Pittsburgh Update

Pittsburgh Update publishes weekly summaries of recent developments in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion that affect or could affect Pittsburgh Episcopalians. Emphasis is on reporting, not interpretation. This is a service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. This site is in no way affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice          

A Service of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh         

Monday, February 28, 2011

News for Week Ending 2/28/2011

Covenant opponents publish new material, decry unbridled advocacy

Modern Church, an English advocacy group “that promotes liberal Christian theology,” has recently added new material opposing adoption of the Anglican Covenant and specifically aimed at the covenant discussion within the Church of England. The latest pages on the Modern Church Web site supplement an already extensive section (“A very un-Anglican Covenant”) dedicated to Covenant opposition. Meanwhile, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has issued a press release calling for “fair process and honest debate.” The Coalition cites one-sided advocacy of Covenant adoption by the Church of England hierarchy and the publication of biased “educational” material concerning the covenant by the Anglican Communion Office. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.)

Church continues to oppose liberalized British civil partnership law

The Guardian published a strong editorial February 28, 2011, criticizing the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church for opposing a plan by the government to allow same-sex, civil partnership registrations to be held in religious buildings. Currently, the events are banned from churches, etc., even though some religious groups, such as the Quakers, would like to host them. The government has no plans to force any religious organization to host such registrations. (See Church Times article here.) According to The Telegraph, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has been adamant in insisting that marriage is between a man and a woman and that he would not bow to pressure to conduct civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England buildings.

Deposed Episcopal priest avoids jail time for no-contest plea

Deposed Episcopal priest Donald Armstrong was sentenced to four years probation, $99,247 in restitution, and 400 hours of community service unrelated to his current Convocation of Anglicans in North America church for a no-contest misdemeanor theft plea. Armstrong’s probation, imposed by Colorado judge Gregory R. Werner, will run concurrently with a four-year deferred sentence he received last year in a no-contest plea agreement on a felony theft charge. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) Details of the sentence are available in stories from The Gazette of Colorado Springs and The Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly. Both stories link to additional material on the case.

S.C. amends constitution; cites Title IV revisions

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina passed, on second reading, several constitutional amendments weakening its ties to The Episcopal Church. The action came at its annual convention held February 18–19, 2011, held in Beaufort, S.C. Ostensibly, the changes were occasioned by the revised disciplinary canons of The Episcopal Church. (A new Title IV, which contains canons related to clergy discipline, take effect on July 1, 2011. The revised Title IV was passed by the 2009 General Convention.) The S.C. changes gut accession to the canons of The Episcopal Church, localize clergy discipline, and make it easier to amend the diocese’s constitution.

Several people involved in creating the new Title IV have launched a Web site, the Title IV Resource Site, which offers a 9-page justification of the constitutionality of the new canons, as well as procedural flowcharts to explain the new disciplinary process.

The Living Church reported on the South Carolina actions February 23, 2011. More information about the Title IV controversy can be found in a story from Episcopal News Service.

Monday, February 21, 2011

News for Week Ending 2/21/2011

Anglicans Online announces opposition to Covenant

In its weekly essay for this week, Anglicans Online (AO), one of the oldest Anglican sites on the World Wide Web, announced its opposition to the Anglican Covenant. AO has a reputation of being non-political, but its Covenant essay argues that the Covenant will forever change the Anglican Communion and make it less nimble to act in the modern world. The AO essay can be found here.

Communion issues documents promoting Covenant

The Anglican Communion Office has issued a Study Guide and a set of Questions and Answers related to the Anglican Communion Covenant. Episcopal News Service wrote about these new documents here, suggesting that they can be useful in diocesan discussions about the Covenant. In reality, however, these documents are examples of advocacy for the adoption of the Covenant. The introductory page of the Study Guide, for example, declares
This study guide is intended to help Anglicans engage with the text of The Anglican Communion Covenant: to understand it, to deepen their faith as Anglican Christians, and to become more committed to life together in the Anglican family.
The documents are the product of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity Faith and Order (IASCUFO).

