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American Anglican Fellowship issues Open letter to Episcopalians to end Unjust Lawsuits

American Anglican Fellowship issues Open letter to Episcopalians to end Unjust Lawsuits

March 30, 2015

"By virtue of Baptism, all Members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another. The Church and each Diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected."Episcopal Church USA Canon IV.1

The American Anglican Fellowship (www.usanglicanfellowship.com), a group of long-time current and former members of the Episcopal Church, took this canon very seriously when we filed a Complaint against Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori in December 2013. The Episcopal Church is in civil court spending more than $40 million in 84 lawsuits against their member Dioceses and Churches. Over forty of the lawsuits involve actions against parishioners who voluntarily served as vestry members or other leadership positions. In some cases, the Episcopal Church is seeking personal assets of these parishioners for monetary punitive damages causing undue personal financial hardship. AAF asked why is the Church in civil courts when they are charged by their own Canon "to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation among all involved or affected"?

Secondly, more than 700 departing clergy were deposed in this conflict which "bars them from ministry not only in the Episcopal Church in the United States, but also in the world-wide Anglican Communion." Recognizing the harshness of this action, the Dioceses of Pittsburgh and South Carolina graciously lessened the charges. The Diocese of Pittsburgh informed "scores of priests that they can be released from their ministerial ties to the Episcopal Church to become licensed in any entity they choose." In a letter from the Diocesan Standing Committee, the clergy were given an option of stating their desire to remain active in the Episcopal Church or to allow the release to proceed. "We're doing this for pastoral reasons," says the Rev. Dr. James Simons, the Standing Committee president. "We do not want to see our priestly brothers and sisters deposed."

AAF believes that total reconciliation of this conflict is impossible for we now have two churches under one roof, but conciliation between the two sides in the conflict is definitely achievable. The AAF also believed the Laity had to act through some sort of a formal complaint, for several letters to the Presiding Bishop went unanswered. A petition http://tinyurl.com/pqxw3ma signed by more than 5,000 Christians requesting clarity and information of the dispute was abruptly dismissed by two church lawyers citing "the litigation money was well spent, for the value in property received was far in excess of money spent." A shocking response to say the least; had they considered the big picture outside of the monetary gains, they would have found 1.5 million Episcopalians had either left for another Anglican Church, another denomination, or left the Christian faith altogether; and more than 500 Episcopal Churches had closed their doors.

The AAF complaint http://tinyurl.com/p5dc7xo was generated from hundreds of published articles of the lawsuits and reports of violations of the Church Constitution and Canons. The stories of persons involved in this conflict are heartbreaking. There is pain and suffering on both sides of the aisle, long time friendships are destroyed; and good clergy are being denied their rights of Ordination. These unjust acts have forever changed thousands of lives and destroyed relationships in our churches. There are so many persons, clerical and laity, who have been damaged by these actions it is impossible to determine the actual harm that has come to them. Every AAF Trustee actually experienced this tragedy in their home parish in the Washington Diocese.

The AAF submitted its complaint on December 29, 2013. The preliminary investigation was performed by the Intake Officer and completed in July 2014. He dismissed all six charges.
AAF respectfully disagreed with the Intake Report and promptly appealed. The Appeal is still being reviewed by the President of the Disciplinary Board.

Whether the charges are, or are not violations of the Constitution and Canons, the AAF's stated primary interest is that we saw the entire complaint process as an opportunity for a pastoral resolution of the issues that divide Episcopalians. AAF filed its complaint based on the revised Title IV Canons that placed an "emphasis on pastoral resolution" rather than a criminal justice model, reflecting "more clearly on the theology of the Episcopal Church." AAF provided information not to persecute or defame anyone, but to initiate a possible resolution of conflicts.

Litigation is not how Christians resolve conflicts with each other. Some Diocesan Bishops negotiated a peaceful settlement with those parishes and clergy wishing to depart prior the Presiding Bishop's intervention http://tinyurl.com/cleeblt ending negotiations. Other denominations have also allowed parishes and clergy to depart with their property. In 1973 the Presbyterian Church in the United States allowed parishes to leave to found the Presbyterian Church in America. In 2012, the Pittsburgh Presbytery publicly announced that parishes wishing to leave can do so after negotiation. In 2010, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America 199 parishes left to form a new Church body. One hundred thirty-six (136) other Lutheran churches await a second required vote of convention to leave peacefully. In light of this comparative information, the litigious policy of the Episcopal Church is out of step with that of other mainline denominations where peaceful conciliation was reached.

This madness of this church-inflicted pain and suffering to its members must stop, and there is an opportunity at the General Convention on June 25-July 3, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Convention can end these unprecedented and unjust lawsuits and acts with an appropriate Resolution to begin a process of conciliation for all parties affected, satisfactory to all.

AAF specifically calls for the Convention to execute a Resolution to end these lawsuits and allow those Dioceses, Parishes and Clergy wishing to depart from the Episcopal Church, to leave with their property after negotiations at the diocesan level. Further recognizing that the departing are members in good standing and supporting their quest to transfer to another Anglican Church body and become recognized members of the Anglican Communion if they so desire; and restoring all rights and privileges of ordination of the 700 deposed or suspended clergy.

We urge all Episcopalians to join this effort and contact your Deputies to General Convention http://www.generalconvention.org/deputations to prepare a resolution to end this conflict. It is the right thing to do.


The American Anglican Fellowship, Inc. by its Trustees
Bradley R. Hutt
Rufus W. Peckham, Jr.
Nancy W. Virts
Emily C. Volz
Robert S. England
James E. T. Brown

American Anglican Fellowship, Inc. 13001 Brandywine Road, Brandywine Maryland 20613 email: info@usanglicanfellowship.com

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