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A Response to the Proposed Amendments
to the Diocesan Constitution and Canons

Joan R. Gundersen
President, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh
 

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 Episcopal Church.

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.