Saturday, May 14, 2011

Introducing - the Curmudgeon's Canon

[UPDATE 05/17/2011: Thanks to the efforts of reader/commenter F.W. Gundlach, this post is now available in Adobe Acrobate (.pdf) format, downloadable at this link.]

The ersatz Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, through its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price, has circulated among its clergy a series of talking points, in question-and-answer format, which convey the official party line on the Diocese's dispute with Bishop Duncan's Anglican Diocese. The whole document calls out for fisking, so here we go -- the questions are in bold, the party-line answers are in green, my fisks are in blue, and I have added the italics for purposes of emphasizing the phrases I deem noteworthy [N.B.: for some unknown reason, Blogger's colored text is not reproducing, so I have temporarily put the official, party-line answers in italics, while my fisks are in regular type, and the previous simple italics are now all bold italics]:

Questions and Answers about
the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Realignment

What happened to all of the parishes that are no longer active in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?

Since the 2008 Diocesan Convention, 42 parishes have stopped participating in the Episcopal Diocese because the leaders maintain their parishes and the diocese had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church and realigned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (based in South America) and more recently, the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We don’t see things the same way. We say that people can leave the Episcopal Church, but not parishes or a diocese. To respect the views of those who disagree with us without prejudice to either point of view, we’ll use the terms “realigned congregation” and “realigned diocese” to describe the present situation.

What a circumlocution -- an entire diocese votes at its annual convention to leave the Episcopal Church (USA), and the great majority of parishes who decide to stay with their diocese are described as having "stopped participating" in the minority which chose to leave that Diocese, and to form their own new diocese -- which has yet to be formally admitted into the Episcopal Church in accordance with its Constitution and Canons (hence the term "ersatz"). The ones who "stopped participating", in other words, are the ones who stayed exactly where they were, and continued to participate in the Diocese as they always had -- while the ones who left, and hence really "stopped participating" in the Diocese, claim now to be the the real players all along. In the world of the ersatz Episcopalians, black is white, and upside down is right-side up.

"We say that people can leave the Episcopal Church, but not parishes or a diocese." Shall I demonstrate here just how silly that mantra is?

The minority parishes, led by Calvary Church, sued the Anglican diocese and claimed all of its property because it had left the Episcopal Church (USA), supposedly in violation of a stipulation that required it to stay in the Church as a condition of continuing to hold onto and administer its own property. So if a diocese cannot leave the church, what was the whole lawsuit about? And why was it necessary to get a court order transferring the property from the diocese that was sued to the new diocese that was formed after the vote to leave passed?

If it is true that no diocese can ever leave the Episcopal Church (USA), then there was no violation of the stipulation -- because if only people can leave, it's not the people who hold the title to the diocese's property, so they can't take the property with them. The diocese holds title to the diocese's property. And if the diocese holds the title, and it cannot leave the Church, then there is no basis for any lawsuit.

I realize that Episcopalians who think like this are impervious to logic. But the rest of us can surely see how ridiculous it is to make the claim that "a diocese cannot leave the Church", and then file suit against a diocese for having done so, and to take away its property in order to be able to give it back to the diocese which you claim never left in the first place -- oh, never mind. Let's go on, shall we?

Is the Episcopal Church continuing to sue the realigned diocese?

No, it is the other way around and has been for over a year. The Stipulation signed by Bishop Duncan and diocesan leaders in 2005 came into play with the realignment vote and, after Judge James’ ruling regarding its application in 2009, it has been the realigned diocese which has been suing to appeal, rehear and overturn this ruling.

Oh, good grief -- do they really expect their parishioners to be so ignorant that they don't realize that an appeal is just a continuation of the original lawsuit by the party that lost at the trial level? If there is some stigma that attaches to appealing an adverse decision, I am unaware of it. It's called trying to correct error that occurred below -- the appellate court reverses only for error. So if you sue me on a false claim and win in the trial court, then I am not supposed to appeal it, because that would be suing you back? And if you oppose my appeal, and argue that the trial court got it right, all of a sudden that's not suing me to keep your judgment? If there is a distinction they are trying to draw here, it eludes me.

Next question:

Does the Episcopal Diocese want to kick realigned congregations out of their buildings?

There is no reason for realigned congregations to abandon their buildings without talking with us and the Episcopal Diocese has not asked any parish to vacate the property. Indeed, the Episcopal Diocese has invited realigned congregations to enter into negotiations in order to come to a settlement regarding these properties.

Translation for the uninformed: "We invite you to sit down with us and tell us how much you are prepared to pay not to have to vacate your own property, and then we will tell you if we think that is enough. And if you are not prepared to pay what we ask, then you had better prepare to vacate your property."

Why does the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have an interest in these properties at all, especially since these people left the Episcopal Church?

Good question -- let's watch how they answer it, and take it apart sentence by sentence:

Each of the realigned congregations occupies and uses properties and assets that were given faithfully by Episcopalians for the ministry of the Episcopal Church, sometimes over generations.

Er -- the faithful Episcopalians who long ago gave properties and assets to their parish had no concept of the kind of church you want to operate there today. Had you been able to tell them at the time they made their gifts, it is a certainty that the gifts would have gone elsewhere. So don't put on the mantle of "faithful Episcopalians" -- it doesn't become you.

