A judge has agreed with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that it should have control of assets still held by former diocesan leaders.
In a decision issued October 6, Judge Joseph James of the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County ruled that an existing court-approved agreement is “clear and unambiguous” in requiring that diocesan property must remain with a diocese that is part of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
The judge further ruled the former diocesan leaders are “in violation [of that agreement] and cannot continue to be the trustee” of the property.
“The property is to be held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States,” Judge James wrote.
In January, 2009, the diocese sought control of assets by asking the court to enforce a 2005 Stipulation and Order agreed to by attorneys for former Bishop Robert Duncan and Calvary Episcopal Church.
In making its case, the diocese argued: "After all the testimony, evidence, arguments and briefs, [the] defendants cannot plausibly explain how they can hold property that under the Stipulation is to be held by the ‘Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America’ when they are no longer part of the ‘Episcopal Church of the United States.’" Bishop Duncan and others did purport to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church in October 2008, while continuing to refer to themselves as “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” and retaining control of its assets.
In considering what he described as the “narrow issue” of the October 2005 agreement, Judge James ruled “Regardless of what name the defendants now call themselves, they are not the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.”
At issue are diocesan endowments, bank accounts, and other resources used in conducting day-to-day business valued in excess of $15 million.
“This ruling supports our position all along that an agreement is an agreement, especially when entered in good faith and in a court of law,” says the Rev. Dr. James Simons, President of the diocesan Standing Committee, the current ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Today’s ruling did not address other provisions in the Stipulation relating to buildings and land titled in the name of parishes in the diocese.
“We must now focus on reconciliation and welcoming back anyone who wants to return to our Episcopal Diocese,” says Dr. Simons. “We took this action to protect property that was entrusted to the Episcopal Church over generations. As stewards of that property, it was our Gospel and moral responsibility to do so. It is also our responsibility to help restore relationships as much as we can.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh includes 28 parishes, or about 40% of the pre-October 2008 diocese, that remain active in the life of the Episcopal Church. The diocese currently has over 8,800 members.
A PDF of the judge’s ruling is available on the diocesan website at http://www.episcopalpgh.org/docs/courtorder100609.pdf