Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Two Faces of PEG

One of the things about a curmudgeon that riles people up is that curmudgeons are always pointing out facts which people wish they would not mention, let alone bring into sharper focus. But, properly considered, it is the primary duty of a curmudgeon to call people's attention to inconvenient facts, just as it is the primary duty of a messenger to deliver the message, whether good news or bad. It is not the messenger's fault if the news is upsetting; nor is it the curmudgeon's fault if the facts are, shall we say, uncomfortable. And so, if the foregoing sentences have not caused the reader to click away by now, then allow me to follow up on some observations I made in this week's edition of Anglican Unscripted.

There is a group of Episcopalians in the Pittsburgh area who have formed themselves into an association of parishes, congregations, and clergy, modeled on the former Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, since they have adopted its former Constitution and Canons. They of course think they are a Diocese of the Episcopal Church just because they have done this, and because ECUSA found it convenient to go along with the charade in order to have a vehicle with which to maintain lawsuits and take over church property. But they are not a true Diocese, because the only legal entity that was the Diocese of Pittsburgh exercised its constitutional right under the First Amendment to join a different Church.

It is impossible for the group that remained to be that same entity, since that entity no longer belongs to the Episcopal Church. So they must be a different entity -- a new entity, which came into existence only when they got together in December 2008 and adopted their governing documents. And since that new entity has never been formally accepted into union with General Convention by following the canonical procedures for union, just as all of the other dioceses of ECUSA did in the past, it cannot be a Diocese of the Episcopal Church, either.

So what is it? It is neither fish nor fowl, neither missionary area nor diocese. It is a brand-new species of episcopal entity which sprang from the fertile minds of the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori's legal team. For their sake, its principal purpose as an entity was to be able to sue in Pennsylvania courts and take over the properties and assets of the former Diocese -- not by legal succession or voluntary transfer, but by trickery, subterfuge and sophistry worthy of some of those legendary Philadelphia lawyers. (Consider just the fact that an entity formally organized only in December 2008 was allowed to be the designated beneficiary of a stipulation entered into by wholly different parties three years earlier, in October 2005.)

Once it has accomplished all its lawsuit objectives, this group will be folded into another Pennsylvania diocese, since it is too small in numbers to be a proper diocese on its own (even its own members admit that). Thus its principal purpose -- at the national level, I stress -- cannot be, and never was, to be a proper diocese of the Episcopal Church (USA). While I freely admit that at the local level, it functions the same as any other diocese, and does some good work while doing so, the inconvenient fact here is that in the eyes of 815 Second Avenue, PEG is no more than a useful tool to achieve the former's litigious (and scandalously illicit) ends.

In the meantime, however, let us call them the Pittsburgh Episcopal Group, or "PEG" for short. Another inconvenient fact which PEG right now wishes that no one would notice (because it is looking for a new bishop) is that it is demonstrably schizophrenic. It presents two entirely different faces to the world, and has two entirely different personalities. And while this disorder continues, it will make it practically impossible for PEG to come together and to integrate itself as a coherent religious organization. Pity, therefore, the hapless choice for bishop who has the impossible task of reconciling two diametrically opposed opposites.

The first face of PEG is the one it presents to its own members. This face is best seen through a document they prepared in connection with their current search for a new "diocesan." (Yes, he/she will be called that, even though PEG is not a proper diocese, because this is all part of the charade, remember?) It is titled "2011 Diocesan Profile", available for download on PEG's Website. According to it, PEG's vision of the way they see themselves is as follows:
  • We are a fellowship of communities alive in the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seeking and serving Jesus Christ in all persons and in all of God’s creation.
  • Our actions and beliefs are guided by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
  • United by our common prayer and the Anglican tradition of the Episcopal Church, we do all in our power to support our member parishes and faith communities. We minister to one another, bearing with each other, forgiving as the Lord forgives, and loving as Christ loves us.
  • Together, we lead others to know and love God as we strive for justice and peace among all people, respect the dignity of every human being, and proclaim by word and example that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Further on (p. 7) one reads the following about the ongoing litigation over the property -- not, mind you, the property of the PEG parishes themselves, but of all the other parishes that left with the former Diocese, as well as the property of that Diocese itself:
After the October 2008 withdrawal vote, former leaders of the diocese who chose to leave the Episcopal Church retained control over diocesan assets, requiring the diocese to ask the civil courts to rule on the matter. The courts have ruled in favor of the diocese and held that the property of the diocese must be held by the diocese of the Episcopal Church. These court rulings cover the endowments and other permanent funds of the diocese as well as the real estate used by over 20 congregations that ceased active participation in the diocese after the 2008 vote. The new “Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)” diocese claims these congregations as member parishes, but the legal status of the withdrawal vote remains in dispute. The courts have been able to award control of the property to the diocese of the Episcopal Church without deciding that issue.

