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Pittsburgh dicoese votes to split from the Episcopal Church: CEN 10.10.08 p 5. October 11, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Pittsburgh, Secession.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has quit the Episcopal Church to affiliate with the Province of the Southern Cone. Meeting at the Church of the Ascension in Oakland, Pennsylvania on Oct 4, clergy and lay delegates to the diocesan convention passed the second reading of a constitutional amendment permitting secession.

By margins of 121 to 33 in the clergy order and 119 to 69 in the lay order, the diocese: its clergy, congregations and lay members, became the second diocese to quit the Episcopal Church. “We deeply value our shared heritage and years of friendship with those still within that denomination, but this diocese could not in good conscience continue down the road away from mainstream Christianity that the leadership of The Episcopal Church is so determined to follow,” diocesan spokesman the Rev. Peter Frank said after the vote.

However, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori denounced the move in a statement released after the decision was announced arguing the secession vote was unnecessary. “I have repeatedly reassured Episcopalians that there is abundant room for dissent within this Church, and that loyal opposition is a long and honored tradition within Anglicanism.”

Schism was a “more egregious error than charges of heresy,” she said, adding that she would assist those wishing to remain affiliated with the national church to “reorganize the Diocese and call a bishop to provide episcopal ministry.”

The Rev. James Simons, a member of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee, announced after the vote he would not follow the diocese out of the church, and that he would work with the national church to create a new ecclesial entity for Pittsburgh area Anglicans who wish to remain part of the Episcopal Church. Mr. Frank said the diocese expected some of its 70 parishes to withdraw from the Diocese and affiliate with a mission district likely to be created by the Episcopal Church.

However, a spokesman told The Church of England Newspaper, it was incorrect to say, as had the Presiding Bishop, that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh would “reorganize.” By its vote, the legal and ecclesial entity known as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh ended its affiliation with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, but did not change its name or end its legal existence.

Those parishes and clergy wishing to remain part of the national church were free to create a new ecclesial entity in association with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, he noted. However, under US civil and canon law, the name, assets and orders of the Diocese of Pittsburgh did not belong to those who wished to be part of the national church. Bishop Schori has argued that it is not possible for dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church. However, nothing in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church prevents dioceses from seceding from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The issue will likely be settled through civil litigation in the US state courts.

In 2007 the Province of the Southern Cone agreed to provide “temporary emergency shelter” to North American dioceses and congregations. Under the canons of the Southern Cone, Pittsburgh has not been formally received as a new diocese of the province, but has been given temporary metropolitan oversight by the Southern Cone’s Primate, Bishop Gregory Venables of Argentina, pending the creation of a new province of the Communion in North America.

Following the close of the convention, the Diocesan Standing Committee invited Bishop Robert Duncan to serve as acting bishop of the diocese, pending the election of a new bishop at a special convention scheduled for Nov 7. Bishop Duncan is expected to be the sole candidate on the ballot.

Following his deposition from office by the House of Bishops last month, Bishop Duncan was received into the House of Bishops of the Province of the Southern Cone and has served as an administrative consultant to the diocese. He did not preside nor preach at the Oct 4 convention.

At the press conference following the convention, the President of the Standing Committee, the Rev. David Wilson said the diocese would permit parishes who wished to be part of the national Episcopal Church to leave with their property, as the diocese was committed to a “charitable” legal separation.

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