Episcopal Bishops Agree Not to Help Breakaway Churches

Article excerpt

The Episcopal Church has a new commandment for its bishops: thou shalt not assist former Episcopalians who are trying to take the church's assets.

Church leaders have reached an agreement with nine bishops who had supported breakaway congregations in Texas and Illinois court cases. Courts have been sorting out who controls properties and other assets when congregations leave the denomination.

Under the terms, the nine bishops "express regret for any harm" to the dioceses of Quincy, Illinois, and Fort Worth, Texas, as a result of their actions, which included filing amicus briefs that were sympathetic to the breakaway groups.

The bishops also pledged to stop supporting breakaway groups in court cases, at least until the church's General Convention addresses the matter in 2015. They also agree to help defray costs incurred by the church in reaching the accord.

The accord is billed as an outcome of "conciliation," which is a step in the church disciplinary process. But tensions remain unresolved.

Conciliation "doesn't achieve full reconciliation," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. "It is a step in that direction."

The Episcopal Church has lost hundreds of congregations over the past decade as conservatives left in protest of new blessings for gay bishops and same-sex couples, among other issues. As congregations have departed and ensuing property disputes have landed in court, bishops from dioceses that are not involved in the litigation have sometimes weighed in to help interpret church rules and organizational structures. …