Women priests coming to Cyprus and the Gulf diocese

Episcopal News Service reported February 18, 2011, that the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf has received permission to ordain women as priests. The diocese is part of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. The first such ordination may take place as early as June. The decision does not affect the other dioceses of the province.

Ottawa diocese reaches agreement with two churches

Anglican Journal reported February 21, 2011, that the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa of the Anglican Church of Canada has reached an agreement with two Ottawa churches that had voted to join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), part of the Anglican Church in North America. St. George’s church will be disestablished and its property sold to its ANiC congregation, which will rename it. ANiC clergy will leave St. Alban the Martyr Church by July 1. A statement from the diocese about the agreement can be found here.

Episcopal Church Executive Council meets in Fort Worth

The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met in Fort Worth February 16–18, 2011. This was an emotional meeting for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which, like Pittsburgh is dealing with the split that occurred in 2008. Fort Worth Episcopalians hosted a number of events for the Council and told their story of rebuilding. (See Episcopal News Service Story here and an inspiring video produced by the diocese here.) A summary of Executive Council resolutions can be read here and a letter to the church describing the work of the Council is here.

‘No one will be turned out of their church home’

Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth wrote a pastoral letter to his diocese on January 22, 2011, after a court ruling in favor of the diocese. (See Pittsburgh Update story here. The latest Pittsburgh Update story on the Fort Worth litigation is here.) In his letter, Ohl urged his flock to offer those who left for the Southern Cone a “prodigious welcome” and promised that “no one would be turned out of their church home.”

Virginia settles with Oatlands church

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia announced February 20, 2011, that it had reached a settlement with Church of Our Saviour in Oatlands, Virginia. The church is one of nine that attempted to leave The Episcopal Church while retaining the parish property. According to the agreement, which terminates all litigation between the church and the diocese, Our Saviour will lease the property from the diocese for up to five years and will use some of its funds to make necessary repairs to the building. It must disaffiliate from all breakaway “Anglican” groups for as long as it occupies the building. Episcopal visits must be approved by the Bishop of Virginia. The Washington Post quoted the rector of the church as observing that $400,000 had been incurred in legal costs, even though the real estate is only worth $314,000. As we reported here, the diocese and the breakaway churches return to court on April 25.

Duncan reacts to Somerset agreement

Archbishop Robert Duncan, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh responded to the agreement between the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and Somerset Anglican Fellowship—see Pittsburgh Update story here—by sending a pastoral letter to his diocese. In it, he expressed dismay that the agreement was concluded without the knowledge of the Anglican diocese. His letter concludes
In light of these very serious developments, I feel compelled to issue a godly directive to all of the clergy of the diocese not to engage in, conduct, or conclude negotiations without first discussing such actions with me, or with Canon Mary, and with our chancellor.
It is not known whether the Episcopal diocese is currently negotiating with other congregations that left the diocese in 2008. The Duncan letter can be read in a post on The Lead.

Bishop Price sends offer to non-participating churches

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh announced February 18, 2011, that Bishop Kenneth Price, the diocese’s provisional bishop, has written to churches that have not been participating in the diocese, i.e., churches in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, inviting reconciliation or an amicable resolution of differences. He indicated that agreements with individual churches—different circumstances will require individual agreements—must acknowledge Episcopal Church canons regarding property. Accompanying the bishop’s letter was a six-page pastoral direction. Bishop Price noted that, according to diocesan canons, churches that have not participated in the life of the diocese and paid their diocesan assessment could be declared transitional parishes as of March 13, 2011, after which title to parish property becomes vested in the Board of Trustees. According to a February 19 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh has welcomed an offer from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh for the Anglican parishes to negotiate for their property.” A spokesman for the Anglican diocese was quoted as saying that his diocese would like to see a single agreement covering all the breakaway churches. Of course, the Episcopal diocese has not offered that and has not suggested that it would negotiate with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Monday, February 14, 2011

News for Week Ending 2/14/2011

England may allow civil partnership ceremonies in churches

England’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 celebrated

On 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 diocese

Judge 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 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 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 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 Court

Last 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 retrial

The 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 congregation

On 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.

