News for Week Ending 2/14/2011
England may allow civil partnership ceremonies in churchesEngland’s 2004 Civil Partnership Act, which allows same-sex couples to register their partnerships and provides a status very much like marriage, explicitly prohibits religious institutions from being involved in the establishment of civil partnerships. On February 13, 2011, however, The Lead summarized a number of recent news reports suggesting that this provision of the law may be changed soon. A recent letter to The Times noted, “Three faith communities—Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians—have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises.” If the restriction is removed, it seems unlikely that the Church of England will allow such registrations in its churches, however.
Episcopal–Moravian communion celebratedOn February 10, 2011, the full-communion agreement between The Episcopal Church and the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in North America was celebrated at the Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The story of the event from Episcopal News Service includes to both photographs and video of the February 10 service. Our own diocese was represented by Dr. Joan Gundersen.
Judge issues amended order favoring Fort Worth dioceseJudge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, Texas, issued an amended order for summary judgment after a February 8, 2011, hearing. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The order supersedes the order issued on January 21, 2011, but the thrust is the same. The new order delays the requirement to surrender property. Specifically, the new order says:
The Court hereby ORDERS the Defendants to surrender all Diocesan property, as well as control of the Diocesan Corporation, to the Diocesan plaintiffs 30 days after Judgment becomes final.The plaintiffs, of course, are the Episcopalians in the case, and the defendants are Bishop Jack Iker and other members of the Fort Worth diocese who claimed to have removed the diocese to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
The Court hereby ORDERS the Defendants to desist from holding themselves out as the leaders of the Diocese when this order becomes final and appealable.
The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth describes the recent court action here. The defendants’ view of the revised order is here. The Episcopalians have also asked for documents and submitted questions to be answered by the defendants. Those documents may be read here.
Bishop Seabury case argued before Connecticut Supreme CourtLast year, a Connecticut court determined that the property of the Bishop Seabury Church, of Groton, Connecticut, should properly be controlled by the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. (The Church now claims membership in the Anglican Church in North America—see Pittsburgh Update story here.) An appeal to that decision was heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court on February 9, 2011. The diocese offers background information about the case and declares confidence that the diocese will ultimately prevail in this February 9 press release.
Legal moves anticipate Virginia property dispute retrialThe Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has posted on its Web site a number of court documents filed in preparation for the retrial of its property dispute with congregations that have left the diocese. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The latest court documents involve discovery. For example, the diocese has asked the court to compel The Falls Church to provide missing documents related to the formation of the parish, whether it had ever received loans or financial help from the diocese, and whether the property had ever been consecrated by an Episcopal bishop. The diocese is also trying to compel Truro Church to surrender documents the church considers privileged. The documents can be found on the diocesan Web site here.
Diocese announces agreement with Somerset congregationOn February 14, 2011, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh announced a second agreement with a former congregation that is now part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. The agreement with the Somerset Anglican Fellowship resolves disputes between the parties and acknowledges explicitly the Dennis Canon of The Episcopal Church, which asserts that parish property is held in trust for the church and the diocese.
The Somerset Anglican Fellowship was created by former parishioners of St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church. It was admitted to the diocese the same day that the diocesan convention voted to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. The congregation has been meeting in rented space. As a result, the items of parish property to which the diocese is now laying claim are primarily liturgical furnishings. The agreement does not restrict the affiliation of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, which, presumably, will remain a part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.
A summary of the terms of the agreement between the diocese and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship can be read here. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Episcopal News Service each covered the agreement. The agreement will have to be approved by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.