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Contact: Lionel Deimel
Phone: (412) 343-5337
9 PM EDT, November 8, 2003

Today the Diocese of Pittsburgh concluded its 138th annual convention. With bishop Robert W. Duncan presiding, the convention passed two amendments to its constitution that advance the creation of an autonomous diocese without geographic boundaries no longer answerable to the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA). According to the diocesan constitution, these amendments will become effective if also passed at the 139th convention of 2004.

The first amendment provides that the diocese will not be bound by the constitution, canons, or actions of the national church in cases where the diocese determines them to be “contrary to the historic Faith and Order of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The second amendment seeks to remove the residency requirement on canonically resident clergy

The convention did not heed the warnings of those present who argued that the first change was illegal and negated a precondition for being a diocese of the Episcopal Church, namely, “unqualified accession” to rules and decisions of the national church. Proponents were also heedless of admonitions that voting for the amendment would be contrary to the vows taken by every ordained person, though they did succeed in assuring that votes of individual members of the clergy would not be recorded. Support by Bishop Duncan belied his promise, repeated the day before, that he would not leave the Episcopal Church. Diocesan Vice Chancellor Robert Devlin advanced the novel theory that the Episcopal Church is a confederacy of dioceses. According to him, the Pittsburgh diocese never acceded to the authority of the national church. Dr. Joan Gundersen, a historian of the church, however, raising a point of order, exhibited the 1865 minutes of the House of Bishops in which such accession was certified. Nonetheless, the schismatic amendment was passed by a vote by orders (clergy and laity voting separately) after approximately 20 minutes of discussion.

In fact, the diocese had effectively renounced, in resolutions passed in a special convention on September 27, its allegiance to the national church. In that convention, the diocese disavowed the confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop Co-adjutor of New Hampshire and the limited acceptance of the blessing of same-sex unions. That convention also voted to withdraw financial support from the ECUSA, a move implemented in the budget presented and approved without discussion on November 7.

Removing the residency requirement did not raise the same constitutional issues, but those speaking in favor made clear that they expect the change to be used to invite clergy and parishes from other dioceses to join the Pittsburgh diocese, a move that itself would be contrary to national church canons that establish dioceses as geographic units, require that bishops may not act within another bishop’s jurisdiction without permission, and that territory cannot be moved from one diocese to another without concurrence by both dioceses and by the church’s General Convention. The expectation that the diocese would be adding new parishes is consistent with the rejection by the American Anglican Council (AAC), of which Bishop Duncan is Vice President, of the ECUSA’s proposed Supplemental Episcopal Care plan earlier in the week. That plan, according to the AAC, was rejected, in part because it gave bishops of dioceses containing dissident parishes a say in the arrangements for alternative episcopal oversight for those parishes.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP), an organization of concerned laity and clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh working for the unity of the Episcopal Church, regrets the illegal, unconstitutional moves of the 138th annual convention. It pledges to work to ensure that an Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in full compliance with national church constitution and canons continues to exist.

PEP believes that submission to the authority of the ECUSA is the glue that connects the dioceses of the church and makes a national church a reality. Dioceses are the creatures of the ECUSA, rather than the reverse. It is through the national church that the diocese is recognized as a component of the Anglican Communion. In a hierarchical institution such as the Episcopal Church, it is through the relationship of the diocese to the national church that all legitimacy, authority, responsibility and benefits flow.