So much for the peace. But Judge Bellows is right to be incredulous over the Episcopal Church's denial that the Episcopal Church is dividing when he wrote in his ruling, "it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the Diocese, ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude."
What more evidence do we need?
Steve Waring of The Living Church reports on legal actions taken against the five Anglican congregations - including the renowned lighthouse St. Luke's Akron - by the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio just three days after Easter:
The Diocese of Ohio recently filed a declaratory judgment with the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland, asking that it, the diocesan trustees, and a minority of members at five dissident congregations be declared the rightful owners of church properties where the congregations voted overwhelmingly to leave in 2005.
The March 26 filing came just a month after an article in the Akron Beacon Journal described how the relationship between the five dissenting congregations and the diocese was an exception to the personal acrimony and litigation prevalent throughout many other dioceses of The Episcopal Church. In another break with standard practice in most other dioceses, Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., of Ohio did not depose the clergy when they requested transfer of their canonical license to the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
In the Beacon Journal article, Martha Wright, communications officer for the Diocese of Ohio, had said, “We are looking for a faithful resolution to the property issue involving the congregations that have elected to leave the diocese. The priests in those congregations have asked to be released from their orders and their requests have been granted, but we have not taken any action where property is concerned.”
Ms. Wright told The Living Church she was not aware in February of any plans to file legal papers at the time of her interview with the Beacon Journal. But she denied that the decision to pursue litigation at this time represents a new approach in dealing with the five congregations.
“The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio is seeking to resolve issues of property ownership and use with respect to five of its parishes in a mutually respectful manner,” she said in a written statement. “In order to move toward a long-term resolution, the Diocese of Ohio has asked the Court of Common Pleas to decide the parties’ respective rights with respect to the property.”
Bishop Hollingsworth declined to elaborate on the statement provided by Ms. Wright.
Bishop Roger Ames, a missionary bishop for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and rector of St. Luke’s Church, Akron, one of the five congregations which voted to leave the diocese. In an interview with The Living Church, Bishop Ames said during the first pre-trial meeting between litigants, the legal team representing the Diocese of Ohio left the defendants with the impression that the diocese was reluctantly pursuing litigation at this time.
“It was the impression of our legal team and the rectors when we met with the legal team from the diocese that something happened with the national church,” he said. “We had worked out a peaceful way to coexist locally.”
The question of pressure by The Episcopal Church to pursue litigation possesses additional credibility because during deposition testimony in November in the case involving 11 congregations which withdrew from the Diocese of Virginia, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori admitted under oath that she had personally intervened to prevent a protocol from being implemented which would have permitted the congregations to purchase outright title to the local property from the diocese. The protocol was developed by a diocesan task force appointed by Bishop Peter James Lee of Virginia.
When asked whether Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had encouraged Bishop Hollingsworth to bring suit against the five congregations, a spokesperson for The Episcopal Church said even among senior staff the Presiding Bishop almost never discusses private conversation she might have had with another bishop, and would certainly not do so with a journalist.