Rival Episcopal dioceses in Pittsburgh try to resolve large issues

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

As the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh prepares to call a new bishop tomorrow, it hopes to resolve property and personnel issues with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican), which left the Episcopal Church last year.

The Episcopal diocesan convention comes 11 days after Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James ruled that the Episcopal diocese is entitled to centrally held diocesan property, such as endowments.

He did not rule on ownership of parish property. But a 2005 settlement between current Anglican leaders and opponents of the split says that Anglican parishes must apply to the Episcopal diocese and negotiate for property. Both sides agree that diocesan assets will be addressed first.

"The judge put a fairly tight deadline on getting things moving … and to present some evidence of what the orderly transition would be. We intend to fully cooperate with that," said Rich Creehan, a spokesman for the Episcopal diocese.

Anglican leaders have asked their clergy to fast and pray this week over whether to appeal.

"We were dismayed and surprised by the decision," said the Rev. Mary Hays, canon to the ordinary of the Anglican diocese. "But there’s a lot to consider in an appeal. Financial resources and energy resources are required, so we have to consider whether we want to be side-tracked from our mission, which has nothing to do with litigation."

The Episcopal trustees reported that in July the total endowment was worth about $17 million, although some of the funds were held for parishes that now belong to the Anglican diocese. The funds have been frozen due to the litigation.

Other matters have moved more quickly than the money.

Tomorrow in Trinity Cathedral, Downtown, the diocese is expected to approve Bishop Kenneth Price, currently second-in-command in Columbus, Ohio, as its "provisional bishop." He would take over authority from the standing committee than now runs the diocese, but would serve only about two years, until a permanent bishop can be elected.

The split occurred Oct. 4, 2008, when the diocesan convention voted to follow Archbishop Robert Duncan out of the Episcopal Church, saying that it had failed to uphold biblical doctrine. The Anglican diocese has 58 parishes — including some outside its original boundaries — while the Episcopal diocese has 28.

At the Anglican diocese, the Rev. Hays said that it’s difficult to discuss parish property until a decision is made about whether to appeal. But if the diocese accepts the ruling, "we’ll see how it goes, parish by parish, as each parish deals with the other diocese. But first we have to go through the procedure of transfer of resources from one diocese."

Some Anglican clergy worry that good faith parish property negotiations with local Episcopalians could be rejected by Episcopal leaders in New York.

But the Rev. James Simons, president of the standing committee that runs the Episcopal diocese, said that national leaders have taken a hands-off approach.

"We consult with the presiding bishop’s chancellor on matters of canon law, but we have not been given any direction by the presiding bishop or her office on how we need to proceed, " he said.

No substantive conversations about parish property have yet taken place between church leaders in Pittsburgh and New York, he said. "Up to this point the presiding bishop’s office has allowed us to organize and operate with autonomy. I have no reason to believe that that won’t continue."

Rival Episcopal dioceses try to resolve large issues

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