We are grateful that Judge Joseph James has ruled that the 2005 Stipulation and Order concerning diocesan property is “clear and unambiguous” in requiring that those assets be held and administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States, and that we are that diocese.
The Judge has ordered that a process for an orderly transition of diocesan property begin within 30 days. We look forward to that transition and will cooperate in the process. We are hopeful that the former leaders of the diocese who sought to retain control of diocesan assets after they themselves separated from the Episcopal Church will also cooperate in the transition and not seek to delay implementation of the Court’s order.
Questions have been raised in a number of quarters, including the news media, about the meaning and effect of this decision on the issues of parish property.
The Court’s order encompasses the "real and personal property that is subject to Paragraph One of the Stipulation of October 14, 2005," and the parties have been directed to meet with the Special Master previously appointed by the Court to identify all of the property that falls within that paragraph of the Stipulation. In general, that will include all of the real and personal property held by the diocese (or the Board of Trustees of the diocese) except real or personal property "as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish" of the diocese.
The Stipulation of October 14, 2005 includes a separate section (Paragraph Two) that provides a procedural process applicable to the real and personal property of parishes falling outside the scope of Paragraph One – in other words, the property "as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish." The decision by Judge James did not address Paragraph Two of the Stipulation directly, but the decision does affirm that our diocese is the "Diocese" referred to in that portion of the Stipulation.
Paragraph Two of the 2005 Stipulation requires that there be a dialogue between the diocese and any parish seeking to disaffiliate from the diocese regarding the disposition of property specifically held for or in the name of the parish, followed by mediation (where a neutral third party helps the parties resolve any disputes between them), before the diocese or the parish may resort to the courts to decide the dispute.
The diocese intends to follow this procedural mechanism, now that the Court has made it clear that we are the "Diocese" referred to in the Stipulation.
It needs to be understood, however, that Paragraph Two is procedural only. It does not alter the legal or ecclesiastical principles surrounding the questions of whether a parish can disaffiliate from the diocese or whether a disaffiliating congregation may retain parish property.
To everyone in parishes where members have separated from the Episcopal Church, we say that despite our different views, we sincerely invite you to be reconciled with us and return to active participation in the diocese, so that no disputes over property are necessary. We pledge to you that we do not seek to punish but rather only to be reconciled with you. In our work together over the past year, we have learned that we have widely different opinions on many of the issues facing the Episcopal Church today; we have also learned that if we refuse to allow those differences to harden into divisions, many fruitful things can be accomplished.
Some media reports have incorrectly suggested that we will now begin simply to transfer buildings and land to parishes that do not want to be active in the Episcopal Church. Our fiduciary duties as trustees and stewards, as well as the terms of the Stipulation, do not permit that to be the case.
But it remains our desire, within the constraints of the Stipulation and the canons and legal principles which govern our stewardship of these matters, to find a means to use these sacred spaces to the greatest glory of God.