The Two Faces of PEG

One of the things about a curmudgeon that riles people up is that curmudgeons are always pointing out facts which people wish they would not mention, let alone bring into sharper focus. But, properly considered, it is the primary duty of a curmudgeon to call people's attention to inconvenient facts, just as it is the primary duty of a messenger to deliver the message, whether good news or bad. It is not the messenger's fault if the news is upsetting; nor is it the curmudgeon's fault if the facts are, shall we say, uncomfortable. And so, if the foregoing sentences have not caused the reader to click away by now, then allow me to follow up on some observations I made in this week's edition of Anglican Unscripted.

There is a group of Episcopalians in the Pittsburgh area who have formed themselves into an association of parishes, congregations, and clergy, modeled on the former Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, since they have adopted its former Constitution and Canons. They of course think they are a Diocese of the Episcopal Church just because they have done this, and because ECUSA found it convenient to go along with the charade in order to have a vehicle with which to maintain lawsuits and take over church property. But they are not a true Diocese, because the only legal entity that was the Diocese of Pittsburgh exercised its constitutional right under the First Amendment to join a different Church.

It is impossible for the group that remained to be that same entity, since that entity no longer belongs to the Episcopal Church. So they must be a different entity -- a new entity, which came into existence only when they got together in December 2008 and adopted their governing documents. And since that new entity has never been formally accepted into union with General Convention by following the canonical procedures for union, just as all of the other dioceses of ECUSA did in the past, it cannot be a Diocese of the Episcopal Church, either.

So what is it? It is neither fish nor fowl, neither missionary area nor diocese. It is a brand-new species of episcopal entity which sprang from the fertile minds of the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori's legal team. For their sake, its principal purpose as an entity was to be able to sue in Pennsylvania courts and take over the properties and assets of the former Diocese -- not by legal succession or voluntary transfer, but by trickery, subterfuge and sophistry worthy of some of those legendary Philadelphia lawyers. (Consider just the fact that an entity formally organized only in December 2008 was allowed to be the designated beneficiary of a stipulation entered into by wholly different parties three years earlier, in October 2005.)

Once it has accomplished all its lawsuit objectives, this group will be folded into another Pennsylvania diocese, since it is too small in numbers to be a proper diocese on its own (even its own members admit that). Thus its principal purpose -- at the national level, I stress -- cannot be, and never was, to be a proper diocese of the Episcopal Church (USA). While I freely admit that at the local level, it functions the same as any other diocese, and does some good work while doing so, the inconvenient fact here is that in the eyes of 815 Second Avenue, PEG is no more than a useful tool to achieve the former's litigious (and scandalously illicit) ends.

In the meantime, however, let us call them the Pittsburgh Episcopal Group, or "PEG" for short. Another inconvenient fact which PEG right now wishes that no one would notice (because it is looking for a new bishop) is that it is demonstrably schizophrenic. It presents two entirely different faces to the world, and has two entirely different personalities. And while this disorder continues, it will make it practically impossible for PEG to come together and to integrate itself as a coherent religious organization. Pity, therefore, the hapless choice for bishop who has the impossible task of reconciling two diametrically opposed opposites.

The first face of PEG is the one it presents to its own members. This face is best seen through a document they prepared in connection with their current search for a new "diocesan." (Yes, he/she will be called that, even though PEG is not a proper diocese, because this is all part of the charade, remember?) It is titled "2011 Diocesan Profile", available for download on PEG's Website. According to it, PEG's vision of the way they see themselves is as follows:
  • We are a fellowship of communities alive in the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seeking and serving Jesus Christ in all persons and in all of God’s creation.
  • Our actions and beliefs are guided by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
  • United by our common prayer and the Anglican tradition of the Episcopal Church, we do all in our power to support our member parishes and faith communities. We minister to one another, bearing with each other, forgiving as the Lord forgives, and loving as Christ loves us.
  • Together, we lead others to know and love God as we strive for justice and peace among all people, respect the dignity of every human being, and proclaim by word and example that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Further on (p. 7) one reads the following about the ongoing litigation over the property -- not, mind you, the property of the PEG parishes themselves, but of all the other parishes that left with the former Diocese, as well as the property of that Diocese itself:
After the October 2008 withdrawal vote, former leaders of the diocese who chose to leave the Episcopal Church retained control over diocesan assets, requiring the diocese to ask the civil courts to rule on the matter. The courts have ruled in favor of the diocese and held that the property of the diocese must be held by the diocese of the Episcopal Church. These court rulings cover the endowments and other permanent funds of the diocese as well as the real estate used by over 20 congregations that ceased active participation in the diocese after the 2008 vote. The new “Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)” diocese claims these congregations as member parishes, but the legal status of the withdrawal vote remains in dispute. The courts have been able to award control of the property to the diocese of the Episcopal Church without deciding that issue.

In addition to the parish property covered by the court rulings, there are approximately 15 other situations where the status of the parish and the property remains in dispute. The diocese has reached formal property agreements with two departing congregations and has openly invited others into negotiations. The Bishop’s letter of May 11, 2011, and its enclosed “Questions and Answers about the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Realignment” provides additional information and is available here [PDF].
Notice how gently the legal proceedings are finessed: PEG found itself "required" to take the matter to the civil courts, because the former Diocese "retained control over its [own] assets." What a thing for it to do -- to retain control over the assets it had always had! (Not mentioned is the fact that the former Diocese offered to share those assets pro rata with the new entity, but PEG rejected all such offers because they wanted it all.) And the properties of the parishes which still belong to the former Diocese? Well, PEG wanted all those, too, and persuaded the Pennsylvania courts (who literally did not know or care what they were doing) to hand them over to it.

