October 9, 2009

Diocese Clarifies Property Status

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a statement intended to clarify the status of parish property in the wake of Tuesday’s decision by Judge Joseph M. James that diocesan property of the pre-October 4, 2008, diocese belongs properly to the Episcopal Church diocese.

The statement explains that the decision of the court was to settle the meaning of paragraph 1 of the October 14, 2005, stipulation agreed to by the parties of the Calvary lawsuit. Parish property is dealt with in the second paragraph of the stipulation. Today’s statement explains that
Paragraph Two of the 2005 Stipulation requires that there be a dialogue between the diocese and any parish seeking to disaffiliate from the diocese regarding the disposition of property specifically held for or in the name of the parish, followed by mediation (where a neutral third party helps the parties resolve any disputes between them), before the diocese or the parish may resort to the courts to decide the dispute.

The diocese intends to follow this procedural mechanism, now that the Court has made it clear that we are the “Diocese” referred to in the Stipulation.
Lest anyone think the diocese is ready to give away the store, however, the next paragraph is reassuring:
It needs to be understood, however, that Paragraph Two is procedural only. It does not alter the legal or ecclesiastical principles surrounding the questions of whether a parish can disaffiliate from the diocese or whether a disaffiliating congregation may retain parish property.
In other words, expect the Dennis Canon to be part of the negotiation regarding parish property. Moreover, since the diocese soon expects to have a bishop with jurisdiction in place—Bishop Kenneth Price, Jr., is to be approved a provisional bishop at the diocesan convention on October 17—there is someone the general church can hold responsible for upholding the Dennis Canon.

The statement makes another plea to the “realigners” for reconciliation. I suspect that will fall on deaf ears, at least until the fate of parish property is actively in play.

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