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Assets to stay with diocese, court agrees

| Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

A state appeals court on Wednesday ruled that $20 million in endowments will stay with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Commonwealth Court's decision upholds a 2009 ruling from Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James, who said that the diocese should retain control of diocesan assets even after dozens of parishes broke away over issues such as abortion and the consecration of a noncelibate gay bishop.

In 2008, conservative Western Pennsylvania congregations led by Robert Duncan, the former bishop of the Episcopal church here, left the church and formed the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The legal wrangling over assets might not be over. A spokesman for Duncan said he had not decided whether there would be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"The decision of the Appellate Court is deeply disappointing," Duncan said in a written statement. "In the next hours and days, the bishop and standing committee will pray and take counsel about our corporate path forward, both as congregations and as a diocese."

Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Price Jr. applauded the court's finding.

"We are pleased with the court's findings and hope that this will be the final legal challenge concerning this issue," Price said in a written statement.

The court decision was made on the same day the Episcopal Diocese signed an agreement with St. Philip's Church in Moon to resolve issues concerning parish property. Part of the agreement allowing St. Philip's to keep its building and property stipulates that it must cut ties with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh for at least five years and pay a fee to the Episcopal Diocese.

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