September 14, 2008

Episcopal Diocese to Vote on Removing Bishop

By Allison Heinrichs; Bobby Kerlik

Leaders of the Episcopal Church of America will take a vote this week on whether to remove Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan from ministry.

Duncan notified the Pittsburgh diocese Saturday of the vote, which be taken Thursday during a meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in Salt Lake City.

Duncan is charged with abandonment of the Communion of the Church, a charge initiated by five priests and 16 lay people from the Pittsburgh diocese, Duncan said in a letter.

The Pittsburgh diocese is scheduled to vote Oct. 4 on whether to secede from the U.S. branch of the Episcopal Church and realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America.

Duncan said in his letter that even if he is removed, leaders of the Pittsburgh diocese will carry on with the secession vote. Duncan and his supporters say the U.S. church has become too liberal.

Even in the majority of Pittsburgh Episcopalians vote next month to withdraw from the U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the U.S. will continue to have a Diocese of Pittsburgh, Duncan's opponents said yesterday during a meeting.

Opponents of such a realignment explained their plan to stay with the Episcopal Church of America to a standing room-only group of several hundred people, who gathered Saturday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon.

"The beginnings may be a trifle rough but we have the will and the people to proceed," said Mary Roehrich, a member of St. Andrew's Church in Highland Park. "...This diocese will not be liberal or conservative. It will have significant numbers of people of all theological stripes."

Yesterday's presentation was the first for Across the Aisle, a coalition of clergy and lay people that formed seven months ago, after Duncan announced he would seek to have the Pittsburgh Diocese break from what he felt was a liberal-leaning Episcopal Church.

The potential split stems from the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire, as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. If the Pittsburgh Diocese votes in favor of realignment on Oct. 4, it would be the second in the United States to do so, following the Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif.

Across the Aisle has "made a first cut at a budget and, in so doing, have made support for parishes, parish initiatives and mission development a high priority," said Joan Gundersen, a member of the Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill.

A standing committee of four lay people and four clergy would lead the reorganized diocese until a new bishop could be selected, said Rev. James Simons, rector of St. Michael's of the Valley in Ligonier and chairman of the Across the Aisle steering committee.

Simons declined to comment on a potential legal battle over the $43 million in assets that the national church says the diocese holds in trust. He said that Across the Aisle is working in cooperation with the national church, but the decision over any legal action will ultimately be made locally.

Jan Smith, 69, of Mt. Lebanon said he has not decided yet whether he favors withdrawal from the Episcopal Church of America.

"It's not a Pittsburgh issue, it's a worldwide issue," Smith said. "But I don't feel litigation is the way to go. I wish they could get away from that, it's not the Christian way."

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