offer such abstruse moral insights to the ignorant Anglican faithful.

"Too big a tent” can be read in its entirety here.

August 11, 2008

Mistaken Primate

It has long been known that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams holds personal views on the morality of homosexuality that differ from what is expressed in Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998. Archbishop Williams made it clear at the beginning of his tenure in his present position that he would set his personal views aside in order better to serve the Anglican Communion.

This past week, the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which have long been a source of consternation to liberals, have received a good deal of public scrutiny. Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent of The Times published correspondence from more than seven years ago between Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Wales, and Dr. Deborah Pitt. In that correspondence, Williams laid out a very clear argument for faithful, monogamous, homosexual relations between persons who are not, by nature, heterosexual. Gledhill’s August 6 blog post carries a title that nicely conveys what now seems the very strong opinion of Williams’, yet one in conflict with his behavior as Archbishop of Canterbury: “Archbishop Rowan: gay sex comparable to ‘marriage.’” (I encourage you to read Gledhill’s blog post, as well as the various pages to which the post links. Time also published a helpful story the next day.)

It was not surprising that, on August 8, the Archbishop issued his own statement on his Web site. It reads as follows:
In the light of recent reports based on private correspondence from eight years ago, I wish to make it plain that, as I have consistently said, I accept Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as stating the position of the worldwide Anglican Communion on issues of sexual ethics and thus as providing the authoritative basis on which I as Archbishop speak on such questions.

That Resolution also recognises the need for continuing study and discussion on the matter. In the past, as a professional theologian, I have made some contributions to such study. But obviously, no individual’s speculations about this have any authority of themselves. Our Anglican Church has never exercised close control over what individual theologians may say. However, like any church, it has the right to declare what may be said in its name as official doctrine and to define the limits of legitimate practice. As Archbishop I understand my responsibility to be to the declared teaching of the church I serve, and thus to discourage any developments that might imply that the position and convictions of the worldwide Communion have changed.

The statement makes it obvious why the thinking of the present Archbishop of Canterbury is hopelessly muddled, and I’m referring neither to his views on homosexuality nor his conclusions about balancing one’s personal views against the need to represent the institution that pays one’s salary. Although I am inclined to agree with Mary Ann Sieghar’s conclusions in her essay “Rowan Williams was selected as a liberal and now he should govern as one,” I want to focus instead on some small details of Williams’ statement.

According to Williams, Resolution I.10 states “the position of the worldwide Anglican Communion on issues of sexual ethics.” This is error number 1 of his explanation. Resolution I.10 is simply a statement agreed to by a collection of Anglican bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Such statements have never been binding or definitive, nor could they be unless the provinces of the Communion granted such binding authority to bishops attending Lambeth. In The Episcopal Church, of course, not even the entire House of Bishops can articulate a “position” of the church. Only the General Convention could do that. It is worth noting that many American bishops voted for Resolution I.10 only to head off more draconian wording. (As an aside, I would argue that a close reading of the resolution leads one to conclude that it says much less than many assert that it does. I could argue that quantum mechanics is “incompatible with Scripture,” but that would invalidate neither physics nor Scripture.)

Error number 2 is the assertion by Williams that Resolution I.10 provides him with authority to speak for the Communion. Certainly, The Episcopal Church has not authorized him to speak for it or for the Communion generally. The Archbishop speaks for the Archbishop; it is telling that he invariably catches flak from all sides whenever he makes a public statement. The Archbishop of Canterbury is described as the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion and as primus inter pares (first among equals, i.e., first among the primates), but he is still only one of 38 primates, whose authority in their own churches is quite diverse. In fact, the only reason Episcopalians freely acknowledge the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual head of the Communion is that doing so is essentially meaningless. If we thought the Archbishop had any real power, we would be less generous. It is time to disabuse Williams of his delusions of grandeur.

In his second paragraph, Williams uses a phrase about which I constantly chide reporters, “Anglican Church.” What does the archbishop mean by this? Because he wants the Anglican Communion—a fellowship—to be a real, unified, worldwide church, he speaks as though it is. Well, it isn’t. This is error number 3. Williams does not speak for the Anglican Church because there is no such thing. I don’t even know the degree to which Williams can speak for the Church of England, which is a real church and is the only one in which he has any tangible authority. Given that everyone in the Church of England also seems to jump on Williams when he delivers a speech or issues a statement, I suspect that even the Church of England keeps the man on a short leash.

