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
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
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that Resolution 6 had been withdrawn on December 9 and was void from the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
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.