In addition to the parish property covered by the court rulings, there are approximately 15 other situations where the status of the parish and the property remains in dispute. The diocese has reached formal property agreements with two departing congregations and has openly invited others into negotiations. The Bishop’s letter of May 11, 2011, and its enclosed “Questions and Answers about the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Realignment” provides additional information and is available here [PDF].
Notice how gently the legal proceedings are finessed: PEG found itself "required" to take the matter to the civil courts, because the former Diocese "retained control over its [own] assets." What a thing for it to do -- to retain control over the assets it had always had! (Not mentioned is the fact that the former Diocese offered to share those assets pro rata with the new entity, but PEG rejected all such offers because they wanted it all.) And the properties of the parishes which still belong to the former Diocese? Well, PEG wanted all those, too, and persuaded the Pennsylvania courts (who literally did not know or care what they were doing) to hand them over to it.

On the next page (8) we read that among the "challenges" which PEG now faces is:
Ongoing distraction of property disputes with the “realigned” congregations . . .
How sad to be "distracted" from your mission as a church by trying to take people's long-held property from them! (The churches that voted to leave ECUSA did so democratically and in accordance with all applicable canons and constitutional provisions, and with their rights under the First Amendment. In America, we have a long-standing democratic tradition of honoring majority votes taken under the rule of law. But only in ECUSA does a minority see itself as "entitled" to override the freely and legally expressed will of the majority, and to punish them for exercising it.)

This, then is how PEG now sees itself: fully Christian in its faith, guided by Scripture, Tradition and Reason, "forgiving as the Lord forgives" -- but not when it comes to property, by God! -- and sadly "distracted" by the coils and snares of litigation which it instituted. (Right after it was formally organized in December 2008, PEG moved to intervene in the ongoing litigation between Calvary Church and the former Diocese, in order to make its claims to everyone else's property.)

And now, let us turn to consider the other side which the Janus-like PEG presents to fellow Christians who are not its members -- namely, the Christians in the former (now Anglican) Diocese, whom PEG is in the process of depriving of their long-held buildings, furnishings and prayer books. When the Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas handed down its order requiring the surrender of all Anglican assets to PEG, its members held a gleeful celebration. And specially written (and performed) for the occasion was a new setting of an old Anglican chant. Part of its new text ran as follows (never mind how non-metrical it is; full music and lyrics may be seen and heard here [caution: your view of PEG may never again be the same]):
This is the state of the Pittsburgh Diocese
In February of the Year Two Thousand and Eleven.

On October 4, 2008, our only property in hand was a cell phone bought the day before . . .

A year ago the court confirmed us proprietors of forty-five properties.
These include a camp, a playground, a retreat house, churches, rectories, cemeteries, and management of a $22 million endowment.

. . . We are, in short, nothing less than E-pis-co-pa-li-ans.
Rather says it all -- but wait, there is more, a good deal more. As the Profile quoted above briefly mentioned, PEG "has reached formal property agreements with two departing congregations . . .". I discussed the highly illegal and unconstitutional nature of the first such agreement in this earlier post, and will not repeat myself here. And the second settlement, with the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, was simpler, because since the latter owned no real estate of their own, all they had to turn over to PEG was their hymnals, prayer books and altar furnishings.

Somerset got off lightly, while St. Philip's in Moon Township paid the steepest of all prices for its property -- not just in cash, but at the cost of its continuing fellowship with the other parishes that left ECUSA with the Diocese in October 2008. It is forbidden, by its contract with PEG, from associating with those parishes, or contributing to the Anglican diocese or its province, for a period of at least five years. In this way, PEG (with ECUSA behind it all the way) tries its hardest to ensure that St. Philip's will most likely atrophy and wither on the vine, so that at the end of the five-year period it will no longer be capable of rejoining its brothers and sisters.

Such an immoral and un-Christian condition on one's free exercise of one's religion is, of course, blatantly unconstitutional, and hence unenforceable in any State or Federal court. But that does not bother in the slightest our "fellowship of communities alive in the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seeking and serving Jesus Christ in all persons and in all of God’s creation," whose "actions and beliefs are guided by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason." The hypocrisy of it all seems to have escaped them.

