October 21, 2011

Pittsburgh Property Update

Bishop of Pittsburgh Ken Price and the diocesan chancellor Andy Roman wrote a letter on property negotiations to rectors, wardens, and vestries on October 6, 2011. For some reason, the letter has not yet been posted on the diocese’s Web site.

Included with the letter was a copy of a letter from Bishop Price dated May 11, 2011, on the same subject. Both documents can be read here. The text of the new letter is reproduced below.

October 6, 2011

Rector, Wardens and Vestry

Dear Friends in Christ:

We write this letter to provide you and all members of your parish with current information on the property litigation and related negotiations involving the Diocese. It is meant to update the Bishop's letter of May 11, 2011,another copy of which is enclosed for your convenience.

As you will recall, earlier this year, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued their opinion affirming in all respects the rulings of Judge Joseph James of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that under the terms of the 2005 settlement of the Calvary suit, our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was the proper entity to hold and administer the endowments and other permanent funds of the Diocese. These court rulings also applied to the buildings being used by over 20 congregations of former Episcopalians who look to the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan to be their Bishop as part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and their Archbishop as part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

After the Commonwealth Court decision, we openly invited these ACNA congregations to enter into a conversation with us in the hope that we could amicably resolve all lingering issues between us regarding the use of the real and personal property of the parish. Sadly, since then, the process for having such a dialogue on property issues has suffered from a variety of ills ranging from counterproductive rumors to outright mischaracterizations of proposals made during confidential negotiations. We write now to clear up certain mistruths that have circulated and to avert speculation over our future intentions regarding these property matters.

First, please know and share with others that the Episcopal Diocese has asked no ACNA congregation to leave the buildings they are presently occupying. Two ACNA congregations (St. James, Penn Hills and All Saints, Rosedale) voluntarily, and on their own timetable, chose to leave the buildings they were using, and another ACNA congregation (St. Christopher's, Warrendale) voluntarily chose a year ago to cease use of the building on Sundays, and has held no services in the building since February 2011.

Second, we want to communicate clearly that the Episcopal Diocese has no present intention to ask any ACNA congregation to leave the buildings they are occupying, and to dispel all rumors that we are forcing them to leave. Even if that was our desire, which it is not, we could not do that without the agreement of the congregation or the approval of Judge James. In addition, the ACNA Diocese has, on behalf of its congregations, asked the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to allow a further appeal of the court rulings in favor of our Diocese, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has not yet ruled on this request. Although our Diocese has opposed this request for a further appeal, the ACNA Diocese and its congregations are entitled to see their challenge to the court rulings through to conclusion.

It is also important for all to understand that the media coverage early in September of the ACNA congregation's decision to leave All Saints, Rosedale came as both a shock and a deep disappointment to us. Our negotiating team, comprised of numerous Diocesan leaders, had worked hard to develop proposals that would have provided fair and positive solutions for both sides, and was prepared to bargain even further, but the ACNA congregation called an early end to the negotiations. Just the opposite impression was conveyed by two unorthodox press releases issued by the ACNA Diocese and used as the basis for the news coverage. Because we see no future in negotiating through the media, however, we reluctantly declined to correct the serious flaws in the story as reported or the mischaracterizations in the ACNA press releases.

So where does this leave us? We continue to see no future in negotiations conducted with an eye toward media coverage the moment one side declares an impasse. Time will be needed to restore lost trust, and to see whether both sides can agree to a common set of ground rules for future discussions. But even as we take time to recreate an atmosphere more conducive to success, we want all to hear and know the remaining points in this letter.

First, the Episcopal Diocese will continue to invite all former Episcopalians to return to active participation in the Episcopal Church, and will continue to reassure all ACNA congregations who may be receptive to this message of reconciliation that if they did choose this path there would be no repercussions. In particular, the congregation would not be obligated to pay any assessments or similar fees to the Episcopal Diocese for the period that the parish was inactive.

Second, there is no reason for any of the ACNA congregations still using the buildings covered by the court orders to leave the buildings they are using at the present time, unless they choose to do so completely on their own. They can remain where they are simply by being good stewards, paying the bills, protecting the property, and showing the care and respect due to any place of worship, irrespective of who owns it.

Eventually, of course, we will have to address the longer term issues of use of these properties, but as long as they show they are being good stewards, time is not of the essence.

Finally, we need to explain that, in addition to the buildings described above that are covered by the existing court orders, there are approximately 15 other situations involving ACNA congregations where the parish property was not listed in the court orders issued in the Calvary suit. This occurred because at that time, the property was titled in the name of the parish and not the Diocese, and the court rulings only listed the propertIes titled in the name of the Diocese. It is our legal position that these additional properties are held in trust for our Diocese and the Episcopal Church and are canonically owned by our Diocese. The ACNA congregations do not agree with that, however, and these property issues, too, must eventually be resolved.

