The determination to appeal the decision in the Calvary lawsuit is a disappointing development, but certainly not an unexpected one. The militant traditionalists leaving The Episcopal Church have shown no hesitation to fight for property in the courts. (The biblical injunction about taking disputes among Christians to the secular courts apparently only applies to the infidels remaining in The Episcopal Church.) That they have had almost no success, except in a couple of Southern states where the War of Northern Aggression is still being fought, is of no consequence. They are confident that they are on God’s side—or is it the other way around?—and are therefore incapable of entertaining a rational cost-benefit analysis regarding costly and time-consuming litigation. They are used to declaring victory at every reversal—the honest “[w]e lost” in Archbishop Duncan’s recent pastoral letter was a welcome exception, but one that has quickly been forgotten—and charging forth with renewed confidence to fight the next battle.
The October 29 press release raises many questions, but, not really knowing what Archbishop Robert Duncan and his attorneys are thinking, I do not have many answers for them. Here are some questions that come to mind, however, and a few thoughts I can offer concerning them:
1. Who is bankrolling an appeal? Duncan’s new Web site (see sidebar), whose purpose seems to be to intimidate Episcopalians into capitulating and reassuring Duncan’s followers that all will be well, proclaims:
The appeal announced today will be funded from several significant contributions, the first of which is in hand. An Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Defense Fund (The Staying Faithful Fund) has been established and is receiving donations. None of the ordinary gifts of our people or assessments of our congregations will be used to support the appeal.(No information is offered concerning how one might contribute to the fund.) The money is likely coming from the same wealthy ideologues who have funded the Institute for Religion and Democracy and the American Anglican Council, people whose primary agenda may not necessarily be (for example) strengthening the Anglican Communion and its constituent churches. (See the report “Following the Money” from the Diocese of Washington, as well as the earlier report from Institute for Democracy Studies, “A Church at Risk: The Episcopal ‘Renewal Movement.’”) Although people in the pews of Duncanite churches are supposed to be reassured by the press release statement, they might well ask themselves whose agenda is being advanced here. Who is paying for an appeal, an appeal that does not seem to have much prospect of success?
2. Why announce an appeal now? No appeal has yet been filed nor will be filed until Judge James actually orders assets to be transferred to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. So why announce an appeal now? I doubt that the defendants think they are going to intimidate the leaders of the Episcopal diocese directly, though they may have been encouraged by a perceived lack of resolve in the diocese’s generous but misguided offer to release clergy from their obligation to The Episcopal Church. (See “Is Pittsburgh Treating ‘Realigned’ Clergy Properly?” and “Once More on Departed Pittsburgh Clergy.”)
The Duncan crowd may hope that their rhetoric will cause well-meaning Episcopalians to call for charitable treatment of those who have left the diocese and church. According to the new Web site, attempts by The Episcopal Church to reclaim its property would be “unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable.” We are told that “[t]here must be an equitable agreement and distribution. There is a Christian way to resolve this dispute.” We are also told that “the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh is committed to protecting and expanding the extraordinary ministries of [its] dynamic congregations and agencies,” something it will be unable to do without appropriating resources from The Episcopal Church, apparently.
It is interesting to see what is going on here. Judge James’s decision only applies to diocesan property. A separate provision of the 2005 stipulation applies to parish asserts, and the disposition of parish property will only be considered after ownership of diocesan property is established. Duncan acknowledged this in his October 7, 2009, pastoral letter:
The court’s decision has nothing to do with PARISH property, including the funds held in trust for you. The stipulation of 2005 spelled out a mediated process for parishes wishing to leave the “diocese.” Your bishop, your standing committee, your diocesan council and your board of trustees will all work with your parish leadership toward this end. We invite the leadership of the Episcopal Church Diocese into working with us for the good of all congregations, both Episcopal Church and Anglican Church congregations.There has been essentially no sympathy among leaders of the Episcopal Church diocese for ceding diocesan assets to the realigners. There is real concern among liberal Episcopalians of the diocese, however, that negotiation regarding parish property will become a much more personal affair, and conservative diocesan leaders may be reluctant to act against realigned priests, lately counted as friends, whose theology may be more similar to their own than to that of liberal diocesan clergy. Duncan and his followers understand this and are changing the subject to parish property, where their case has greater emotional appeal. The Anglican diocese asserts that “parish programs are threatened by the court decision, especially if a precedent is set for confiscating parish assets,” but it is not so much parish outreach that is being threatened as it is real estate, trust funds, and furnishings that are at risk.
I find this argument especially galling, as one of the mission projects listed on the new Web site is Shepherd’s Heart Ministries, a worthy enterprise that aids the homeless of Pittsburgh. My own parish, despite the diocesan schism of a year ago, has continued to serve monthly meals to the homeless at Shepherd’s Heart, not wanting to punish the homeless for the sins of their former Episcopal brothers and sisters. The Anglican diocese unashamedly takes credit for the work of Shepherd’s Heart, however, without any suggestion that it is an ecumenical ministry.
3. Why change the name of the diocese now from “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” to “Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh”? The reason for this change may be simply that the former name was confusing to friends and foes alike. Maintaining the myth that Duncan presided over the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh seemed to be a major part of that group’s legal strategy, but Judge James dismissed the ploy derisively. I suspect that the basis of an appeal will not involve the name of the diocese. The name change raises another, likely unimportant, question: What will happen to the Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation by the name of Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh registered by Duncan in 2008? (See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”)
4. Why is the main Web site for the Duncan diocese still titled “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)”? The new Web site is clearly not a new diocesan Web site; it comprises only six pages. The site at http://pitanglican.org has not changed its title, does not contain the latest press release, and does not mention the new site at http://pittsburghanglican.org. Are the Duncanites trying to fly under the radar? Whose?
5. When was it decided to appeal? It would be interesting to know when Duncan and his attorneys decided to appeal the Court of Common Pleas ruling. My guess is within minutes of learning of it, in spite of all the temporizing and talk of prayer and seeking God’s guidance. They have always pursued a scorched-earth policy. As long as someone is willing to pay for ongoing litigation, Duncan can forestall his day of reckoning. Perhaps God will somehow pull him out of the fire before he has to admit legal defeat.