October 6, 2009

Victory!

The Hon. Joseph M. James, judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas made a significant ruling today in the so-called Calvary lawsuit. In particular, Judge James wrote:
Many pages of the parties’ briefs have been used to explain what Paragraph One [of the stipulation agreed to by the parties in 2005] means. However, I find that the language is clear and unambiguous and, therefore, requires no further explanation. The property is to be held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Regardless of what name defendants now call themselves, they are not the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
At issue was the ownership of diocesan property, assuming that Bishop Robert Duncan and his followers had validly withdrawn from The Episcopal Church. (If the withdrawal were not valid, it was agreed by all that the property belonged to the Episcopal Church diocese. See “My Day in Court,” which describes the hearing at which the question was argued.)

In the order accompanying the judge’s decision, he says that
  1. The authorized representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (led by Bishop Robert H Johnson) shall hold and administer the real and personal property that is subject to Paragraph One of the
    Stipulation of October 14, 2005, subject to the terms of that Stipulation.
  2. Counsel for all parties shall meet with the Special Master (Stanley E. Levine, Esquire) within 30 days of this Order.
  3. The Special Master will report to the court within 20 days of that meeting and said report shall identify the real and personal property that is subject to Paragraph One of the Stipulation.
  4. The court will review the report and enter an appropriate order for the orderly transition of possession, custody, and control over said property.
  5. This court retains jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter to enforce the Stipulation and Order of October 14, 2005 and the provisions of this Order.
This decision—the opinion and order can be found here—is a major victory for the Episcopal Church diocese and a severe blow to Bishop (sorry, Archbishop) Robert Duncan. Those parishes that have left with their property will now have to negotiate with the true Diocese of Pittsburgh, as specified in the stipulation. It is to be hoped that the diocese will be less generous regarding property than it has been regarding violations of Episcopal Church canons. (See story here.)

As always, of course, appeal is possible. Success on appeal in this case is, I suspect, unlikely

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