Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bishop Howe rules property resolution out of order :: The Ledger

ORLANDO - Episcopal Bishop John Howe has halted, at least temporarily, a movement by some parishes in his diocese to stake a claim on their property in the event of a split with the national Episcopal Church.

In an unusually personal and public assertion of authority, Howe addressed the annual convention of the Diocese of Central Florida on Saturday and warned backers of a resolution they would be making "a grave mistake" if they challenged his ruling that the resolution was out of order. The resolution would have established a procedure by which parishes could negotiate a settlement that would allow them to keep or buy back their property if they voted to leave the denomination, something church rules normally forbid.

Addressing those who wanted to overturn his ruling and allow the resolution to go forward, Howe said, "It would be devastating to our life as a diocese, and I simply cannot allow it."
In his address during the convention's morning session, Howe said he would rule it out of order because it would undermine the legislative authority of the convention, but he added there is "a far deeper problem" with the resolution. It could, he said, open the diocese to lawsuits by the national church such as those that may be pending against breakaway parishes in the Diocese of Virginia, and Howe vowed he would not allow that possibility. But he also traded on the personal respect and trust he holds among many in his diocese.

"I would remind you that the (rules) of the Episcopal Church say that all real property is held in trust for the diocese and the national church. … But this is my promise: If there are those who decide to leave, I will be more fair-minded and generous to them than any policy that could possibly be established, and I don't have to ask you to believe that. I have proved it," he said, to applause from the delegates.
The Rev. Tom Seitz, rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Lake Wales and a member of the diocese's executive board, said, "I think (Howe) is saying, look, you're overreaching, and you're going to make my life more difficult. I think he's handled this exquisitely."

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