It is not fair for the assets of one denomination to be taken by a group of people and then used to set up a competing denomination.

Excuse me, but I do not recall Jesus Christ saying anything about "competition" in giving us all the Great Commission. If you see your mission as a church in "beating out the competition", then I question whether you can even call yourself a "church."

(The ACNA purports to replace the Episcopal Church as the American branch of the Anglican Communion.)

No, it doesn't -- that is a false statement, and one that is again unworthy of anything that calls itself a "church." None of Christ's disciples had to fear being "replaced" -- except one: Judas. You might want to avoid identifying with such a precedent as his.

The leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh are stewards of the assets of the Diocese, not owners, acting as trustees for the generations of faithful Episcopalians in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Oh, really? And who appointed them as the trustees of their property, as opposed to Bishop Duncan and his colleagues? To argue in this way is to beg the very question at stake -- see the answer about the intent of "faithful Episcopalians" above.

We cannot simply give away that property to others.

There you go again, begging the question. Who said it was your property to give?

What is the “Dennis” Canon?

The “Dennis” Canon is a canon of the Episcopal Church (I.7.4) passed by General Convention in 1979 (to which Pittsburgh sent its deputies) stating that all parish property and assets are held in trust by the dioceses of the Episcopal Church solely for the benefit of those dioceses and the Episcopal Church. This means that the parish property can only be used for that purpose.

And what, pray tell, gave General Convention the authority to enact such a canon? Did the delegates in 1979 come with powers of attorney from their respective parishes, authorizing them to sign away their properties in trust to the national church? Was there even any discussion of this point at General Convention in 1979? Given that there is not even a definitive record of the canon's passage, it seems that there was not.

Which brings up an interesting question: suppose General Convention were to enact what I shall call "the Curmudgeon's Canon", in the following words:
All property, real and personal, belonging to any member of the Episcopal Church shall be subject to a lien in favor of the Church for up to ten percent (10%) of its value. The lien shall not be subject to enforcement as long as the member in question remains a member in good standing of the parish to which the member belongs.
Would you contend that General Convention had the authority to enact such a canon? Why or why not? (After all, it just expresses an understanding that has always been implicit in belonging to the Church.) And if it were enacted, would you agree that it was immediately effective and enforceable in all 50 States (except, perhaps, South Carolina)? Again, why or why not? And then if a parishioner chose to leave his parish, would you contend that the lien could still be enforced against his property?

The Dennis Canon has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in its 2005 decision involving the Diocese of Pennsylvania and the Parish of St. James the Less. The canon built on an understanding that had always existed in the Church.

Ah, yes -- St. James the Less. Nice example to pick -- nice job the Diocese of Pennsylvania has done in making the property usable again to "faithful Episcopalians." And as for building "on an understanding that had always existed in the Church", see this post.

Not only were parishes required to accede to the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons, but many parishes, when founded, included articles in their charters and bylaws disqualifying leaders who advocated non-conformity to the Episcopal Church.

Oh, really? Please cite me even one example of a parish's articles or bylaws which disqualify "leaders who advocate non-conformity to the Episcopal Church." And how is it fair to penalize the parishes which did accede to ECUSA's Constitution and Canons by reading that accession as some sort of blanket permission to sign over their properties at the whim of General Convention?

Why shouldn’t an Episcopal congregation be able to leave the Episcopal Church and keep its building?

Again, a very good question. Let's watch what they say in response:

The importance of unity in the Body of Christ, despite disagreements that Christians may have with one another, is emphatically communicated in the New Testament. Division of a church is not a biblical solution for disagreements.

Where, oh where, does one begin in response to this fantastical claim? Does "unity in the body of Christ" trump any disagreement over what a majority of Christians vote to uphold and support? Is the majority always right, even when it votes to make bishops of those whom Scripture expressly prohibits being made a bishop? (Could the majority vote to accept Caligula's horse as a bishop, and would the minority be forbidden from splitting off in dissent, in order to preserve "unity in the body of Christ"? What do those words even mean, once you turn them over to interpretation by majority vote?)

If those currently using a building had full power to determine its use, there would be then no limits on what the church building could be used for.

Sheer fallacious reasoning: those who are currently enforcing the Dennis Canon -- against parishes who are reluctant to embrace the leadership's "interpretations" of Scripture -- are indeed exercising "full power to determine" how those parishes' buildings are used. In some cases, they dictate that it must lie dormant until it can be sold to a "non-competing" denomination (such as Islam); and in other cases they dictate that it should be sold to become a nightclub. How are any of those results preferable to the "no limits" scare-mongering which you invoke?

Besides upholding the intentions of past donors,

Oh, please -- spare us the hypocrisy (see above again).

. . . the Dennis Canon provides strict sanctions against those who would divide a church and use its historic assets for a different denomination.

Actually, the Canon itself contains no sanctions whatsoever in its text. Instead, the current leadership of ECUSA, aided and abetted by unthinking judges, invented the "strict sanctions" now applied to parishes which vote to realign, i.e., forfeiture of their property outright. And as for using "historic assets" for a "different denomination" -- oh, please (again). The parish which votes to disaffiliate from your Scriptural abominations sees itself as remaining in the same denomination to which it always belonged; it is you, and you alone, who have converted it into a "different denomination."

