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Episcopal bishop, others propose resolutions to disengage from national church

Thursday, August 28, 2003

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Six resolutions that could pave the way for the 20,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to disengage from the national church were mailed this week to local clergy and lay deputies who will vote on them at a special diocesan convention scheduled for next month.

The sweeping resolutions, developed by Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr. and other diocese officials in response to the Episcopal Church USA's recent confirmation of an openly gay bishop and tacit approval of the liturgical blessing of same-sex unions, are openly defiant of the national church and in at least one case flout current canon law.

"This is a radical proposal," Duncan said, "but this is a radical time in our life. There are two realities here and, really, two churches. We've got to give freedom to people."

Earlier this month, Duncan and 19 other bishops had declared a "pastoral emergency" in the Episcopal Church at the denomination's triennial convention following the House of Bishops' confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the new bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson, a divorced father of two, has lived openly with his gay partner for the past 13 years.

Many of those same bishops have called for special diocesan conventions of their own next month that will consider resolutions similar to Pittsburgh's.

From Oct. 7-9, those bishops and other members of the American Anglican Council, a network of individuals, parishes and bishops who affirm biblical authority and Anglican orthodoxy within the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, will meet in Plano, Texas.

They hope to develop proposals and petitions based on resolutions like Pittsburgh's that will be presented the next week to an emergency gathering of Anglican Communion leaders in London.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, which is led by the archbishop of Canterbury, has about 77 million members. Several primates have said they oppose the Episcopal Church's recent actions.

The resolutions that will be voted on by about 350 delegates at the Pittsburgh diocese's special convention Sept. 27 go to the heart of what orthodox Episcopalian leaders believe is wrong with the national church.

Resolution No. 1 calls Robinson's confirmation and the permitting of same-sex blessings unconstitutional. "These acts are thus held to be null and void, and of no effect, in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh," the resolution reads.

Resolution No. 2 asks world Anglican leaders to intervene in "the apostasy" created by the triennial convention while No. 3 asks them to allow disaffected conservative parishes and clergy to align themselves "across existing diocesan boundaries" with likeminded Episcopalians.

But it is resolutions 4 to 6 that are most controversial.

No. 4 resolves that parishes no longer would have to send assessment funds to the national church.

Resolution No. 5 would give local parishes the right to withhold all funds from the Pittsburgh Diocese, a move that could cost the 11-county, 77-parish diocese thousands of dollars.

For congregations that disagree with the more orthodox direction of the diocese, Duncan said, "it's no longer appropriate for us to force them to fund us.

"We're not going to force you against your conscience any more than we're going to go against ours," he said.

The final resolution also is controversial.

Although church canon law, and several cases recently adjudicated in civil courts, hold that the diocese is the primary trustee of property in the Episcopal Church, Resolution No. 6 would release control to individual parishes.

"We believe that the people who gave the property and gave the resources, actually gave it to their local parish," Duncan said.

"The church did business in a new way at the [triennial] convention. We've got to do business in a new way."


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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