Pittsburgh Anglicans Seek 'Christian Way' to Resolve Property Dispute

Anglicans in Pittsburgh who broke from The Episcopal Church announced this week that they will appeal the recent ruling that strips them of their church properties.

Now called The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, the breakaway group of 51 local congregations say if the ruling is left uncontested, "the award of all diocesan assets to the minority party ... would establish a precedent that we believe the minority would use to take steps to seize all the assets of all our local parishes."

"Our decision to appeal is for the purpose of protecting the mission of our fifty-one local congregations," the diocese said in a statement Thursday.

On Oct. 6, Judge Joseph James ruled that the breakaway group cannot continue to hold any diocesan assets. The majority of the diocese (67 percent) had voted in 2008 to leave The Episcopal Church, citing the national church's departure from Christian orthodoxy and Anglican tradition. Twenty seven congregations chose to remain with the national church.

Noting that not all the parishes followed Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan out of the national church, the judge determined that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of The Episcopal Church "never ceased to exist" and that all diocesan assets must be held by the Episcopal diocese.

Anglicans who left called the litigious action "unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable."

They stated that they are appealing the court decision not only to protect the mission of the congregations but also to "address the question of the legal right of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh to separate from its former denominational affiliation."

"This essential question has never yet had its day in court throughout the legal action in which the Episcopal Church minority is the plaintiff and is suing for all the assets," the Anglican diocese stated. "Many of these assets were donated in good faith by generations of families in our fifty-one congregations. There must be an equitable agreement and distribution. There is a Christian way to resolve this dispute."

The intent by the breakaway group to appeal the decision was met with disappointment by the remaining Episcopalians.

The Rev. Dr. James Simons, president of the diocesan Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, had announced earlier this month that it will not take defrock the clergy who left and instead will release them from their ministerial ties to The Episcopal Church. In an effort to be "as pastoral as possible," Simons said he didn't find it necessary to deprive their priestly brothers and sisters of their holy orders.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh was the second diocese to leave The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – and realign with a conservative Anglican province. The first was the Diocese of San Joaquin in California.