We remain hopeful that in due time, property negotiations can resume and that solutions to all of these issues can emerge from those negotiations. But even if litigation becomes necessary, you should not assume that we have given up hope in reaching a settlement. Negotiation will always be our preferred means for resolving these matters as long as there is any chance of success.

Each of the numerous Diocesan leaders who have been devoting their time and energy to these property matters is eager to put this challenge behind us, but all realize much work lies ahead, and patience is needed. We ask for your continued support and prayers for all those affected by these issues.

Faithfully,
[signed]
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr.
Bishop

[signed]
Andrew M. Roman
Chancellor

This letter has been analyzed (and attacked) by David Ball, who is, I assume, a member of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. David Wilson has posted part of Ball’s analysis on his blog, and the full analysis is available on Scribd. (Note that the last paragraph and the signatures are omitted in the Scribd document. Perhaps Ball did not have access to the final page.)

I would like to make a few remarks about the state of property negotiations in the diocese in light of the above letter and the comments by Mr. Ball. First, however, I want to make an editorial observation. It was not immediately obvious to me why “Calvary” is twice underlined in the letter. On reflection, I assume that the reference is to the title of the lawsuit, not to the church. (Others surely were wondering the same thing I was.)

Note also that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected Archbishop Duncan’s request for an appeal, which it had not at the time the letter was written.

The press releases concerning All Saints, Rosedale, were apparently very upsetting to the negotiators from the Episcopal diocese. Negotiations had been understood to be confidential, and the details released by the other parties were deemed a serious breach of trust. This is a lawyer thing I do not completely appreciate personally. Apparently, however, it is an expectation that counsel even for miscreants—property has been misappropriated, remember—are expected to behave honorably and see to it that the client does also.

Negotiators for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have been frustratingly uncommunicative about both their approach to negotiations or the details of particular negotiations. I do not know for a fact, and I don’t believe the other side knows for a fact, just what terms are negotiable and what terms are not.

Ball bemoans, “It is disappointing that TEC cannot even acknowledge that the ACNA and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh exist.” I have no idea where this sentiment comes from. There is no evidence that the Episcopal diocese or The Episcopal Church itself is pretending that the Anglican Church in North America or its Pittsburgh diocese are not real. That the Episcopal diocese refuses to negotiate with the Anglican diocese is not the same as saying that the Anglican diocese isn’t real.

The understanding of The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is straightforward but easily misunderstood or misrepresented. The canon law of The Episcopal Church (including that of the Pittsburgh diocese) allows neither a parish nor a diocese to withdraw from the church. The withdrawals of October 2008 were improper and, therefore, null and void. A new entity was created in 2008 by former Episcopalians, and that entity came eventually to be called the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. It was created largely with assets appropriated (or misappropriated) from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Parishes that claim to have left The Episcopal Church for what became the Anglican diocese are still parishes of the Episcopal diocese, even if their parishioners and priests are not.

In other words, the parishes the Episcopal diocese says are not “participating” in the diocese and which claim to be in the Anglican diocese are still in the Episcopal diocese and subject to its bishop. There is no reason to negotiate with the Anglican diocese itself, since that entity is irrelevant to the dispute the Episcopal diocese has with its parishes. Additionally, the 2005 stipulation agreed to by Calvary Church and then Bishop Duncan does not even mention the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which did not exist at the time.

There are, of course, two classes of parishes with which agreements need eventually to be made—those whose property titles are held by the Episcopal diocese’s Board of Trustees and those who hold title to the parish property. Parishes in the first class can expect that, eventually, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will gain complete control over their personal and real property. The only question is when. By virtue of the Dennis Canon, of course, the diocese claims a trust interest in the property of the parishes in the second category as well. As much as Mr. Ball would have it otherwise, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already upheld the validity of the Dennis Canon in a case involving the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. This should be disconcerting to those parishes in the second category.

I believe that our diocese is indeed proceeding fairly, though it is indeed in its interest not to move too fast. As Ball notes, if all the parish property in dispute were suddenly given over to the Episcopal diocese without congregations, that property would, at least in the short term, become a financial burden. But, churches can be sold, repopulated, rented, or razed, allowing the real estate to be used for other purposes. The diocese need not negotiate the return of property with a negative asset value.

In principle, Bishop Price could do what has been done in the Canadian diocese of New Westminster—replace the existing priests in dissident parishes and announce that the congregation can stay. In Pittsburgh, many parishioners would leave, but some might stay. I suspect that Bishop Price would find such an approach heavy-handed and would want to leave any such drastic action to be considered by the next Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Postscript: I had to smile at the use of “mistruths” in the letter. I have never seen this word used before. (Merriam-Webster lists the word along with others with a “mis” prefix.) Clearly it is meant as a polite synonym for “lies.”

2 comments:

  1. A good analysis from the outside. It is clear the other side is not bound by a close relationship to truth.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was also interested that the letter not only acknowledged Robert Duncan's position as the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and Archbishop of the ACNA, but used the "Most Reverend" title as well. Sounds like they are being more charitable than Duncan and Company will admit.

    ReplyDelete

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