Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Dog in the Manger (III): St. James, Pittsburgh

In praesepi faeni pleno decumbebat Canis. Venit Bos ut comedat faenum, cum Canis, confestim sese erigens, tota voce elatravit. Cui Bos: “Dii te, cum ista tua invidia, perdant (inquit): nec enim faeno ipse vesceris, nec me vesci sines.”
[In a manger full of hay a dog was lying. There entered an ox to eat the hay, when the dog at once rose up and barked as loudly as he could. Said the ox to the dog: "May the gods destroy you and that envy of yours, for you yourself do not eat the hay, and you do not let me eat it."]

THE MORAL. Envy pretends to no other Happiness than what it derives from the Misery of other People, and will rather eat nothing itself than not to starve those that would.

* * * * *
[Note: Part I of this series is here; Part II is here.]

The latest victim of a misguided lawsuit and an illogical and incoherent judgment (naturally in favor of ECUSA and its supporters) is the Parish of St. James, in the east Pittsburgh, PA suburb called Penn Hills:

The lawsuit was misguided because it was structured as a petition to enforce a stipulated order which had ended the earlier lawsuit between the Diocese of Pittsburgh, headed by then-Bishop Robert W. Duncan, and the members of Calvary Church, one of the parishes in the Diocese. The petition sought to prevent other parishes who owned their property outright from leaving the Diocese without paying compensation for their property. The stipulated order required the Diocese to keep in its hands any property it held by or for the use of any of its parishes -- notwithstanding the fact that the Diocese itself, as an unincorporated association, could hold no real property in its name under Pennsylvania law, and in fact did not do so.

Such a property was the land on which St. James, built in 1955, was situated -- it was held in trust by the corporation of the Diocese (which was not a party to the earlier lawsuit or the stipulation). The petition for enforcement of the stipulated order was further misguided in that it could proceed only against the signatories to the stipulation, and not against the actual entity which held the legal title.

The decision rendered by the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Pittsburgh was illogical because it purported to order the corporation -- which was not a party to the proceedings -- to hand over all of the diocesan property to . . . another unincorporated association, which could not hold property any more than the original diocese could! (The decision was just as illogically affirmed by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in an unpublished opinion; a petition for review is currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.)

The lower court decision is also incoherent for the reasons I explained in this earlier post.

Misguided, illogical and incoherent though it may be, the judgment in this case has produced yet another victim of ECUSA's "Dog in the Manger" syndrome -- the parish of St. James, in Penn Hills. The Sunday before last, its congregation and their priest held their last service there, before leaving the property and all the furnishings, prayer books and hymnals behind to move to a new space which they will share with Faith Community Church, about eight-tenths of a mile to the southeast.

Its rector explained that starting over with a new property was better than having to prolong the uncertainties of how the courts of Pennsylvania will interpret and apply the Dennis Canon, which purports to put every single parish in the entire Episcopal Church under a legally binding obligation to use their property only for Episcopal services, or else to forfeit it. The congregation of St. James had voted with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, led by then-Bishop Robert W. Duncan, to leave the unincorporated association which is the Episcopal Church (USA) and join another branch of the Anglican Communion. (Today, St. James is part of ACNA, a church which has ties to other provinces in the Anglican Communion, but which is not yet in the Communion itself.)

So even though the Diocese had withdrawn, and not the parish; and even though the Dennis Canon by its own terms can have no application to property held by dioceses in trust, the unreliable Commonwealth courts could not be counted on to decide things right. Rather than wait for yet one more bad decision, the parishioners of St. James shook the dust from their heels, and walked away.

As usual, the group which is spending so much money in court to achieve these results, even though based on bad law and bad judging, has no capacity to make use of the property that has been handed over to them. Last Sunday, St. James Episcopal Church held its first service in the building, and drew a congregation of ten persons. One of those attending (as a visitor) was blogger Lionel Deimel, who regularly attends St. Paul's in Mt. Lebanon, about half an hour away. He took some pictures, which you can view together with his account of his experience, at this link.

The so-called "Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh" is not a true diocese of the Episcopal Church, for the reason that General Convention has never admitted it formally, in accordance with ECUSA's Constitution and Canons, since its creation at a special meeting held in December 2008. It is instead an imaginary constituent of ECUSA, granted seat and voice in its councils only because to have to admit it formally into union with General Convention would cede too much ground in the Church's ongoing lawsuits with departed dioceses. In other words, it is a mere tool of the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor -- albeit a real living, breathing tool, with the lives, careers and souls of real people ultimately at stake in the ongoing chess game.

So the optimistic press release which it recently issued, about restarting not just St. James, but two other vacant church sites in East Pittsburgh, has to be taken with a grain of salt. When it states: "A discussion of plans for the parish will take place following the July 3rd service", and one learns that the total number there on July 3d was ten, counting sympathetic visitors and the priest's spouse, one wonders just what kind of discussion that was, and what it concluded. (No announcement of further plans has yet appeared on the group's Website.)

There is certainty, at least, in knowing that the discussion did not conclude with a decision for the proverbial dog to leave the manger to the ox, who best is able to make use of it. No, that surely did not happen -- because otherwise Aesop would be out of business.


  1. As someone mentioned on another site - where does the TEO keep all these spare congregations that will use these properties?
    I would also note that an ASA of 10 probably will not qualify as a "parish".

  2. "The congregation numbered about 10, and included no one from the recently relocated congregation." Compare this statement with the title of Lionel Deimel's blog entry: "St. James Episcopal Church Returns".