Conversely, the canon provides a strong incentive to seek unity, even in the face of disagreement. By making it clear which of two rival groups gets to keep the church property (in which a congregation may have worshiped for generations), church rules such as the Dennis Canon and the traditions that preceded it hopefully minimize the chance of a painful split (or at least provide an objective rule for resolving it) and also protect the ability of a remnant faithful to worship within the Episcopal Church.

In other words, "We enacted the Dennis Canon to keep youse guys in line, see? One false step, and that's it -- you're outta here, wit' no more roof over youse's head." Speaks volumes about the current Episcopal Church (USA) -- but now you have it in their own words.

Are the only two possible models of a settlement the examples of St. Philip’s Church, Moon, and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship?

No. Each congregation has a different situation and so there may be many possible settlements. That is why it is important that each realigned congregation enter into negotiations with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Excuse me, but this avoids the question really being asked. Anyone with knowledge of current events -- anyone but Pittsburgh Episcopalians, that is -- would read the question as asking: "Why did the [ersatz] Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh require St. Philip's to stay away from Bishop Duncan and his Diocese for at least five years? Are you making that [unconstitutional] requirement a condition of every settlement?" And so you have not answered the question. To date, there has not been a single negotiated settlement with you and a parish that owned its own property (Somerset did not own any, but still had to acknowledge the "validity" of the Dennis Canon) that has not contained the requirement to keep away from Bishop Duncan's diocese.

In the case of congregations that negotiate a financial settlement with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, how will the Episcopal Diocese use any monies received?

In all likelihood, the Diocese will use the money to extend its ministry by creating new church plants, encouraging groups of Episcopalians who are rebuilding congregations, and supporting existing parishes.

"In all likelihood" -- that's nice. You could just as well have responded, "In all likelihood, the money we receive will be used to pay our attorneys to sue the remaining parishes for their properties." Given the vagueness of "in all likelihood", and the requirements of the ongoing litigation, the responses are equivalent.

Can any of the congregations come back? And if they can, what repercussions will there be for them?

Any realigned congregation will be welcomed back. There would be no repercussions whatsoever.

None, that is, other than the requirement that they contribute their share of the continuing costs of going after the congregations with which they were previously affiliated. It's a requirement of every gang: "prove you're really one of us by robbing your former friends and neighbors."

As I have said on many previous occasions, please pray for your church -- whether you grew up in it, as I did, or have only recently joined. With propaganda like the above, believed at all levels of leadership, it needs your prayers now more than ever.


  1. Mr. Haley, You can always consider retiring to the Diocese of South Carolina. No Dennis Canon here. We would be happy to have you.

  2. Those talking points needed a good fisk.

    The fact that the clergy of the faux diocese needed this is telling in itself.

  3. Mr. Haley, it bears repeating that a large part of the problem the Anglicans face in Pittsburgh is due to the influence of Roman Catholicism on the Pennsylvania bench. It is irony, from the 19th century Nativist movements's histrionics about the Pope undermining American law, that you see this actually happening in Pennsylvania in the 21st.

    The problem why the Pittsburgh Diocese could not withdraw from the National Church, is that the lower level court judge did not believe that a diocese could withdraw. Many of the Pennsylvania cases involving the Episcopal Church really turn on whether the judge believes (as a matter of faith!) that something can or cannot happen in the Episcopal Church.

    Don't believe me? Look at the Connor vs. Archdiocese series of cases. That one involved a tort, where all the courts up until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court "deferred" to the Philadelphia Roman Catholic Archdiocese when that diocese claimed that the tort was protected under their First Amendment rights.

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court finally fixed that whopper, but it wasn't unanimous. One judge sat out. Who? Justice Seamus McCaffery, of Northern Ireland originally, who had just been elected to the court. He previously served on one of the lower appellate benches that had ruled in favor of the Archdiocese!

    It looks like the Pennsylvania appellate courts have been giving +Duncan's men a hard time over some "stipulation" that was almost an aside in the negotiations at trial level. They obviously can't come out and say that there was another Roman Catholic-inspired miscarriage of justice again, so they need to blame the attorneys.

    Many people are watching Judge Ott's trial court opinion in the Good Shepherd Rosemont case, to see if Roman Catholic practices are once again inserted into Pennsylvania property law involving religious societies . . .

  4. My mother's side of the family has historically been Episcopalians for as far back as anyone can remember. My great grandmother was a founding member of an Episcopal church, as were my parents with another Episcopal church.

    I can pretty confidently say that any of the sizable, substantial gifts that my family members gave was to the individual *church* -- NOT to the diocese! Those gifts weren't given to the diocese to be used by the church, they were specifically to the church.

    Along the same lines, gifts were given with a certain implied trust in the church leadership, both the current leadership and the future leadership -- but *not* the diocesan leadership. I believe that the same trust carries to the present-- the trust that the current church leadership will protect the gifts from those in the rump diocese who want to take it away and sell it!