And this is not a one-time stance -- which is why the inconvenient facts point to an ongoing schizophrenia. For just last week, we learned that PEG tried to impose the same kind of "deal" on the parish of All Saints, in Rosedale. In their magnanimity of spirit, they spurned outright the offer by All Saints and its rector to pay PEG what they could for the right to own their buildings free and clear. By way of a counteroffer, they said they would sell All Saints its own property at an unspecified higher price which represented "fair value" -- but only on the condition that All Saints make the same agreement which St. Philip's did -- not to affiliate with or support its sister parishes, or its Diocese or Province, for a period of five years. All Saints showed PEG what Christians do when faced with a dictator who tells them they must choose between giving up their property or giving up their faith -- they announced that they would walk away from their property on September 25, and leave it to PEG, lock, stock and barrel.

So congratulations, PEG -- you have done it again. In "following Scripture", however, there are some verses you may have forgotten. Let this most Anglican of curmudgeons do his duty and remind you of them, no matter how unpleasant the experience may be for you:

6:1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! 6:4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 6:8 But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!
6:29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 6:30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 6:31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

3:34 To crush underfoot

all the earth’s prisoners,

3:35 to deprive a person of his rights

in the presence of the Most High,

3:36 to defraud a person in a lawsuit –

the Lord does not approve of such things!

Had enough yet? How about just one more, from Hosea 10:

10:4 They utter empty words,

taking false oaths and making empty agreements.

Therefore legal disputes sprout up

like poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field.

Take heed, PEG. What we sow, we reap.


  1. Mr. Haley, that's really it though, isn't it?

    The Pennsylvania judges allowed "an" Episcopal diocese to organize--fair enough, maybe. But then, they gave it standing to sue. And sue for property that they never owned as beneficiaries.

    It is like a father sets up a trust for a son, and the son dies sometime after the father. Someone else comes along, maybe a first cousin, and he says, "oh, I look enough like the son to substitute, so let me adopt his name and take the trust money instead The father is long gone, so who is to say?"

    A court would never agree to that. But that had no problem recognizing what you called the PEG.

    The bottom line is that Pennsylvania judges are establishing religion, in the do-not-establish, first amendment context. It's embarrassing, and so the attorney who rely on the court system to make their living don't bring this up.

    Finally, your closing remarks echo Steely Dan (1977): "PEG, it will come back to you."

  2. Hoofin, you are correct -- this travesty is a combination of careless judging, and of Episcopalians whose attorneys asked the courts for the whole shebang. Once the judges gave it to them, they have not been exactly magnanimous in victory, but positively punitive in their desire to lash back at the majority whom they left. (Yes, once again, we cannot concede any ground to them. We must keep speaking the truth: they were the dissenting minority, and they were the ones who left their Diocese because they saw the Church as some higher entity than any diocese -- which it most emphatically is not.)

    Some private emails have taken me to task for my tone in this post, but unpleasant truths cannot be candy-coated; that is why they we call them unpleasant. For those who take offense, I can refer them only to Luke 11:45 -- the Pharisees did not take so kindly to their scolding, either.

    "Unconscionable" is not too strong a word for PEG's bargaining terms. They are about as opposite from "Christian" as one can get. And it is a disgrace that the pulpits in every church in ECUSA are not denouncing what the Episcopalians in Pittsburgh are doing. This is how a once great church falls apart from within.

  3. Yes, they out-lawyered us. I think that was clear from the outset. I remember thinking we didn't stand a chance, and after the shooting was done (is it?) thinking we stood even less of a chance than I'd calculated. Moral right and wrong was not an issue, they were lawyered up. And we were willing to negotiate, because we wanted to take the fair moral high road. And to the courts that probably made us look weak, like we didn't have a strong claim in the first place. But being willing to give them their due was the right thing and I don't think Pittsburgh-ACNA has any regrets in regard to that position.

    But the lawsuits are over. And the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese, however irregularly formed, is recognized by TEC and has been recognized by the courts, so I guess a little graciousness in calling them whatever they want to be called won't hurt us. On another site, where you've been cross posted, a member of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese has stated that he finds the disaffiliation clauses as repugnant as we in Pittsburgh ACNA do, and I'm thankful for that. It won't mean much in the temporal matters, but in the eternal, it is a whole world, or actually a human soul, which is clearly worth more than a whole world.

