What brought this segment to mind was an August 19, 2011, commentary by David Virtue on his Web site VirtueOnline: The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism.
Virtue begins by calling Episcopal Church clergy “inept” and charging that “the church has turned its back on its historical traditions.” He calls two bishops “extreme revisionist traitors” and describes “liberalism and revisionism” as becoming “disloyal and and [sic] damaging … to the Christian faith.” He speaks of “the deep hatred that Episcopal liberals and revisionists now have for orthodox.”
Virtue then unleashes a completely unnecessary personal attack on my own bishop, referring to Ken Price as “the allegedly meek and mild milquetoast pudgy rump provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh.”
Of course, the ironically named David Virtue does not assert that the “orthodox Anglicans” to which he gives voice are mild-mannered, righteous, and godly people, but, like the mean-spirited political conservatives exposed on The Daily Show, he deserves to be characterized, in Jon Stewart’s words, as disingenuous and un-self-aware.
Having established that Episcopalians are bad people, Virtue gets down to what I assume is the point of the essay, namely, criticizing the way the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is negotiating with congregations that left the diocese and took parish property with them. What he says is riddled with errors.
Virtue asserts, “To date, one parish has settled and one has walked away.” In fact, two congregations have settled, and the one that “walked away” effectively settled in so doing. He then goes on to say, “A judge has ordered the Pittsburgh ACNA and the TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh to deal directly with each other and work something out.” This is completely false. Judge Joseph James has upheld the stipulation agreed to by the Bishop Bob Duncan. The ACNA diocese has no standing in the negotiations over parish property, which is between representatives of the individual congregations and the Episcopal diocese headed by Bishop Price. Archbishop Duncan might wish to insert himself into these negotiations, but he has no basis on which to do so. Accusing Bishop Price of implementing a “divide and conquer approach” is so much sour grapes.
What Virtue is most upset about, it would seem, is the prospect of agreements that allow a congregation to retain—which probably means buy, rent, or lease—its property only if it disaffiliates from ACNA. Thus far, only St. Philip’s, Moon Township, has negotiated such an agreement, and it apparently did so without undue psychological distress. Because negotiations have been very secretive, I do not know if the diocese intends to link property retention with disaffiliation across-the-board. I would assume, however, that this is a decision the Episcopal negotiators will address on a case-by-case basis. There would seem to be no reason to link retention and disaffiliation in a case where, for example, the building is in poor shape or is badly located. (Arguably, many churches of the formerly united diocese are badly located.)
Although I have every reason to believe that the presiding bishop is not dictating the diocese’s negotiating strategy—Virtue believes that she is— Katharine Jefferts Schori made a strong case for linkage when she answered questions from the floor at Trinity Cathedral on April 19, 2011. She spoke of the need to be good stewards of church assets and observed, “We can’t sell to an organization that wants to put us out of business.” I believe that statement is actually a bit stronger than the official position of the diocese, but perhaps not by much.
I spoke the other day to one of the conservative priests who stayed with The Episcopal Church. The priest indicated that not all of the conservative priests of the diocese are in quite the same place regarding property negotiation, but that there is little sympathy for simply giving away property, whether literally or virtually. What those in the ACNA diocese seem not to understand, I was told, is that theology is a matter apart from the property issue. Conservatives in the Episcopal diocese are not in favor of giving away property simply because they agree theologically with many former colleagues in the Anglican diocese.
Virtue concludes his essay by calling Bishop Price “Hardball Harry” and saying, “You gotta figure that the telephone wires between 815 2nd avenue (TEC’s HQ) and downtown Pittsburgh have been running hot all week. Can one see the sticky fingers of Katharine Jefferts Schori all over this one?” In fact, the diocesan offices are no longer in downtown Pittsburgh, and no, you can’t.