Monday, February 7, 2011

News for week ending 2/7/2011

Presiding Bishop appointed to White House panel

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships February 4, 2011. The appointment is for one year. Other appointees include Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Mark Hanson and Reverend Elder Nancy L. Wilson, Moderator for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and a student at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Advisory Council normally comprises 25 members. Additional appointments are expected.

The White House announcement may be read here, and the Web pages of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships can be found here. Episcopal News Service ran a brief story on the appointment, and The Lead provides additional information, including the fact that the appointments are somewhat overdue, as members of the 2009–2010 panel were announced two years ago. Additional information about Wilson can be found here.

East Carolina convention nixes Covenant

In its 128th diocesan convention, held February 4–5, 2011, the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina passed a resolution advising the church’s Executive Council to reject the Anglican Covenant as it has been presented to the churches of the Anglican Communion. Specifically, the resolution asks Executive Council to continue the conversation within the Anglican Communion regarding communion among our churches without accepting the document currently up for adoption. The resolution also expresses the desire that any future draft “represent more truly, and with greater clarity and full recognition of voices of laity and clergy, our Anglican tradition and Christian faith.” The East Carolina measure cites the elevation of the “Instruments of Unity” to the status of governing bodies of the Communion and the lack of check and balances in the mechanisms set out in the Covenant draft as reasons for rejecting the “final text” of the Anglican Covenant.

Fort Worth hearing set for February 8

As we noted here last week, the group that left the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth for the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone filed an objection to the summary judgment of the District Court of Tarrant County, Texas, assigning diocesan property to the Episcopal Church diocese. The Episcopal diocese reports that a hearing is to be held on the objection February 8, 2011. The Episcopal diocese has filed this 110-page response.

Good Shepherd, Rosemont, drops malpractice suit

David Moyer and the Vestry of Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pa., have dropped a malpractice lawsuit against the lawyer and law firm that have represented the church in its dispute with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) John H. Lewis, Jr., and his law firm Montgomery, McCracken have not received an apology and have suggested that the church may be the target of a suit for bringing the action against them without merit. The dispute between the diocese and Good Shepherd is unresolved, even though Moyer has been deposed. David Virtue ran stories on the Good Shepherd disputes here and here.

Pittsburgh diocese cuts deal with dissident congregataion

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported February 1, 2011, that St. Philip’s Church in Moon Township, a church that has been aligned with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh since the October 4, 2008, split of the diocese, was to vote on an agreement between the church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to settle all disputes between St. Philip’s and the diocese. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran a story February 2 indicating that the church had agreed to the pact with the diocese. The diocese issued a clarification of the terms of the agreement here.

The agreement ended months of confidential negotiations between the diocese and St. Philip’s. Because the Board of Trustees of the diocese held title to the St. Philip’s real estate, the agreement may not be a model for churches holding title to their own property. The financial arrangements are described in the diocesan statement, but exact monetary figures have not been disclosed. The most controversial provision of the agreement is that the church must remove itself from the Anglican diocese and remain independent for a minimum of five years. Archbishop Robert Duncan discussed this and other legal matters—see story below—in a pastoral letter to his diocese. The Anglican diocese has approved the withdrawal of St. Philip’s, which will become an independent church. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and the Orphan’s Court will also have to approve the agreement.

Court rejects Anglican diocese appeal

On February 2, 2011, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania rejected all arguments made by Archbishop Robert Duncan and his allies in their appeal of the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to grant custody of diocesan property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. (See Pittsburgh Update story here.) The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh announced the decision on its Web site, and Episcopal News Service ran a story as well. The decision can be read here. On February 4, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a press release in which Archbishop Robert Duncan called the Commonwealth Court ruling “deeply disappointing.” According to the press release, the appellants will ask for a re-hearing of arguments before Commonwealth Court.