Splitsville: justifying schism in Pittsburgh

The Diocese of Pittsburgh will be considering a resolution to completely sever ties with the Episcopal Church. The link to their "Resolution A" did not include an explanation, but was given out at pre-convention hearings and posted on the Diocesan web-site.

On page 2 of the explanation, the supporters answer the question "Does the Diocese have the authority to enact Resolution One?" in this way:

The Diocese is acting within its own canonical and constitutional structures. The governing documents of the diocese lay out a clear path for changing the Constitution of the diocese. The proposed Resolution One follows that course exactly and allows the diocese to make decisions about its future in good order.

The Episcopal Church has no authority over its dioceses.
It is by Diocese that consent is given to bishops, and by Diocese that they are elected. The Executive Council is given no constitutional or canonical authority to overrule the constitutional decisions of a Diocese.

There is no national executive department. The role of the Presiding Bishop is principally ceremonial or gathering.

The canons of the Episcopal Church do not assign any authority to the General Convention or to the Presiding Bishop over the Dioceses. In the last General Convention legislation that “directed” a Diocese to do something, was regularly and intentionally changed to “urge” or “request.”

There is no National Court that has jurisdiction over a Diocese, only a Court for the Trial of a Bishop and Provincial Courts of Review (Clergy Discipline). Attempts at several General Conventions to establish such a Court have been rejected.

Contribution to the budget of the Episcopal Church is free-will.

The Constitution and Canons are silent on the matter of a Diocese disaffiliating.

In the case of nine southern dioceses disaffiliating in 1861, no action was ever taken against them, nor was any legislation ever adopted to block it from happening again. While we do not sympathize with the cause of those dioceses, the precedent is clear.

The Dennis Canon alone attempts to establish national authority over property held by parishes. It does not appear to give The Episcopal Church any claim over diocesan property. It is a general principle of law that such a trust cannot be established without the consent of those affected.

Three parishes of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and before its founding of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, existed prior to the creation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

The changes would:

1. Allow the Diocese of Pittsburgh itself to define itself as a member of the Anglican Communion.

2. Reserve to the Diocese the choice of a Province and Primate not as a constitutional matter but as a matter of canon. In other words, they can choose to change Provinces on very short notice with only a majority vote at one convention required.

Article I, Section 2, secures the right of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to establish its Provincial alignment by canon. It does not alter the alignment. Dis-affiliation from The Episcopal Church and re-alignment with another Province would be achieved by a canon passed at the time of adoption at the second reading.

3. Any Primate or Province that would take on Pittsburgh would have to accept the fact that Pittsburgh has constitutionally defined for them the manner and form of their representation at their convention or synod. Pittsburgh will send four lay and four clergy deputies whether that Province is structured that way or not.

The vision of those who support Resolution One is that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is, in effect, its own denomination with a reach far beyond its own historic borders, that affiliates with a Primate and Province of their own choosing, according to a vote of the Diocesan Convention.

The Resolution does not recognize that the Diocese was formed by the authority of the General Convention itself. It has until fairly recently abided by the actions of General Convention and in so doing has heretofore recognized the authority of the Convention over their life and work. While the explanation states that the Episcopal Church does not have any authority over it, it also defines the Book of Common Prayer as a foundational document that new parishes must adhere to. Neither the resolution nor the explanation defines who selects and authorizes the Book of Common Prayer. That is because the Episcopal Church clearly states the process for adopting the BCP and Pittsburgh has adhered to it. This is only one weakness in their logic.

The goal of the supporters of this Resolution are clear that its purpose is to maintain "the culture of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh into the future" because that to them "eminently preferable to having our culture supplanted by the present culture of the Episcopal Church."

The handout, in PDF format, may be found here.

You may also find the FAQs for Resolution One here..

Comments (2)

"The Diocese of Pittsburgh is, in effect, its own denomination."

Then it ain't Anglican, baby.

Ah, the opportunities when one is prepared to overinterpret history.

In the case of nine southern dioceses disaffiliating in 1861, no action was ever taken against them, nor was any legislation ever adopted to block it from happening again. While we do not sympathize with the cause of those dioceses, the precedent is clear.

The precedent is quite different than presented. The General Convention never recognized the separation of the dioceses within the Confederacy, despite some efforts to do so. So, while in their own perception those dioceses were separated (and not by institutional but by civil political processes, establishing a new "national church"), in the official perception of the General Convention in fact no separation took place. There were still Episcopal Dioceses of Alabama and Tennessee, etc; but their bishops and deputies could not attend Convention due to "the exigencies of travel."

The Dennis Canon alone attempts to establish national authority over property held by parishes. It does not appear to give The Episcopal Church any claim over diocesan property.

So, there will be bishop with an office - but no congregations; or more accurately, with some congregations with no property. That will be an interesting diocesan budget to prioritize.

Marshall Scott

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