February 20, 2012

Additional Thoughts on an Internal Episcopal Candidate for Pittsburgh

In an earlier post, I indicated that a priest from within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has been nominated for bishop by petition, and I argued that, without getting into personalities, I did not think that electing a priest from within the diocese would be a good thing.

Although bishops of The Episcopal Church are most usually elected from outside the diocese, this is not always the case. I’m sure that there are people who would readily point out that Gene Robinson was Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of New Hampshire when he was elected bishop of that diocese. That Robinson was elected is a strong indication that he was well liked and appreciated in his own diocese.

The point I want to make is that, although there may be some drawbacks to electing a priest from within a diocese, there can be overriding reasons for doing so. I also want to argue that, for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh electing a bishop in 2012, the case against an internal candidate is simply too compelling to be dismissed. To support this assertion, I want to make one additional argument that crystallized in my mind only after I wrote “Pittsburghers Nominate Episcopal Candidate by Petition.”

Under former bishop Bob Duncan, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was slowly but systematically isolated from the wider Episcopal Church, and The Episcopal Church came to be represented as an evil influence to avoid. I won’t attempt to provide a definitive accounting of everything our now-deposed bishop did in this regard, but a short list should act as a reminder to people who have been following diocesan affairs for the past decade. My list includes actions taken directly by Duncan, as well as those passed by the diocesan convention with his vigorous support:
  • Resolution One, passed in 2002, warned members of the 2003 General Convention of actions the diocese could not accept if passed.
  •  Parishes were allowed to designate the part of their assessments that had previously gone to The Episcopal Church to be diverted to other charities. Eventually, the diocese refused to forward any money to The Episcopal Church.
  • The accession clause of the diocesan constitution was changed to give the diocese final say about what it would and would not do.
  • Clergy conferences were held on days when the Province III Synod met, so that representatives from the diocese could not attend.
  • Eventually, the diocese claimed to have withdrawn from Province III.
  • Trinity School for Ministry became virtually the only seminary from which diocesan priests were drawn.
  • Speakers at diocesan events such as clergy conferences and convention dinners were mostly drawn from outside The Episcopal Church and were critics of The Episcopal Church.
  • When attending House of Bishops meetings, Duncan did not lodge in the same facilities as most other bishops and usually left early after business of special interest to him had been discussed.
  • Duncan accepted David Moyer into the diocese after Moyer had been deposed by the Bishop of Pennsylvania.
  • Duncan was an important figure in the development of the Anglican Communion Network, a precursor of the Anglican Church in North America.
  • Duncan helped create the Anglican Relief and Development Fund, which directly competed with Episcopal Relief and Development.
Ultimately, of course, Duncan tried to remove the entire diocese from The Episcopal Church, and his supporters still hold property that should be under the control of Episcopalians.

Sad to say, even though The Episcopal Church came eventually to the aid of Pittsburgh Episcopalians who reached out to it, that aid, at least before the actual schism of October 2008, was less substantial than one might have hoped. Had it not been for the work of Calvary Church and Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh within the diocese, Pittsburgh would not be preparing to elect its next bishop two months from now.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has too long been isolated from the wider church. Electing a bishop from within the diocese, however well intentioned, can only feed the insularity that so often seems to characterize Southwestern Pennsylvania generally. Instead, we need to reach out to the wider church for a bishop, bringing in new blood and new ideas from outside the Pittsburgh cocoon. We need to re-connect to the general church in as many ways as possible.

Who knows? With the right leadership, Pittsburgh, taking lessons from its long night of isolation and episcopal manipulation, might even become a leading diocese of The Episcopal Church.


  1. We elected one of our own. I'm not sure that was a good idea. We provided half the votes against him. He is growing but he seems to be less than open about changes. Not that the changes are bad. The communications have been inadequate and have caused some loss of trust and respect. It will be years before the results are known. At least we didn't have a Duncan to complicate matters.