The Archbishop repeats the church-versus-fellowship error in the penultimate sentence. A church indeed has a right (may give itself the right) to articulate “official doctrine” and to “define the limits of legitimate practice.” The Anglican Communion is not a church and has not, in any case, established an agreed upon procedure for proclaiming acceptable doctrine and practice. I’m going to call this error number 4.

The Archbishop’s final sentence is simply a comedy (or, perhaps, tragedy) of errors. There is no “declared teaching of the church“ if the “church” is the Anglican Communion. Certainly, one can question Williams’ obligation to a nonexistent teaching of a nonexistent church, particularly if that requires him to act against both his personal belief and what he believes to be God’s truth. This is error number 5, at least. Finally, the Archbishop’s need to “discourage any developments that might imply that the position and convictions of the worldwide Communion have changed” seems like a commitment to discourage the Communion from seeking what he perceives to be the truth. Big error here: number 6, say.

I am sure that Rowan Williams’ martyr-like fidelity to his perception of his role in the Anglican Communion is widely seen as noble. I think it is pathetically (and, perhaps, pathalogically) mistaken. In this troubled period of the Anglican Communion’s history, the Communion needs neither a martyr nor an autocrat; it needs a leader. It’s too bad that Rowan Williams has not shown himself to be one.

August 9, 2008

Let’s Get It Over With

On October 4, 2008, the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will vote on “realignment.” In particular, a second vote will be taken on constitutional amendments that eliminate accession to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church. Adopting a new canon that declares the diocese to be in the Anglican province of the Southern Cone is also on the agenda. (Resolution One of the 2007 convention, which sets out the constitutional changes can be read in the Convention Journal, beginning on page 93. This year’s Resolution One declares the diocese to be in the Southern Cone and can be read here.)

It is a foregone conclusion throughout The Episcopal Church that these measures, so strongly advocated by Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert W. Duncan, will be passed by the convention. In Pittsburgh, neither proponents nor opponents are quite so certain. No one seems to doubt that the clergy will vote for the constitutional changes; the clergy vote favored it on first reading by 109 to 24. Even if some clergy get cold feet this time around, it is difficult to believe that opponents will be able to diminish substantially the more than 4-to-1 ratio of support for the measure achieved last year. The lay vote is less predictable, however. Last year, lay deputies voted in favor by 118 to 58, with 1 abstention. Even though they backed realignment by more that 2-to-1, several factors diminish the predictive value of that statistic. Deputies change from year to year, and even the number of deputies assigned to particular congregations change. More significantly, deputies understand that the vote this year is more than simply a symbolic protest. Finally, the willingness of significant numbers of conservative clergy who have strongly backed Bishop Duncan in the past but are now opposing realignment cannot but have some influence on the lay vote.

Whichever way the vote goes, and despite the bishop’s improbable assurance that “[t]here would be few immediate consequences for parishes” of a decision to realign, Pittsburgh Episcopalians will likely face a period of chaos after the October vote, particularly if realignment passes. In that case, there would be competing claims to diocesan and parish property; the bishop, if not already deposed, would be deposed; in the Calvary lawsuit, the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas might deliver a serious blow to Duncan and to parishes claiming to have left the church; and The Episcopal Church would likely join the existing suit or initiate new litigation against Duncan, his supporters, and departing parishes. If the vote goes the other way, Duncan will be disgraced and might, as he has said he would, step down as bishop. Or he might not. Some of the more rabidly anti-Episcopal-Church parishes might declare their departure, inviting negotiation under terms of the Calvary lawsuit stipulation or lawsuits by The Episcopal Church. Perhaps, however, everyone would accept the status quo for a time, in the expectation that, after a December request, the Primates’ Council announced at GAFCON would recognize the Common Cause Partnership as some sort of Anglican province, with Duncan at its head and the Diocese of Pittsburgh a part of it, whatever that might mean.

The smart money, I am told, is betting that the House of Bishops is most likely going to postpone a vote on deposing Bishop Duncan at its September meeting, as the bishops would prefer the clarity of agreeing that he has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church after he has actually declared that he has left it. Episcopal Church supporters in Pittsburgh are very uneasy over this prospect. If Duncan is not deposed in September, when will he be deposed? Even if he is immediately inhibited after the October vote, postponing the deposition vote until the regular spring House of Bishops meeting would leave Pittsburgh in limbo for a painfully long time.

