Amid Breakaway Property Suits, Episcopal Bishops Talk Privately About Church Hierarchy

(Photo Credit: Episcopal Church)Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is seen at the Anglican Church of Canada's General Synod 2010 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 8, 2010.

In a matter with implications for church property disputes in secular courts, The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has been holding private talks about the denomination's hierarchical character after a request for polity clarification from a bishop working to rebuild a diocese after a conservative faction broke away in recent years.

Discussions took place at the denomination's General Convention in Indianapolis as the bishops spent most if not all, of their private conversation time over the past three days on the matter, according to the Episcopal News Service.

Provisional Bishop John Buchanan of the Illinois Diocese of Quincy told Episcopal News Service on Sunday that "the House of Bishops spent nearly two and a half hours discussing this matter in productive and collegial conversation that worked toward reconciliation. The matter will continue to be discussed at future meetings of the House of Bishops."

Buchanan made the request in a letter last week after nine bishops filed a "friend of the court" brief in a legal dispute playing out in secular courts in Texas where the Episcopal Church is attempting to get possession of property being held by former members of the church after leaving the denomination.

In the brief, the bishops argued that that the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical" beyond the level of the diocese.

Bishop Jack Iker, the former bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth and much of the diocesan leadership left the church in 2008 but continued to call themselves "the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth" and have since realigned themselves with the Anglican Church of North America.

On Sunday, the House of Bishops issued a joint statement expressing support for four dioceses in similar circumstances.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori read the statement of the resolution aloud "for the benefit of the gallery," noting the matter was "extensively discussed" and was answered unanimously by the bishops present.

"Then we voted to offer that as a public statement, a public record," she said.

The bishops resolved "that Episcopalians in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and San Joaquin - lay and clergy - be commended for their unflagging efforts to continue to live as witnesses to the mission of The Episcopal Church during the recent years of difficulty as they rebuild mission and ministry as the continuing dioceses in that same spirit."

The statement is nearly the same as another statement issued at the 2009 General Convention.

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