    I don't agree with the judge's ruling, I really don't agree with 815's behavior (unconscionable is the right word), but I'm ready to move forward. Very proud of my friends over in Rosedale this week. Their clergy and people are the real deal. No doubt they won't be the last, either. Alas. But by their fruit you will know them, right?

  4. Dear Mr. Haley,

    You write: "In America, we have a long-standing democratic tradition of honoring majority votes taken under the rule of law."

    While I agree with you that it is a "long-standing ... tradition," I would observe with great sadness that history suggests that this nation has been rather steadily and increasingly moving further and further away from adherence to the Rule of Law since at least the mid-19th century, and likely examples will be found from earlier dates. I fear that TEC and PEG are simply religious exemplars of an increasing trend in the wider community of the nation to disregard due process and other critical elements of the Rule of Law, and I have sincere doubts that it will be turned around in the foreseeable future.

    I could cite a number of examples, but I strongly suspect that you are as, or more, aware of them than am I. The question that suggests itself is what is to be done to stem that tide, let alone reverse it.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  5. Free-Range Anglican, thank you for that perceptive comment. From what I have seen, however, of all the papers that were filed in the litigation (and believe me, I have read them all, to my knowledge), the Anglican Diocese was not "out-lawyered"; it was simply "under-judged". Judge James proved to be unequal to the task of understanding the canonical ins and outs of what was put before him. He simply "shot from the hip", as we say here out West, and the Commonwealth Court could not be bothered to take the time to reverse him, because that would have meant they would have had to take the time required to understand what he so clearly did not. As a result $22 million in endowment, plus forty-five properties, changed hands based on a stipulation between attorneys whose only purpose was to end in 2005 litigation that had been brought in 2003, and which was then improperly trotted out in 2009 to mean something entirely different from what it had meant in 2005.

    Episcopalians who knowingly take advantage of such a fluke, and who use it to put further pressure on their wholly innocent "adversaries", are willfully ignoring what it says in Jeremiah 3, quoted above.

    I am thankful for every member of PEG who acknowledges the injustice that is currently being done in his or her name, just to further the goals of 815. But there is not enough outrage over the manner and means by which 815 has been able to impose its will on PEG for litigation purposes. Until I see sound evidence of such a backlash against the tactics being employed by Goodwin Procter et al.,, I will continue to hold all members of PEG responsible in these columns for what they are allowing to happen to the people with whom they used to worship.

  6. Martial Artist, since you are a frequent commenter here, I do not have to remind you of this post, in which I called attention to the current lawlessness at all levels of government and society, and pointed out that it was being mirrored at the national and diocesan levels of ECUSA. Lack of respect for our laws (and canons) will slowly turn our society (and Church) into a mirror of what is now going on in Zimbabwe and the Diocese of Harare. If you want to see the future that is in store for us -- politically and spiritually -- if we do not turn back from the present road, look no further.

  7. Well, this sounds to me a little like a pity party over the current state of the law and the courst -- but it's coming from people who, despite the scriptural injunctions against precisely that, have ben trying to resolve religious issues through the law and the courts.

    Wasn't it Einstein who said insanity was doing the same thibng over and over and expecting a different result? Might there not be a better plan? What might it look like?

  8. John, your comment, while it points in the right direction, mistakes the roles of those whom you implicitly criticize. In the first place, the Anglicans are not the ones who institute the lawsuits -- instead, they try to uphold Christian principles by letting the dissenters keep their properties with no conditions other than that any debts to the diocese be paid off, or worked out.

    In the second place, your Curmudgeon is not the rector of any parish, nor a vestry member who has voted for his parish to leave its diocese. He instead is a practicing attorney, hired by those whom ECUSA has sued. As such, he is obligated to use his best efforts in their defense in court. They remain free, of course, to choose to drop the defense and walk away from all their properties and assets at any time, but there is no Christian stigma in trying to resist un-Christian acts. Otherwise, the Church might as well not stand for anything.

    If there is a better plan, it would consist of working out arrangements to continue to accommodate both sides (assuming they are both orthodox) under one roof, as discussed in this post. But if the ECUSA side is heterodox, then the only alternative is to walk away, as so many have done. Even that strategy, however, does not prevent them from suing you -- even if you don't own any buildings, as the Somerset Anglican Fellowship found to their regret (see link in the post above).

    I suggest you try your hand at commenting on some of the heterodox bloggers' sites, and see how far you get.