What will happen if the bishops fail to act in September, and the October realignment vote fails? The bishops will not have the cover of Duncan’s having declared himself to be out of The Episcopal Church to justify their voting for deposition. This question reminded me of part of the answer given by Duncan’s lawyers to item 19 of the supplement filed by the plaintiffs in July (see “Lies and Dodges.”) Item 19 began: “After obtaining passage of Resolution One, Bishop Duncan posted a statement ….” The defendants objected: “Defendants deny that Bishop Duncan ‘obtained’ passage of Resolution One. To the contrary, Resolution One was passed at the November 2007 Annual Convention of the Diocese pursuant to the Constitution of the Diocese by a majority vote of more than 400 lay and clergy voters representing all parishes in the Diocese.”

Technically, of course, the Bishop of Pittsburgh could not have passed Resolution One all by himself. To suggest, however, that he was not responsible for its passage is disingenuous in the extreme. He could, after all, have prevented its passage merely by declaring it to be out of order, which it clearly was. In fact, he lobbied hard for its passage. If this is the case, however, it raises an interesting question. No one imagines that Bishop Duncan will not be deposed if the Pittsburgh convention votes for realignment. The case against him for abandonment will be essentially the same as the case against Schofield—actually, it will be a good deal stronger—and the House of Bishops readily agreed to depose the Bishop of San Joaquin after that diocese’s realignment vote.

Consider this thought experiment. If the House of Bishops is willing to depose Duncan once the Pittsburgh convention votes for realignment, would it also be willing to depose him if the vote goes the other way? If not, why not? Can an abandonment determination against the bishop depend not on what the bishop does, but on what his convention does? Duncan has done what he has done whichever way the vote goes; irrespective of the vote, he would seem to be equally culpable. But, if what happens on October 4 has no bearing on whether Robert Duncan has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, what excuse does the House of Bishops have for not deposing him in September? The Title IV Review Committee made its determination more than half a year ago, and Duncan has only given the church more reason to believe in his abandonment since then. Not only would the House of Bishops avoid uncomfortable situations by acting in September—neither calling a special meeting for the purpose nor waiting until the spring meeting is very attractive—but the bishops would facilitate the prompt reorganization of the diocese after the convention votes for realignment or offer the prospect of electing a less divisive diocesan bishop in a timely fashion if it does not.

A September deposition of Bishop Duncan, it has been said, will anger his supporters and assure a vote favoring realignment. So be it. This bishop has been telling us since 2003 that a split of the diocese is inevitable. By now, practically everyone believes him, and most simply want to get the matter over with, so we can move forward. When everything is considered, there is every reason to depose Duncan in September and no legitimate reason not to do so. Let’s get it over with.

August 6, 2008

Lies and Dodges

The latest round in the long-running lawsuit by Pittsburgh’s Calvary Episcopal Church against Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan and other diocesan leaders cannot but remind one of why lawyers are—at least until you need one—generally held in such low regard in this country. Calvary, remember, sued to assure that churches and other property in the Diocese of Pittsburgh would continue to be used exclusively for The Episcopal Church (TEC). Now that the bishop is about to execute the final step of his plan to liberate (read “steal”) the diocese away from TEC, lock, stock, and barrel, his lawyers have resorted to lies and dodges (with a few tautological admissions and half-truths thrown in for good measure) to forestall court action until the getaway car is safely speeding away from the ecclesiastical bank that is to be the scene of the crime.

Calvary Church, remember, recently asked the court, pursuant to the stipulation—read very carefully point 1 of the stipulation—between it and Bishop Duncan, et al., to appoint a monitor to inventory and oversee the assets of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and to allow individual parishes to pay their diocesan assessments into escrow accounts. (See “Calvary’s Cavalry Again Rides to the Rescue.”) According to the July 7 filing, “Defendants’ continuing efforts and announced intentions [to take the diocese and all its property out of The Episcopal Church] necessitate monitoring and oversight to protect the Property held or administered by the Diocese from transfer, use or disposition in violation of the Order.” The defendants have now responded to Calvary’s filing.

The new document, entered on August 4, is in two parts. The first part answers (in a manner of speaking) the Calvary assertions point-by-point. This is followed by “new matter” making the defendants’ own case against Calvary’s requests.

