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Legal Update: Calvary Suit Status
by Ken Stiles

 

From the June 2007 PEPtalk. After Bishop Robert Duncan led a protest of like-minded bishops at the 2003 General Convention over the consecration of Gene Robinson, he called a special convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Resolution 6 passed at that convention asserted that (1) all property held by a parish or by the diocese in trust for a parish belongs solely to the parish and (2) The Episcopal Church (TEC) has no claim on such property or on diocesan property. The resolution was intended to negate TEC’s “Dennis Canon,” which provides that all property owned by a parish or a diocese is held in trust for TEC. That canon dates from 1979, but it merely codified what had always been understood. Resolution 6 was intended to allow a parish to deed its property to a new religious entity and to leave TEC, taking its building and other assets with it.

In response to this development, Calvary Church filed suit against Bishop Duncan and other officials of the diocese to protect Calvary’s and the church’s interest in diocesan property. For whatever reason, TEC declined to join or assist Calvary.

The Anglican Communion Network was formed shortly thereafter, and a confidential letter from St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, Rector Geoff Chapman made it clear that plans were being made to separate Network dioceses and parishes from TEC. The judge in the Calvary lawsuit called this letter the “smoking gun” that discredited denials made by the defendants.

In its December 29, 2003, answer to Calvary’s complaint, the diocese claimed that Resolution 6 had been withdrawn on December 9 and was void from the beginning. However, at the November annual convention, the diocese had begun amending its constitution so as to make the resolution unnecessary. (See “Executive Council reasserts GC authority” on page 1 of PEPtalk.)

After much legal wrangling and the publication of many documents showing that Bishop Duncan was trying to separate himself and the Network from TEC, the parties negotiated a settlement in October 2005. It provided that diocesan property held in trust would stay with the diocese, even if an affected parish tried to leave TEC, and it set out a clear and public process for the treatment of parish property in such an eventuality.

After the 2006 General Convention, the Network appeared to be positioning itself to be recognized as a separate Anglican province (i.e., church). At the November convention, Pittsburgh ratified the earlier resolution of the Standing Committee declaring that it was no longer a member of Province III of TEC and asking that a new province be created for it and other like-minded dioceses within TEC. The diocese had made appeals to the “Global South” primates to “protect” it from TEC, and it appeared that the primates might prove sympathetic at their upcoming February meeting. Calvary became concerned that precipitous action was imminent, and it returned to court, requesting that the judge take action to uphold the terms of the settlement. Calvary also asked for and received from the judge expedited discovery to obtain the internal diocesan documents that could help prove its case.

On January 29, just before the discovery deadline, the diocese publicly released its request to the Global South primates secretly sent three months earlier. The document asked that a separate ecclesiastical structure be created to give the Network cover while it continued its legal and property battles with TEC. This would include its own House of Bishops, presided over by a sympathetic primate. This parallel House of Bishops would have the power to consecrate bishops, legislate new canons, and handle all disciplinary matters. Among the documents turned over as a part of the discovery were apparent pledges from the participants at a November 16 meeting with the Global South Steering Committee indicating that Bishop Duncan had been chosen as the leader of the petitioners, who would submit to his leadership without reservation.

On February 7, the defendants replaced their team of Pittsburgh lawyers with a new group from Philadelphia that had been representing David Moyer in his lawsuit against the Bishop of Pennsylvania. Moyer, who had been inhibited by Bishop Bennison, is now a priest resident in the Upper Shire of Malawi, Province of Central Africa; is President of Forward in Faith/North America; and is a bishop in the Anglican Church in America. This case has been distinguished by its endless legal motions and great cost to all parties.

Bishop Duncan’s new lawyers immediately asked the court to dismiss Calvary’s action, primarily because TEC’s property rights were the main issue, yet TEC was not a party to the lawsuit. Both sides were ordered to submit briefs on the issues, and oral arguments were made on April 25. The judge denied defendants’ motion without comment on May 9. Their new lawyers returned to court May 23 to ask permission to amend the answer to Calvary’s enforcement petition filed by their predecessors to include all the arguments they had made in their unsuccessful motion to dismiss. Calvary’s lawyer has consented to this, so the matter will continue to move forward slowly.