Pittsburgh clergy who left The Episcopal Church over its liberal direction will not be stripped of their ordinations.
In an announcement on Monday, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh said it will not take disciplinary action against the approximately 100 priests and deacons who left to join a conservative Anglican group.
"We're doing this for pastoral reasons," said the Rev. Dr. James Simons, president of the diocesan Standing Committee, in a statement. "We do not want to see our priestly brothers and sisters deposed."
Rather than defrock the priests, the diocese has chosen to simply release them from their ministerial ties to The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism. By doing so, the breakaway clergy are able to "move their holy orders" to any entity they want to, including the Anglican Church in North America – a conservative province that was established in June for disaffected Anglicans.
"We're trying to be as pastoral as possible," Simons said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We don't want to deprive anybody of their holy orders. We don't think that's necessary, but we had to find some way to get them off the list of clergy in the Episcopal Church."
The move is a departure from actions taken by other dioceses in The Episcopal Church. The Diocese of San Joaquin deposed 61 clergy earlier this year from ordained ministry after they voted to split from the national church. They were charged with abandoning the church's communion.
Since the controversial ordination of an openly gay bishop in 2003, the majority in four dioceses voted to secede from The Episcopal Church, including those in the Dioceses of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Quincy.
They have gone on to help form the Anglican Church in North America – seen as a rival province to The Episcopal Church. Others who chose not to leave have remained with the national church and kept their respective dioceses intact.
Although the majority of each of the dioceses voted to leave, the head of The Episcopal Church said dioceses as a whole cannot leave the national church. Still, in all known cases to date, the breakaway dioceses and the dioceses they left behind have continued using the same name, though some of the former specify with parenthesis that they are "Anglican."
The Diocese of Pittsburgh (before the split) was formerly led by Bishop Robert Duncan, who now heads the rival conservative province. He helped lead the diocese to secede, maintaining that The Episcopal Church has departed from traditional Anglicanism and scriptural teachings. Last year, Duncan was deposed by the Episcopal House of Bishops for abandoning the communion of the church.
The Standing Committee of the Pittsburgh diocese, meanwhile, chose a "softer method."
"As the Standing Committee worked through this necessary action, I was painfully aware that they were not just talking about a list of clergy, but friends of long standing," said Bishop Kenneth Price, who is expected to become provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh later this month. "For this reason I am grateful the canons provide this 'softer' method of allowing those who wish to depart from the Episcopal Church to do so legally without us making a judgment on their ordination."