  2. I am in complete agreement with Lionel. At the time of Duncan's election, the nominating committee was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as embodying a heavily conservative bias. Those of us in other professions understand that the secret to influencing an appointment is with the selection of the members of the nominating committee. Duncan's nomination from the floor was pressed by moderate diocesan members, who saw Duncan as the only alternative to a reactionary movement. One alternative (perceived to be) moderate was not enough. Was he properly vetted? I do not know. Would he have prevailed in a group of moderate candidates? I do not know? I deferred to the enthusiastic support for Duncan from a now retired, liberal and extraordinarily bright priest, with great integrity and who saw Duncan as a fine adviser and confessor. Duncan was perceived as a leader who would never harm the diocese. We were all bamboozled, though I like to think that I saw the Macchiavellian tendencies early. He told everyone what they wanted to hear to gain the power he wanted, but was not content with a mere bishop's hat. Setting aside the irony that it was the moderates and liberals who were primarily responsible for Duncan's election, none of us want to make the same mistake twice. How does this election differ from the fundamental principle that a retiring and departing priest never returns to his/her former parish? The new priest or bishop must find his/her way and have the opportunity to initiate his/her own programs. There is also no question that this diocese must regain the respect of the wider church. Have you ever tried to recruit a new rector from another diocese during the time when the Duncan schism was unfolding and unresolved? If the best candidates had multiple prospects, then they did not see the need to enter this diocese and take on the extra baggage which work in this diocese would bring to the job. We still have priests who stayed with this diocese, when their particular congregations did not choose to leave, and where the Duncan group departure was treated with excessive sorrow and regret. The Duncan baggage has not entirely yet been thrown overboard. This election is a time to aside the continuing ghosts of bishops past and their jangling chains, and seize the urgency of now. There may be many times when a local diocesan priest would be a good candidate. However, not now. Not here. If I had my druthers, I would vote for a candidate who had never personally met Duncan.

  3. Now that is an argument I can buy. Pittsburgh is perhaps where my parish is, in need of new breezes.


  4. One of the things that strikes me as fascinating (with my historian's hat on) is how all the blame is heaped on ++Bob for what transpired in the past decade.

    St. Stephen's became the counterpart to Calvary long before 1995, while Trinity School for Ministry had been around for fifteen years and Alden Hathaway a decade in office before Bob Duncan was brought into the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

    Blaming one bishop for everything that "went wrong" may be a convenient device, but it denies the agency of others. ++Bob didn't somehow divert Pittsburgh off the path; he presided over a process that had been set in motion long ago.

    And it was no more a "conspiracy" than was the process that led to Gene Robinson's election. It's the reality of North American Anglicanism with which we all have to live.

  5. Jeremy,

    I know you date the move to the right (or whatever you want to call it) in Pittsburgh before Duncan became bishop. I don’t dispute that. I can name other people and institutions that got us to the 2008 convention. That said, Duncan was hardly an innocent bystander.

    As for Duncan’s election, the rules in place when he was chosen provided fewer checks and balances than do the current rules. The new rules are not perfect and would work better if there were more trust (or less paranoia) in the diocese. I pray that the next time the diocese elects a bishop, that will be the case.

  6. It's easy to say the election in 1995 was flawed but it wasn't. The most conservative candidate, David Anderson, came in dead last with very few votes. The other two search committee candidates were moderates. Dennis Fotinos had been George Werner's assistant at the Cathedral and Gary Nicolosi went on to be Michael Ingram's Canon to the Ordinary in Vancouver BC and is now a rector in Ontario and proponent of open communion and open baptism.

  7. David,

    Thank you for the reminder that, in the 1995 election, Duncan was probably not the worst candidate.

    People could not understand why the committee had not nominated Duncan. Apparently, however, there were good reasons.

  8. Lionel:
    Your statement,"People could not understand why the committee had not nominated Duncan. Apparently, however, there were good reasons." made me wonder, "Why was Bob Duncan dropped off the final slate?" So I asked a member of that Nominating Committee that very question and their response was “Good question indeed - there was some opposition within the Nominating Committee - as you might guess! The Committee then agreed on a mathematical formula for choosing final candidates. Bob came very close to qualifying when that formula was applied to the matter, he missed by a very small percentage point - probably no more than 5%! I, of course, supported him. But he was defeated by the formula - the majority of the committee, had they been polled a individuals, would have supported him. This meant, of course, that - far from being railroaded by the conservatives, he had been black-balled by the progressives! After the vote was announced, I looked at the Committee and commented - I can cite my comment verbatim - "Has it occurred to you that we may just have elected him by this action?" I meant, of course, that I knew there would be a write-in candidacy and that our action in not nominating him excused him from the Dog and Pony Show!”

  9. David,

    I have long contended that, if the failure of the committee to nominate Duncan did not assure his election, it certainly made it more likely. In addition to Duncan’s perceived strengths, the failure led many to believe that he had been treated unfairly. At least some of the vote in his favor was a sympathy vote.

    The committee had to know that there was an expectation that Duncan would be a candidate. One would therefore expect that its members were inclined to nominate him if at all possible. I don’t think it fair to blame the “formula.” A 50-50 split is nowhere near a consensus that a candidate should be put forward. Roughly half the committee, despite the public expectation, thought Duncan carried unacceptable baggage. No doubt, some of those who thought he should be nominated also thought that he should not be elected.