Answers to Calvary

It would be tedious to give a complete accounting of the response to Calvary’s requests of the court, but the overall tone can be understood by citing highlights. The strategy of this section of the filing is one of setting out a legal theory of why Duncan ought to be able to get away with his plan, to admit nothing but what is completely obvious, to deny that anything significant has happened yet, to blame others, to deny the relevance of the stipulation, to assert that TEC must bring separate suit to resolve matters at issue, and to suggest that those issues are really religious ones (and are therefore matters outside the court’s jurisdiction).

Whether now or later, the defendants need to argue for their right to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. This argument begins to take shape on page 1. They assert that
  1. TEC is a “federation of Dioceses.”
  2. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was carved out of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which existed prior to TEC.
  3. TEC has no “executive department.”
  4. Neither the Episcopal Church constitution nor the diocesan constitution prohibit removing the diocese or its property from TEC.
I am at a loss to understand the supposed significance of point 3, which is something of a half-truth anyway. Point 2 is irrelevant, as was the fact, for example, that South Carolina was a colony before the formation of the United States. The real question is whether a diocese, once joined to the General Convention, becomes an indissoluble part of it. Just as the United States determined that union with a state cannot be undone, TEC would argue similarly regarding dioceses and the General Convention. The “federation of dioceses” theory is simply contradicted by all the facts, and Calvary has already put James Dator’s dissertation, which lays out the facts, into evidence. As for point 4, what is asserted is true if one is talking about explicit prohibitions. I have argued elsewhere that even the most strained argument for a diocese’s right to secede is unsustainable.

Several of the arguments that follow are repeated throughout the document, namely that property issues can only be adjudicated through legal action brought by TEC as a plaintiff, that actions are being taken for theological reasons beyond reach of the court, and that diocesan convention, not the defendants are making decisions. It has, of course, been a mystery why TEC has not become a party to the suit. The defendants assert that a new action would have to be brought by TEC, but, not being a lawyer, I am unsure what to make of such an assertion. That Bishop Duncan repeatedly blames convention for doing what he has so strongly advocated, is shameful behavior and an example of cowardly leadership. I suppose that he assumes that Calvary will not sue all 400 convention deputies. I expect—certainly, I hope—that Judge Joseph James will see through the transparent attempts to hide theft behind the first and fourteenth amendments, not to mention the members of the bishop’s flock that he has led astray.

The filing makes an interesting point about the new corporation (named “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh”) registered by Bishop Duncan, and what is asserted may even be true. (See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”) The corporation was registered, it is said, “not for the transfer of any property but to protect the name of the Diocese from a competing claim to that name by any entity formed by TEC.” Eventually, of course, TEC will claim that the diocese is what it has always been—it will have no need to create a “new” diocese—except that Bishop Duncan—then no longer a bishop of TEC—will not be its bishop.

Throughout this section, defendants argue that the stipulation is not relevant. In the following section of the defendants’ filing, they suggest that it was defectively drawn. It was, of course, the agreement that Calvary was able to extract from the defendants. The defendants also assert repeatedly that no offenses have yet been committed by the defendants. Calvary, on the other hand, points out the statements Duncan has made and the steps he has implemented to effect his plan to take the diocese outside TEC. What an irony it is that a bishop so fond of referring to the “plain meaning” of scripture insists that the court ignore the plain meaning of his own statements and actions! Repeatedly, the answers given by the defendants begin with: “Admitted in part and denied in part.” In many cases, this simply means that they admit that a statement was made and is properly quoted, while they deny the obvious implications of the text.

A worrisome statement appears on page 6: “If and when TEC takes action against Bishop Duncan, the Bishop will determine whether to challenge that act as a violation of the Canons of TEC and/or a denial of due process.” The House of Bishops should take note. (See also below.)

The defendants dismiss both the need for a monitor and the court’s “inherent authority” to appoint one. The answers to a number of paragraphs of Calvary’s filing read as follows: “Denied. Paragraph nn sets forth legal arguments and conclusions to which no response is required. If and to the extent a response is required, the allegations are specifically denied. See also the New Matter [where defendants make their own argument].”

