- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH

Episcopalians loyal to the U.S. church’s leaders went to court Thursday seeking to recover $20 million in assets they say were wrongfully taken when Pittsburgh parishes in October voted to split from the U.S. Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh, which oversees the 20 parishes that stayed with the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church rather than join the 54 parishes that affiliated with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, said the conservative group has no legal right to the assets since it is no longer part of the U.S. denomination.

Spokesman Rich Creehan said the church petitioned the Court of Common Pleas for the assets after its requests for them were “ignored” by the breakaway parishes.

The conservatives, who also call themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said they have a right to the assets that they helped develop before the split, which was the result of votes taken at the diocesan convention.

“We would love to sit down and work out a mediated division where everyone involved has access to a portion of the assets because we think that’s fair,” said the Rev. Peter Frank, a spokesman for the conservative diocese.

The break from the U.S. church was led by Bishop Robert Duncan, a theological conservative who had long opposed the liberal direction of the national church on such issues as sexuality and biblical authority. Bishop Duncan said he had to split from denominational leaders after Episcopalians in 2003 consecrated an openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The assets at stake include diocesan endowments and bank accounts, along with insurance, mailing lists and databases, Mr. Creehan said. The legal claim does not cover buildings or land.

The case centers on interpretation of a 2005 court order that was issued during earlier litigation between one local parish, Calvary Episcopal Church, and the pre-schism diocese, then led by Bishop Duncan.

That order states property held or administered by the local diocese of “the Episcopal Church of the United States of America … shall continue to be so held or administered by the diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes” break from the national denomination.

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