A group of Episcopalians in Pittsburgh have demanded $20 million in assets from conservatives who left The Episcopal Church.
Some 21 parishes that voted against disaffiliation filed a court motion Thursday, saying the breakaway group has no legal rights to the assets since it severed ties with the denomination, as reported by The Associated Press.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh had voted overwhelmingly in October 2008 to split from The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – and align with the more conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America. It was the second diocese, or regional body, to secede from a denomination conservatives say has abandoned Christian orthodoxy and traditional Anglicanism.
While the diocese as a whole had voted to leave, approximately 21 parishes – which formed a new diocesan structure under the same name of Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh – decided to remain with the denomination and are now demanding all the assets that the conservatives left with.
They went to court this week after its requests for the assets, which include endowments and funds, were "ignored" by the breakaway group, spokesman Rich Creehan told AP.
The Rev. Peter Frank, spokesman for the conservative diocese, however, explained that the remaining parishes had sent the breakaway group 15 pages of demands in October "that essentially stated that even though they had lost the vote and represent a minority, they should have all of the assets immediately," he told The Christian Post.
"We told them 'no.' Our desire is for a fair, mediated division of property and assets that creates as little dislocation as possible for parishes on both sides of this division," Frank added.
He stressed that the conservative diocese would be "very pleased to enter serious discussions with the parishes that have left to rejoin The Episcopal Church."
The parishes that filed the court motion have centered their arguments on a 2005 court order that states that property and assets held by "Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America ... shall continue to be so held ... regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America."
Both sides, however, call themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The breakaway group retained the name because they left as a whole diocese, not individual parishes, Frank explained.
"We are an incorporated, independent body in the State of Pennsylvania that followed its rules for changing its affiliation," he said. "Chang[ing] our name would have confused that by giving the incorrect sense that we had left the diocese."