November 1, 2009

Questions for the Anglican Diocese

This past week, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) announced simultaneously that it was going to appeal the decision of Judge Joseph James awarding diocesan property to the Episcopal Church diocese—see my October 6, 2009, post “Victory!”—and that it would henceforth be known as the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Story on the Web

The diocese of Archbishop Robert Duncan not only issued a press release October 29, 2009, but also created a new Web site on which to place it. The new site, titled “Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh,” can be found at http://pittsburghanglican.org. At the lower left of the home page of this site is a link labeled “Continue to diocesan web site,” which takes the reader to what has been (and, apparently, continues to be) the Web site of the breakaway diocese. This site, found at http://pitanglican.org, still carries the title “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican).”

Both Pittsburgh dailies carried stories of the announcement from the Duncan camp. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published “
Anglicans appeal ruling on property division” on October 29. An edited and shortened version of the story appeared October 30 with the title “Seceding Anglicans to appeal decision on assets.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published “Churches plan appeal of Allegheny County judge’s ruling to keep assets” October 30.

Episcopal News Service ran a more detailed story containing useful links to related content. Titled “
Group plans to appeal diocesan property ruling,” it appeared October 29. The Living Church posted an October 30 story, “Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh to Leave Longtime Office,” which, despite its title, largely deals with the recent announcement regarding litigation.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh published a brief reply to the promise of an appeal October 29, which can be found
here.

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.

5 comments:

  1. 1. The ACNA diocese of Pittsburgh is the defendant in this case. It is being sued, not suing.

    If the TEC diocese had to sue to get possession of ACNA parish churches, as it would since the ACNA folks are in possession of them, would you urge them to refrain from suing for the same reasons you have applied to +Duncan?

    2. While I would agree that both sides have ignored cost-benefit analysis elsewhere across the land in parish litigation, the value of the property of a whole diocese, plus the parish church buildings of two-thirds of it, is worth litigating under any cost=benefit analysis. (Parish churches will be held in trust for whichever is found to be the legitimate diocese.)

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  2. Notice that on the page of the new Anglican diocese website concerning the Anglican Church of North America there is a blatant lie;
    Members of the worldwide Anglican Communion

    No matter how you twist the facts, there is not one bishop or diocese in ACNA to whom the Archbishop of Canterbury has extended communion. And there is no one from ACNA who represents it as a constituent member on the Anglican Consultative Council.

    These are the only two definitions of membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion of which I am aware.

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  3. In response to Alan Stewart, please note that the "ACNA diocese of Pittsburgh" is only a defendant because it is aligned with Bp. Duncan, who was a defendant in the original Calvary Episcopal Church lawsuit brought to prevent Robert Duncan from doing what he eventually did.

    Taking an appeal is the equivalent of beginning a new judicial action. The fact that Bp. Duncan is a defendant doesn't change that. If he were serious about avoiding going to court, then he should accept the judgment of the court ans stop asking the court to do something different.

    Is there anyone at this point that thinks that Bp. Duncan's offshoot will ever be "found to be the legitimate diocese"? Seriously.

    First he claimed legitimacy by laying claim to the word "Episcopal" both before and after he left The Episcopal Church. Since that Wantlandesque ploy wasn't bought by the courts he seems finally to have abandoned it.

    Now he (as David points out) is claiming legitimacy by pretending to be part of The Anglican Communion.

    When will the bible-citers get to take to heart the false-witness proscriptions of Exodus 20:16 & 23:1, Deuteronomy 5:20 & 19:16-21, Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:17, 14:5, 14:25, 19:5, 19:28, 21:28, 24:28 & 25:18, Matthew 15:18-20 & 19:16-19, Mark 10:17-19, Luke 18:18-20, and Romans 13:9?

    That's a lot more weight than the half-dozen clobber verses Bp. Duncan seems to ground his "theology" on.

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  4. At least some answers to my questions can be found in a letter dated 10/30/2009 from Archbishop Duncan “To the Elected Leadership of the Diocese.” The letter is neither on the pitanglican.org nor the pittsburghanglican.org Web sites, but David Virtue posted it today. You can read it here.

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  5. More information on the Staying Faithful Fund was revealed last night at the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh’s annual convention. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “For every $2 given through the end of 2010 an anonymous donor will give $1, up to a match of $200,000 for donations of $400,000.”

    And who is that fat cat anonymous donor?

    ReplyDelete

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