More than $359,000 in local parish funds that had been tied up in a legal dispute have been paid out to the various churches for their use, as promised by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The funds represent the regular quarterly interest income on distributions from endowments and other investments that three dozen parish and church organizations had pooled in accounts controlled by the diocese. The amount covers the period from the fourth quarter of 2008 through all of 2009.

The diocese authorized the payments regardless of whether the parish continues to actively participate in the Episcopal Church or has a congregation that considers itself part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“We were concerned that money that could have been used for ministry in these local churches had been tied up, and so we’re happy to have it in their hands again so that all of our work in mission and ministry can go forward,” said Bishop Kenneth L. Price, Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese.

The accounts were frozen from January 2009 until recently by the investment firm Morgan Stanley in light of questions over whether the Episcopal Diocese or its former leaders, who now head the Anglican Diocese, should control the funds. On October 6, 2009, Judge Joseph James of the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County ruled that an October 2005 Stipulation agreed to by those former leaders prevented them from continuing to control diocesan assets.

Before that court decision, the Episcopal Diocese agreed that the normal distributions from these investment accounts to the parishes should not be frozen. After a subsequent order from Judge James on January 29, 2010, directed Morgan Stanley to take its instructions from the Episcopal Diocese regarding the investments, the Episcopal Diocese made freeing up the regular distributions a priority.

In early May, the Episcopal Diocese authorized Morgan Stanley to issue payment to the parishes. The investment firm mailed checks to the three dozen recipients just prior to the Memorial Day weekend.

Of these, 31 are parishes. The others are church-related institutions and charitable organizations. Several recipients chose to re-invest their money back into their account rather than take a cash payment.

The Episcopal Diocese expects regular payments to resume on a quarterly basis.

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