  9. As an English cat I can see all the pain that the practice of litigation and property appropriation (or mis-appropriation) has caused you. It is lamentable and the participants are clearly living below the aspirations that Christ calls us to. I could wish that the historic road that led to this sorrowful state might have been strewn with fewer stones and a lot more good will. There are two sides to each story and yours is engrossing and intelligently put. I pray that the future might be better than the past.

  10. It isn't my intent to convert the heterodox, and in fact if TEC feels it has a property interest in any of the church buildings that the departing parishes occupy, aren't they just as entitled to pursue legal remedies, especially if they feel the departing parishes are behaving in an unChristian fashion?

    It seems to me the issue is that the current strategy isn't working on either side. That's the point I was trying to raise.

  11. mrcatolick, thank you for coming here and letting us know what this mess looks like from the outside. I join in your prayer.

    John, you are right on two points:

    1) ECUSA's dioceses of course are entitled to "pursue their legal remedies" -- it's just that Jesus and Paul warned Christians not to take disputes among themselves into the courts.

    2) The policy of Christians suing Christians has worked out abominably, just as Jesus and Paul indicated it would.

  12. Mr. Haley, Why hasn't PEG just gone ahead and make themselves a diocese asked to join the union of dioceses known as ECUSA via the normal procedures (at General Convention, I believe) and make it official? Is ignorance of the Canons that endemic? As I understand it, they did get a Constitution and Canons together and approved by a diocesan convention but never went to ask General Convention to join as a diocese. Because the tine frame would have been too long and they would not have been able to sue?

  13. Alexi, the reason why PEG has not gone through the canonical steps to be an official Diocese of ECUSA is that David Booth Beers and his law firm will not let them do so. Were General Convention and PEG to take the canonical steps to admit PEG as a full-fledged Diocese of ECUSA, that act would furnish admissible evidence in the courts that the former Diocese of Pittsburgh actually did leave the Church, and that its departure left a vacancy which needed to be filled by a newly formed diocese. Such evidence would thereby undermine ECUSA's legal strategy of arguing that once dioceses join ECUSA, they can never leave, but must (like a captain) ride the sinking ship to the bottom of the ocean.

    So you will never see a formal petition by any of the ersatz remainder groups to be admitted into General Convention as an actual Diocese. And that is why I say that ECUSA is being eaten away from inside by its refusals to follow its own laws. When ECUSA cannot respect its canons, why should the rest of us do so?

  14. A.S.,
    Great article and I don’t feel at all that you have too strong of a “tone” on this subject. We must hear the truth and especially the facts. These postings you provide are based on facts and your experience, knowledge and research.

    TEC supporters incl TEC themselves (as mentioned by TEC lawyers in the FTW case) have said that a Diocese can leave, that is, the people can, but cannot take the property with them. To TEC that is the limit as to what a Diocese (aka the people) can do under the First Amendment – to roll over and just walk away leaving lock, stock and barrel a parish which was bought and paid for my generations of church families of which no financial help was ever provided by 815.

    The situation in Ft. Worth is also the same…it too is a PEG or rather a FWEG or FEG?; however, thus far have won outright, though technically and legally, the Ft. Worth “PEG” has been given the property of the Diocese of Ft. Worth 1983 – pending appeal of course. Just like in Pittsburg, here in Ft. Worth the TEC group formed a “Diocese” out of thin air dated 2009 (?) without going through the GC process. Unfortunately there is no one (in TEC) to protest b/c they are either all behind the PB or just plain scared to say anything.

    And just like in Pittsburg and FTW, an entity was formed in 2008/2009 who then claimed rights to property and trusts put in place decades earlier. Why can’t the courts see this for what it is? Legal trickery resulting in legal thievery. And just like in Pittsburg, if for some strange reason (and we pray earnestly that it won’t happen), the ersatz Diocese of “North Texas” aka Ft. Worth (TEC) wins, they too will have to either survive as a diocese made of only 20% of the original or fold into an existing Diocese, perhaps Dallas, going back to pre-1983 days.

    Regarding Dallas, how did Bishop Stanton get away with (and I use that lightly and not in a accusatory way) with allowing parishes to leave his TEC Diocese? The large of them all, Christ Church Plano, is no longer TEC and St. Matthias is now with us in the (real) Diocese of Ft. Worth. I believe there is another one as well. How did the PB and her court not take him to task as thus far have not sued for return of the property? After all, wasn’t the infamous Dennis Canon meant to prevent parishes who leave a Diocese from taking their property?