Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pittsburgh Poised with One Foot Out the Door

A Boston Globe article on the recent irregular consecrations in Kenya includes this interesting piece of information:

...Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who came to Nairobi for the consecrations, said he expects to see a new Anglican province in North America that will replace the Episcopal Church.

"We are realigning," said Duncan, who added he would attempt to pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church, a move that would raise an unprecedented set of legal and financial questions about the ownership of parish buildings and diocesan property...
At a recent "District" (Deanery) meeting in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, members of District V churches were invited to ask questions of two diocesan representatives, the Rt. Rev. Henry Scriven, Assistant Bishop, and the Rev. Canon Mary Haggard Hays. Lionel Deimel decided to ask about the accuracy of the above quote from the Boston Globe. The full response he received, and a recording of the conversation, can be found here. Here is part of it:

...I decided to ask the representatives of the diocese if Bishop Duncan had, in fact, decided what should be done and was only trying to determine who would follow him out of The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, since such a move was canonically (and, almost certainly) legally impossible, how did our bishop intend to carry out his plan?

All my questions were not answered, but the response was certainly interesting. Canon Hays enthusiastically addressed my inquiries. She said, “Number one: I was there, and the bishop didn’t say that.” I found such a categorical denial of the Globe story incredible. Unless Canon Hays followed Bishop Duncan everywhere he went in Nairobi—stop, for a moment, and let that thought sink in—how could she possibly know everything he might have told a reporter? She could, on the other hand, know that Bishop Duncan was not supposed to say what Mr. Paulson said that he did. Will Canon Hays demand a retraction? Will the Globe print one?

Canon Hays explained, “He [Bishop Duncan] cannot, singlehandedly, move a diocese anywhere.” That is assuredly true. He needs supporters to help him realize his plans, and it is clear that the diocese’s “informational meetings” are part of a plan to convince lay Episcopalians to sign on with the ordained conspirators. (I do not expect that the opinions of any deacons or priests will be changed at these district sessions.)

I never got an answer as to how Bishop Duncan expects to carry out his program, but Canon Hays assured everyone that the opinions of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor and that of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that Pittsburgh has unlawfully changed the accession clause in its constitution are only opinions. (Presumably, Pittsburgh cannot remove itself from The Episcopal Church if its actions are constrained by the general church’s constitution.) Canon Hays admitted that no diocese has ever removed itself unilaterally from The Episcopal Church and implied that we will all be witnesses to how that plan works when our bishop attempts to execute it...
So, is Pittsburgh packing their bags? Yes and no. Mark Harris points us to the recently released constitutional and canonical changes being proposed for consideration by the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Before focusing on them, it may be helpful to first consider how Bp. Duncan describes these proposed changes:

...Constitutional changes proposed for consideration at the 142nd Annual Convention would begin the process to exercise our right to end the accession of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America. The accession clause first appeared in the Constitution of our Diocese in 1868. The effect of the changes would make clear the right to end any claim of spiritual or canonical authority of the General Convention over the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and would allow the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to realign itself with another Province of the Anglican Communion. The proposed changes are written in such a way, however, that continuing membership in The Episcopal Church remains a possibility if The Episcopal Church were to reverse its “walk apart” from the Anglican Communion...

...Because the accession clause is a feature of our local diocesan constitution, adoption of the changes requires the action of two successive annual conventions. The proposed changes would therefore not take effect immediately, but would open a season of planning, discussion and decision-making in preparation for the second vote in 2008.
The changes do indeed accomplish everything the bishop has summarized above, and more. It is that "more" that is probably the most interesting.

For instance, there is this new Section 2 of Article I to be inserted in the Constitution:

The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall have membership in such Province of the Anglican Communion as is by diocesan Canon specified.
Then, at the end, a new Canon is proposed:

Canon _____ (number to be determined)
“Provincial Membership within the Anglican Communion.”

The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall be a member of that Province of the Anglican Communion known as The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Note that with the removal of the accession clause, there is now no reference to the Episcopal Church in the Constitution. That reference is now within the Canons. To join another Province, according to the new Section 2, Article I of the Constitution, would no longer require a constitutional change (and two Conventions), but a simple canonical change (which, according to the current Canons, does not require the approval of two Conventions). At the same time, as long as the new proposed Canon that identifes the Province as TEC is in place, it is probably assumed that they will be protected from charges of abandoning the Church. Pretty slick, eh?

But here's the bit that really surprised me:

The Diocese of Pittsburgh embraces all those counties of the State of Pennsylvania known as Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. Additionally, for reasons found satisfactory to any Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, parishes outside of the boundaries of the aforementioned counties may be considered for admission into union with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, provided that they meet all other requirements set forth in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for canonical admission.
Did you catch that? Pittsburgh wants to be a non-geographical Diocese and part of the Episcopal Church, at the same time. In other words, they want to be able to compete with CANA, AMiA, etc. to pick up parishes all over the country, yet still be protected from lawsuits by technically remaining part of TEC. Extremely slick, if they can pull it off without the dioceses they poach from having a fit, which is unlikely.

But, Bp. Duncan never told a reporter that "he would attempt to pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church." Such a statement might be grounds for a presentment, after all. Yet, looking at these legal games being played out within the diocese, it is not too difficult to see that is exactly what he is planning to do.

What will be the end result? Probably Bp. Duncan and quite a few of the members of the current Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will join another Province. At that point, they will no longer be members of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. And then the remaining faithful Episcopalians in Pittsburgh will gather together, elect a new Standing Committee as the ecclesiastical authority, and eventually elect a new bishop. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will continue. And these costly and unethical games being played by the current leadership will finally come to an end.


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