Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Pittsburgh Stealers" Plan Their Getaway

There's been some developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh worth noting. Rather conveniently, the diocesan website appears to be down. Fortunately, there are a number of secondary sources from which we can glean enough information to attempt to explain these new developments.

First, some background. The Diocese of Pittsburgh has been considered by many conservative Evangelicals to be the "New Jerusalem" of TEC since the opening of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in 1978 in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. In 1992, Alden Hathaway, the Bishop of Pittsburgh, named Robert Duncan his Canon to the Ordinary. In 1997, Duncan was nominated from the floor of the Pittsburgh's Convention and elected as their Bishop. He quickly became the chief spokesperson for the extreme conservatives in TEC. In 2004, he became the Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network. The Network has lead the attempt to replace TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada as the Anglican presence in North America. You can read more about this attempted coup here and here.

In November, 2007, the Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to remove all references to TEC from their Constitution. Such a Constitutional change must be passed by two Conventions. The second vote will be taken this October. They also added a new Canon, which stated that they were members of TEC. Apparently, they thought this would protect them from TEC taking any legal or ecclesiastical action against them. Note that a canonical change does not require two votes. We'll return to that point in a bit.

However, in June 2007, the Executive Council of TEC had made clear by resolution that such canonical changes would be considered "null and void." The removal of the "accession clause" by Pittsburgh is not recognized as valid by TEC.

In January 2008, the Title IV Review Committee certified that Bp. Duncan has abandoned TEC. Some of the evidence that led to this judgment can be found here. The House of Bishops will be asked to give consent to Bp. Duncan's deposition at their Fall meeting.

This brings us to the latest developments.

On May 27, the Standing Committee of Pittsburgh issued a statement. Here's part of it:
...Should our Diocesan Bishop be validly deposed pursuant to the requirements set forth in the canons, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is prepared to exercise its role as the Ecclesiastical Authority of this diocese...
Apparently, they are attempting to learn from the mistakes made in San Joaquin when that Diocese attempted a similar stunt. Mark Harris has further commentary on this matter.

A comment to Mark's post by Joan Gunderson, a member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was picked up by The Lead. It is worth repeating here:
The situation in Pittsburgh is such that even if Bishop Duncan were to be deposed at a House of Bishops meeting in September, the Standing Committee would go forward with the vote at convention to eliminate the accession clause from the diocesan canons. In fact, the diocesan leadership decided at its spring leadership retreat to move the convention forward to the first weekend in October (usually first weekend in November) so that there would be less time between such a deposition and the convention.

Please note that Bishop Duncan has assured himself of a comfortable transition. He has built a retirement house on land owned by the diocese and he and his wife have been deeded (as of November 2007) a life interest estate (to the longest lived survivor) in that house. The diocese also loaned Bishop Duncan the money to build that house (terms not in the public record.) In addition we understand that he AND Bishop Scriven have signed consultant contracts with the diocese for two years at full pay which will go into effect SHOULD BISHOP DUNCAN BE DEPOSED.

The Standing Committee has an overwhelming majority that supports 'realignment,' but there is one member who signed a public letter saying he was not realigning. This person is working hard to encourage parishes to stay in TEC. Trying to bring members of the standing committee up on charges before 'realignment' would be useless because the group ('The Array') that would conduct any Title IV proceedings is itself packed with supporters of realignment. Furthermore, there is no provision for trying the 4 lay members of Standing Committee.

However, rest assured that there are people planning for the future of the EPISCOPAL diocese of Pittsburgh. The group doing the planning represents the full cross section of those who will still be Episcopalians AFTER convention. This includes clergy and parishes who until this year have voted for all the measures put forward by those now pushing 'realignment.' We are a larger group than you might think.
And finally, some proposed resolutions for Pittsburgh's October Convention have been made public. Remember that cute little trick I mentioned about adding a canon that identified their Provincial alliance? Well, they plan on implementing that option. They are proposing a new canonical change, which will not require the vote of two Conventions. It will go into effect immediately. The new canon identifies their new Province as the Southern Cone.

They also include some rather bizarre language about those congregations that don't want to join the Southern Cone. They have to "ask permission" to stay in TEC. I think not. Since the proposed actions of the leadership of Pittsburgh will not be considered valid or binding, faithful Episcopalians need not do a thing, except continue to be faithful.

So, what does all of this mean? Mark offers a few possible scenarios.

There is little doubt as to how the leadership of TEC will respond, as they made clear in the case of San Joaquin:
If a majority of the House concurs with the Review Committee's certification, the Presiding Bishop must depose Schofield (in this case, Duncan) and declare the episcopate of the diocese vacant. There is no appeal and no right of formal trial outside of a hearing before the House of Bishops.

Those remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary. An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

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