New Matter

The defendants’ own argument in this section is largely summed up in the titles it uses. I will spare readers most of the details, adding only those that seem especially notable. Many of the arguments repeat those in the answer section of the filing. The defendants argue
  1. Plaintiff seeks relief that cannot be supported by the terms of the stipulation: Much of the argument here addresses the diocese’s self-declared right to withdraw from TEC.
  2. Plaintiffs improperly seek relief on behalf of TEC, which is not a party to the stipulation.
  3. Plaintiffs’ request for appointment of a monitor violates the United States Constitution: Defendants argue that determining what is for “the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese” is a religious decision.
  4. Granting the relief plaintiffs seek would violate the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions: The claim here is that the decision is a religious one and that 400 convention deputies can’t be wrong. The bishop is claiming that his free-speech rights would be violated if Calvary’s requests were granted.
  5. Plaintiffs’ claims regarding counsel fees are an improper attempt to end-run constitutional protections on speech and are otherwise improper: The use of “end-run” as a verb should be enough for the judge to reject the argument here, but likely won’t be. This section is more of the same.
  6. Plaintiffs’ claims constitute an improper attempt to obtain a preliminary injunction and the appointment of a receiver without satisfying the procedural or legal requirements that are a necessary predicate to obtaining such relief: My legal credentials fail me here. The defendants may have a point, but I am not qualified to judge. This is one of the rare places in the filing where there are a lot of cases cited.
  7. Plaintintiffs’ claims relating to the board of trustees are legally and procedurally deficient: Again, I have to beg off. In practice, trustees invariably do what the bishop wants them to do. This is a very striking coincidence.
  8. Plaintiff’s request for a supplemental “escrow” is procedurally improper and is barred by the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions: Various arguments are made here. My favorite is this one: “Plaintiffs have an interest that is adverse to those parish churches who support Diocesan realignment.” No kidding!
  9. Plaintiffs’ claims are constitutionally improper to the extent they rely on allegations regarding Bishop Duncan’s Ecclesiastic status: The filing actually argues that Duncan will dispute his deposition.

What Next?

As an intelligent, rational human being, I find the defendant’s filing to be mostly nonsense. It is impressive, however, that one can argue for the indefensible with such sincerity and surface credibility. So many of the arguments made are defective, but establishing the fact requires a long chain of reasoning. Just how judges keep track of such logic I do not know. I hope Judge James is good at it. That said, I have to repeat that I am not a lawyer, and there are certainly legal arguments here that legitimately may carry weight.

A hearing on Calvary’s requests is scheduled in early September, before the scheduled House of Bishops meeting at which Duncan could be deposed. (A decision could be postponed.) Pittsburgh Episcopalians of every stripe will be awaiting the outcome of that hearing with some anxiety.

August 2, 2008

Realign with Me

It is difficult for others in The Episcopal Church to know how to treat the so-called “orthodox.” Most of us have no need to ban them from our churches or from decision-making bodies for their theological views, even when we find those views—I struggle for an appropriate word here—improbable. I am perfectly willing to engage these Episcopalians in discussion, even when anything worthy of the name “reconciliation” with them (or even tolerance by them) seems unattainable.

There is a point at which tolerance, Christian charity, or whatever you might want to call it, simply becomes a surrender to evil. Acceptance of differences, if extended to those who insist on being intolerant of everyone with a different viewpoint from theirs, simply destroys an institution, in this case, The Episcopal Church. When the “orthodox” assert that their view is the only valid one and when vows, rules, and traditions must be violated to advance God’s kingdom, it is time for others to say “no.”

These musings are occasioned by my having written what can only be considered a piece of satire aimed at those “orthodox” working for “realignment.” Such true believers cannot be reached through rhetoric, no matter how compelling, and railing against their depredations may not be salutary for one’s own spiritual health. Sometimes, however, even the subject of humor is able to laugh at it. Admittedly, humor, except for biting sarcasm, is hard to come by among the realignment crowd, but one never knows. Writing humor can keep one’s own emotional temperature down.

Anyway, I began with a line from a song that I realized I could change in a cute way, and I intended to write a song parody about Episcopalian loyalists. Poetry has a way of writing itself, however, and it quickly became a song about people on the other side. Frankly, I am writing this to defend myself against the inevitable charge of nastiness, not so much from my enemies, as from my friends.

The song is “Realign with Me,” to be sung to the tune of “You Belong to Me.” You can find the lyrics, commentary, and more here. If you think I need absolution, consider it requested in advance.