Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — September 14, 2007 — I attended the Diocesan
Council meeting in Pittsburgh held Tuesday, September 11, 2007, as an observer.
The agenda for that meeting included a number of proposed canonical changes that
Council needed to review before including them in the pre-convention packet of
information soon to go out to deputies. Also, there had been a cryptic
announcement sent to council members, saying that the council would be presented
with a packet of proposed constitutional amendments that would not be made
available before the meeting.
The canonical changes included legitimate updates, but, consistently, the
revised versions substituted generic language for language that specifically
referred to The Episcopal Church or to any of its bodies, such as Executive
Council. Two changes were ominous and troubling. One would change the canon
allowing convention to vote on severing the ties between the diocese and a
parish, so that the notice and vote could be done at any convention,
rather than notice being given at one annual convention and the vote being taken
at the next. The other change would have the Standing Committee act as a Council
of Review in disciplinary hearings for clergy. A portion of the actual
disciplinary canons were moved to a schedule in an appendix. There are two
effects of this. One is that the change creates a conflict of interest in the
roles the Standing Committee can play in disciplinary hearings. The Standing
Committee serves both in roles equivalent to that of a complainant/prosecuting
attorney and an appeals court/grand jury. The second effect is that it would
become unclear how the schedule of offences could be changed. Since it is not an
official part of the constitution, presumably, it could be changed by action of
the Diocesan Council at any time.
The constitutional amendments (and one additional canonical change) had been
prepared by Chancellor Devlin at the request of Bishop Duncan. Bishop Duncan
read the first part of his pre-convention address as his report to the council
and as a preface to the presentation of the proposed amendments. By the way, the
main speaker at that upcoming convention (Friday night dinner) will be the newly
consecrated Bishop John Guernsey of Uganda.
Article I, Section 1 of the current diocesan constitution is the accession
clause. The amendments would remove the accession clause entirely and substitute
a statement that the diocese is a member of the Anglican Communion, claiming the
diocese has the right to choose what Anglican Communion province it belongs to.
The amendments also include a statement changing the diocesan boundaries to
allow it to receive parishes from other dioceses.
Another amendment changes provisions for provincial representatives, so that
they apply to whatever province the diocese aligns with. These proposals were
approved for inclusion in the packet to be sent to convention deputies, with 3
recorded votes against.
The final resolution is for a canonical change that would specify that the
diocese has, for the moment, chosen to be a member of the province called the
The theory that Chancellor Robert Devlin presented was that the diocese alone
makes the decision about what Anglican Communion province it will be in and
that, by starting the two-convention process of eliminating the accession clause
while specifying canonically that the diocese is choosing to be in the Episcopal
Church (for now), nothing will have changed in the short term.
The problem with the proposed changes is that they usurp the authority of
General Convention and unilaterally seek to alter provisions in the constitution
and canons of The Episcopal Church. The accession clause is a precondition for
membership in The Episcopal Church, and General Convention decides what dioceses
belong to the church. Similarly, boundaries of dioceses are defined in the
Episcopal Church constitution as geographical. There is a process, including
obtaining the consent of General Convention, that must be followed before any
territory can be moved from one diocese to another. Moreover, the diocese cannot
declare itself into the Anglican Communion, as it claims to do in the new text
of Article I. Only the Anglican Consultative Council can admit a new province.
When asked what would happen, should these constitutional amendments be passed
in 2007 and 2008, to those parishes that wish to maintain a relationship with
The Episcopal Church, the bishop informed us that there is a process for
parishes to leave the diocese spelled out in the settlement of the Calvary
lawsuit. In other words, he continues to insist that those of us who are
staying in The Episcopal Church are the ones who are leaving, and the ones
leaving the church get to take everything with them. The bishop is
claiming that he gets to claim the property of the loyal parishes, and he
expects us to have to negotiate with him to keep our property! This misreads the
settlement, which specifies that property remains with “the Episcopal Diocese of
Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.”
There was also a resolution referred to convention that was presented by loyal
Episcopalians. This resolution proposes returning Article I, Section 1 (the
accession clause) to its pre-2004 wording. This would place the diocese in
compliance with the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church and is
supportive of the resolution passed by the Executive Council of The Episcopal
Church specifying that the changes made in 2004 to the diocesan constitution
were null and void. I was happy to help sponsor that resolution, along with the
Rev. Diane Shepard, the Rev. Dr. Moni McIntyre, and Mary Roehrich.
These measures, presented at the request of Bishop Robert Duncan, are nothing
short of abandonment of the communion. The amendments all exceed the authority
of the diocese to act and are unconstitutional. They exacerbate divisions. While
I would be sad to see people leave The Episcopal Church, if it is to happen,
there are both gracious and ungracious ways for it to be done. The gracious way
is to leave quietly as an individual and, with like-minded people, gather in a
new church to go forward. Instead, these measures introduce institutional pain
and division for individuals, congregations, and the diocese. It is a path that
makes a mockery of the law and will lead inevitably to the waste of precious
resources that could be used to further Christ’s mission.