Deposed Pittsburgh bishop elected to lead former Episcopalians, realigned diocese

November 8, 2008

Deposed Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan was elected November 7 to serve as bishop of a diocese where a majority of members recently voted to leave the Episcopal Church and realign with the South America-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The election, which was held at a special convention of the realigned Diocese of Pittsburgh, came seven weeks after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori deposed Duncan for "abandonment of communion" on the advice of the House of Bishops after he had led efforts to remove the Pittsburgh diocese from the Episcopal Church. "It is good to be back," Duncan said following the November 7 election. "The most important thing now is to move beyond our conflict with the leadership of the Episcopal Church and turn all of our energies toward living as Christians and effectively sharing the good news of God's love and mercy for all people in the places God has put us." A majority of deputies to the 143rd diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted October 4 to leave the Episcopal Church following disagreements over issues relating to biblical interpretation and human sexuality, including the election and consecration of an openly gay partnered man as bishop of New Hampshire. Following the October 4 realignment vote, Jefferts Schori said there is room in the Episcopal Church "for all who desire to be members of it. The actions of the former bishop of Pittsburgh, and some lay and clergy leaders, have removed themselves from this church; the rest of the church laments their departure. We stand ready to welcome the return of any who wish to rejoin this part of the Body of Christ." Jefferts Schori added: "We will work with remaining Episcopalians in Pittsburgh to provide support as they reorganize the diocese." A November 7 press release from the realigned diocese said that the decision was made to leave "after years of disagreement with the leadership of The Episcopal Church over basic Christian beliefs about the authority of the Bible, the unique role of Jesus Christ in salvation, and Christian moral standards." The realigned diocese now falls under the jurisdictional oversight of Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone province that includes dioceses in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The province also includes former members of the Episcopal Church's San Joaquin diocese (which voted to realign in December 2007) and Quincy diocese (which voted to realign on November 7, 2008). Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has previously said that he does not endorse Venables offering oversight to dioceses outside that province. Furthermore, councils of the Anglican Communion have repeatedly called for such incursions to cease. Venables has said that such provisions are pastoral. During a recent visit to Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, a parish that has been a leader among those Episcopalians who opposed efforts to realign the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Jefferts Schori said that people on all sides of the tension in the Episcopal Church are saints. "There are saints among the folk who voted to leave The Episcopal Church," she said November 2. "There are saints among those who have clearly stayed. There are saints who haven't yet made up their minds. They are saints because they've been baptized into this fractious Body of Christ, and there are saints among them whose holiness of life is abundantly evident. We dishonor them and God when we refuse to see their blessedness." The effort of reorganizing the diocese continues, Jefferts Schori noted. Diocese of Virginia Bishop Suffragan David Colin Jones, recently named as "consulting bishop" to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, will make his first parish visit November 9 to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Highland Park. Jones will meet with members of the diocese to discuss his role in the diocese's transition, according to a news release on the diocese's website. A special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is set for December 13 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon and business will include filling vacancies in all elected diocesan offices and approving a budget.