    I, too, have spoken to a committee member about what happened, and my informant cited two specific problems with Duncan’s candidacy. In general, however, the committee members have been silent about their deliberations, so even what I think I know involves a degree of speculation.

  10. My informant told me the Cmte took a vow of confidentiality so that is why there has been little or no discussion of the facts surrounding the election even after 17 years.

  11. Well, the parties really should put something in writing for posterity's sake.

    Who was on the committee, anyway?

  12. As my memory serves me some of the members were the Chair the Rev Carl Neely, Trinity Beaver; Sally Childs, Calvary; Cathleen Morris Community of Celebration; the Rev Doug McGlynn, Ascension; the Rev Rodge Wood; Christ Church North Hills; Deacon Erilynne Barnum, Prince of Peace.

  13. 'Roughly half the committee, despite the public expectation, thought Duncan carried unacceptable baggage'. This is going beyond the evidence. There are many reasons for thinking that a qualified candidate should not be added to a slate; the phrase 'unacceptable baggage' implies some sort of character flaw or past misjudgement or unwise associations. Unless someone from the 1995 search committee is willing to give more specific information, we can only say that roughly half the committee did not think he should be added to the slate.

    I say this because we need to practice careful speech now so that when we start discussing the petition candidate shortly to be named, we don't want to fall into the 'the Committee must have known something' trap.

  14. I also second Jeremy's point about getting some record into the archives while eye-witnesses are still living. Writing something for the archives with a 'do not open for 30 years' or whatever is surely not violating confidentiality. I have urged the chair of the current committee to put all her records, and her own comments, in the archives also.

  15. Well since ACNA doesn't even have a provincial archive, as such, at present, the default repository necessarily becomes the TEC diocesan archive.

    However, my hope would be that once ACNA's oral history project takes shape, it will serve as a catalyst for establishing something more permanent.

  16. I honestly doubt few, if any, of the now ACNA members of the 1995 Nominating Cmte would be interested in contributing to the archives of the TEC-Pgh Diocese.

  17. David,

    One of the things we all need to bear in mind is the value of preserving a transparent historical record. The 1995 selection process is part of both diocesan histories and deserves to be as accessible as possible. It's not an endorsement of TEC to provide historical material to an archive under their supervision.

    The intent of the oral history project, just so you are aware. is to produce recordings (hopefully also transcriptions if we can find the time and money), which will be made available not only to a future ACNA archive, but to Trinity School for Ministry, Virginia Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary. Bear in mind that lowly historians of all stripes don't have unlimited travel funds and need to focus on archives that have many relevant collections. If ACNA's story is to be told fairly, the information needs to be placed in "friendly" and "hostile" archives alike.

  18. The current climate is largely one of mistrust and suspicion based on hidden agendas, power
    plays, and property negotiations that, for some odd reason, never occur. Perhaps in a future time when the climate is not so sullied archives will be viewed neutrally by both sides.

  19. Philip,

    My use of the phrase “unacceptable baggage” was carefully chosen. I was told of two specific “problems” with Duncan as a candidate. At least one could properly be described as a “character flaw.” Having gotten only one person to speak to me over the years about the matter, I cannot be absolutely certain of my information, but what I said was not simply speculation.

    I do think it would be helpful for future bishop searches to know what actually went on last time.

  20. It would have been helpful to the most recent search to have known what actually went on last time, too.

    Back to the main point, though: a post that talks about someone's 'unacceptable baggage' should be accompanied by the kind of additional information you gave in your comment above, and I appreciate you adding it.

    But I think you should consider whether 'not absolutely certain' is still putting it a bit strong. I've also talked two or three times over the last twelve years to a person who was on the 1995 search committee, and the more I probed, the less certain I was able to be about his memories. He certainly has the impression that some disqualification was discovered, but he cannot say for sure what it was or how it was discovered. The account given to David seems a lot more credible, but my informant never mentioned anything along those lines.

    I think a lot of people have simply assumed that if the 1995 Committee did not recommend Duncan, it must have been either because they discovered some awful secret or because they were secretly his enemies determined to keep him out. My experience on the latest committee inclines me to believe that neither of these things was true.

    My main concern is to make sure that no similar untruth, or perhaps 'myth' would be better, gets spread about the current petition candidate.

  21. Phillip

    Myths about the current petition candidate would only develop if he would lead in the same direction as Bishop Duncan led the Diocese. I don't think the progressive majority in TEC-Pgh will allow anyone, even Scott Quinn, the chance to even think about leading in the same direction as Bishop Duncan. Get ready for the election of former lawyer Michael Ambler.


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