Diocese seeks $20 million from breakaway Episopalians

PITTSBURGH — Episcopal leaders in Pittsburgh went to court last Thursday seeking to recover $20 million in assets they believe were wrongfully taken when the conservative branches split from the liberal diocese in October.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh, which oversees the 20 local parishes that stayed with the U.S. Episcopal Church, said the breakaway group has no legal right to the assets since it is no longer part of the denomination.

Spokesperson 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 breakaway conservatives, who also call themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said they have a right to some of the assets because they helped develop them before the split.

“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 spokesperson for the conservative diocese.

The break was led by former Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan, a theological conservative who had long been angered by the liberal direction of the national church. He said he had to split from denominational leaders after Episcopalians in 2003 consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Fifty conservative Episcopal parishes in Pittsburgh left with Duncan.

The assets at stake include diocesan endowments and bank accounts, along with insurance, mailing lists and databases, said Creehan. 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 diocese then led by Duncan.

That order states that 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.