On the next page (8) we read that among the "challenges" which PEG now faces is:
Ongoing distraction of property disputes with the “realigned” congregations . . .
How sad to be "distracted" from your mission as a church by trying to take people's long-held property from them! (The churches that voted to leave ECUSA did so democratically and in accordance with all applicable canons and constitutional provisions, and with their rights under the First Amendment. In America, we have a long-standing democratic tradition of honoring majority votes taken under the rule of law. But only in ECUSA does a minority see itself as "entitled" to override the freely and legally expressed will of the majority, and to punish them for exercising it.)

This, then is how PEG now sees itself: fully Christian in its faith, guided by Scripture, Tradition and Reason, "forgiving as the Lord forgives" -- but not when it comes to property, by God! -- and sadly "distracted" by the coils and snares of litigation which it instituted. (Right after it was formally organized in December 2008, PEG moved to intervene in the ongoing litigation between Calvary Church and the former Diocese, in order to make its claims to everyone else's property.)

And now, let us turn to consider the other side which the Janus-like PEG presents to fellow Christians who are not its members -- namely, the Christians in the former (now Anglican) Diocese, whom PEG is in the process of depriving of their long-held buildings, furnishings and prayer books. When the Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas handed down its order requiring the surrender of all Anglican assets to PEG, its members held a gleeful celebration. And specially written (and performed) for the occasion was a new setting of an old Anglican chant. Part of its new text ran as follows (never mind how non-metrical it is; full music and lyrics may be seen and heard here [caution: your view of PEG may never again be the same]):
This is the state of the Pittsburgh Diocese
In February of the Year Two Thousand and Eleven.

On October 4, 2008, our only property in hand was a cell phone bought the day before . . .

A year ago the court confirmed us proprietors of forty-five properties.
These include a camp, a playground, a retreat house, churches, rectories, cemeteries, and management of a $22 million endowment.

. . . We are, in short, nothing less than E-pis-co-pa-li-ans.
Rather says it all -- but wait, there is more, a good deal more. As the Profile quoted above briefly mentioned, PEG "has reached formal property agreements with two departing congregations . . .". I discussed the highly illegal and unconstitutional nature of the first such agreement in this earlier post, and will not repeat myself here. And the second settlement, with the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, was simpler, because since the latter owned no real estate of their own, all they had to turn over to PEG was their hymnals, prayer books and altar furnishings.

Somerset got off lightly, while St. Philip's in Moon Township paid the steepest of all prices for its property -- not just in cash, but at the cost of its continuing fellowship with the other parishes that left ECUSA with the Diocese in October 2008. It is forbidden, by its contract with PEG, from associating with those parishes, or contributing to the Anglican diocese or its province, for a period of at least five years. In this way, PEG (with ECUSA behind it all the way) tries its hardest to ensure that St. Philip's will most likely atrophy and wither on the vine, so that at the end of the five-year period it will no longer be capable of rejoining its brothers and sisters.

Such an immoral and un-Christian condition on one's free exercise of one's religion is, of course, blatantly unconstitutional, and hence unenforceable in any State or Federal court. But that does not bother in the slightest our "fellowship of communities alive in the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seeking and serving Jesus Christ in all persons and in all of God’s creation," whose "actions and beliefs are guided by Scripture, Tradition, and Reason." The hypocrisy of it all seems to have escaped them.

And this is not a one-time stance -- which is why the inconvenient facts point to an ongoing schizophrenia. For just last week, we learned that PEG tried to impose the same kind of "deal" on the parish of All Saints, in Rosedale. In their magnanimity of spirit, they spurned outright the offer by All Saints and its rector to pay PEG what they could for the right to own their buildings free and clear. By way of a counteroffer, they said they would sell All Saints its own property at an unspecified higher price which represented "fair value" -- but only on the condition that All Saints make the same agreement which St. Philip's did -- not to affiliate with or support its sister parishes, or its Diocese or Province, for a period of five years. All Saints showed PEG what Christians do when faced with a dictator who tells them they must choose between giving up their property or giving up their faith -- they announced that they would walk away from their property on September 25, and leave it to PEG, lock, stock and barrel.

So congratulations, PEG -- you have done it again. In "following Scripture", however, there are some verses you may have forgotten. Let this most Anglican of curmudgeons do his duty and remind you of them, no matter how unpleasant the experience may be for you:

6:1 When any of you has a legal dispute with another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous rather than before the saints? 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to settle trivial suits? 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Why not ordinary matters! 6:4 So if you have ordinary lawsuits, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 6:8 But you yourselves wrong and cheat, and you do this to your brothers and sisters!
6:29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 6:30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. 6:31 Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

3:34 To crush underfoot

all the earth’s prisoners,

3:35 to deprive a person of his rights

in the presence of the Most High,

3:36 to defraud a person in a lawsuit –

the Lord does not approve of such things!

Had enough yet? How about just one more, from Hosea 10:

10:4 They utter empty words,

taking false oaths and making empty agreements.

Therefore legal disputes sprout up

like poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field.

Take heed, PEG. What we sow, we reap.

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