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Attorneys withdraw Episcopal land-grab resolution

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A controversial resolution that called for local Episcopal parishes to maintain control of their property and buildings in defiance of church canon law has been withdrawn by attorneys representing Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr.

Resolution No. 6, passed at a diocesan convention in September, was at the heart of an October lawsuit filed by a Shadyside church against Duncan and the diocese's board of trustees to prevent them from transferring ownership of any church property.

Duncan's attorney, Joe Otto, said the bishop and the trustees withdrew the resolution on Dec. 9 during a special meeting. The withdrawal was contained in a response to the church's lawsuit filed by Otto on Dec. 30 in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

"Resolution 6 may have confused [people] a little bit," said Otto, an attorney with the Downtown firm Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote. "To the extent that it might have done that, it seemed to the diocese that it should be taken out of the picture and it has been taken out of the picture."

The Rev. Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Duncan, said the withdrawal of the resolution was not sufficient.

"We want a court declaration regarding the illegality of the resolution," Lewis said.

Even though the resolution was passed at the Sept. 27 diocesan convention by a 204-72 margin with 16 abstentions, Otto said it had no legal effect since it was not incorporated into church canon law.

Duncan had told attendees at the convention that passing Resolution No. 6 would be "about the spirit in which we would try to negotiate over property issues were any congregation to decide at some point in the future to leave its union with the diocese."

Denominational canon law and several cases adjudicated in civil courts hold that the diocese is the primary trustee of property in the Episcopal Church.

Resolution No. 6 and five others had been developed by Duncan and diocesan officials in response to the Episcopal Church USA's tacit approval of same-sex blessings and its confirmation at its summer convention of an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire.

Calvary's lawsuit was not filed against the diocese but on its behalf through a legal procedure known as ad litem. It allows members of an unincorporated association -- in this case, the diocese -- to assert the need for compliance with the association's constitution and laws.

The lawsuit was brought "to preserve and protect the unite and integrity of the property" of the national church, the Pittsburgh diocese and the parishes, missions and other institutions and organizations of those church bodies.

Steve Levin can be reached at or 412-263-1919.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Jan. 9, 2003) The headline on a story in Wednesday's editions on the withdrawal of a controversial resolution by attorneys representing the Right Rev. Robert W. Duncan Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, inaccurately characterized the resolution that was pulled back. Resolution No. 6 would have allowed parishes to retain control of their property and buildings, although current church canon law holds that the diocese is the primary trustee of property in the Episcopal Church.

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