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Fort Worth and the breakaway parish that wants to join Rome

Fort Worth and the breakaway parish that wants to join Rome

The provisional Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth issued a statement clarifying the position of the diocese regarding a breakaway parish and former Episcopal priest who wish to become Roman Catholic and the status of the Episcopal Church they worship in.

The Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and the people of the diocese wish Fr. Christopher Stainbrook and those at St. Timothy’s seeking to become part of the Roman Catholic Church’s Anglican Ordinariate all the best and pray they find the spiritual sustenance they need.

“We are holding them all close in prayer, both those who are leaving to become part of the Ordinariate and those of our sisters and brothers at St. Timothy’s from whom we have been separated for nearly three years,” said Bishop Ohl. “We want to assure them they are welcome in The Episcopal Church and in this diocese.”

Because having accurate and complete information is an important part of any discernment process, we believe the following information is helpful.

In their December 8 press release, the Southern Cone parties, led by former Bishop Jack L. Iker, announced that they were terminating plans to reach a pastoral solution with St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and would be accepting the resignation of Fr. Stainbrook. The Southern Cone press release suggests that these outcomes are the result of the Court’s October 20, 2011 Order and a letter from the Episcopal parties.

The Southern Cone statement omits that the attorneys for the Southern Cone defendants stated on December 7 that they agree that any use of the St. Timothy’s property for worship in the Roman Catholic Church would disrupt the status quo required by the Court’s Order.

The Episcopal parties have been and continue to be open concerning a potential agreed, pastoral solution to a Roman Catholic use of the Church property during appeal – one that of course would ultimately require the agreement of all parties involved, including The Episcopal Church and its continuing Episcopal diocese. The Court’s Order does not prevent such a pastoral resolution, if the parties agree to it and Judge John Chupp approves. It is the Southern Cone decision and announcement on December 8 that would preclude that possibility.

As the Episcopal Diocese said in its December 6 letter to attorneys for former Bishop Iker, it is committed to the “current and future Episcopalians” who will continue worshiping in the historic St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church after this litigation is resolved, as they have since The Episcopal Church opened St. Timothy’s in 1955. This includes the Episcopalians from St. Timothy’s who are currently worshipping in exile. And it includes the Episcopalians still in the pews of St. Timothy’s, and those who will join or rejoin St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

While we of course wish the members of St. Timothy’s well if they decide to worship at another location, the Episcopal Diocese remains open to discussions with those currently worshiping at St. Timothy’s, and, if he chooses, with former Bishop Iker, toward a potential pastoral solution concerning everyone at St. Timothy’s. They all remain in our prayers. And in this season, we look forward to the resolution of this matter in its entirety, and to the reconciliation and fellowship to come.

There is one party that the Southern Cone people leave out of their statements: the Roman Catholic Church. It is hard to imagine that the Catholics have any interest in a property fight with the Episcopal because it would doom the Ordinariate before it begins. The Catholic hierarchy has been, to date, very careful not to get into property disputes because that can go two ways.

If the people at St. Timothy’s want it to become a Roman Catholic parish, the discussion no longer includes the breakaway diocese, but is between the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the members of congregation who want to convert. The priest, having already left the Episcopal Church, has only to talk to his local Catholic bishop. All the posturing on Iker’s part is meant to obscure the fact that he is essentially out of the loop.

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Paul Powers

That last paragraph isn’t completely accurate. While the trial court awarded the property to the TEC Diocese, the case is on appeal. We won’t know who will end up with the property until all appeals have been exhausted (or a settlement is reached). In the meantime, the court has made the ACNA Diocese responsible upkeep and maintenance of the property and for keeping it insured. So Bishop Iker is anything but out of the loop at this point.

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