Monday, February 14, 2011

Armistice in Ottawa

The first Canadian settlement between ACoC and ANiC has been approved, as the two Ottawa ANiC parishes have ratified the agreed settlement with the diocese. ANiC's press release is here; the diocese's news release is here

The settlement conforms to the template that I have been saying for some time would work in a diocese in which more than one parish has left. One ANiC parish keeps its building; the other one leaves it. The one that keeps its building pays the diocese "a substantial sum of money". Meanwhile ANiC states that "By agreement, precise details of the division of assets between the parishes and diocese are to remain confidential." What that means, we may infer, is that the diocese will pay out some money to St. Alban's, which will provide a nice start to their building fund. The diocese's insistence on a confidentiality agreement conforms with what has been suggested to me by a lawyer friend with reason to know how a rational diocese might approach a situation like this. A diocese would not want it to be known that it is paying out money to a departing parish, so it would insist on a confidentiality agreement, so that the settlement may be described in a way that obscures the fact of such a payment. That is why a multi-parish settlement can be easier than a single-parish ones; the financial implications can be blurred so that ACoC is not seen to be doing anything that might amount to a significant concession to ANiC.

A fillip I didn't think of is that the departing congregations have been required to change their names. This might seem to be rather unnecessarily ruthless of the diocese, but it allows the diocese to maintain its formal position. The parish of St. George's has not left the diocese; rather it has been disestablished, and its building sold to a worshipping group with a different name. St Alban's parish has not left; rather its clergy have left, apparently starting some sectarian congregation with a different name, worshipping in a different building. Anglican worship carries on in the same building, with all present St. Alban's members invited to continue worshipping there. (Where they will find a congregation for the "continuing" ACoC St. Alban's is another question, but one to worry about another day.) By returning Anglican Social Services to the building, the diocese maintains the pretext that it wants it because it has use of it.

It's important that things are set up so that both sides may maintain their formal position about the dispute, to validate their narrative. Most of us normal people, upon finalizing such a settlement, would thank God and move on. But there are always some ditchers, particularly in a group of people with strong beliefs like ANiC, who are insistent on carrying on the fighting and demonstrating to all that they won the settlement. Thus Kate Sanderson, at the always-irresponsible Anglican Essentials blog, insists that the by settling the diocese acknowledged that St. Alban's had the right to their building, which it does not, as if anyone with any sense cares now. (She also risks breaking the confidentiality agreement by claiming that the percentage asset division in the settlement: 40/60 ANiC/ACoC if you want to know. So much for an agreement about confidentiality with ANiC!)

Even without knowing the amounts of the monies being exchanged, it may safely be judged that both sides are better off than if they had been engaged in a lawsuit since the time the congregations left. +Chapman deserves credit for acting as a faithful steward of that which was entrusted to him, avoiding the needless squandering of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Could others follow the example of this settlement? The problem is finding a rational ACoC diocese. In New Westminster it's rather late, and neither side would seem likely to surrender possession of St. John's Shaughnessy voluntarily in any case, while a sensible settlement would involve selling it and splitting the proceeds. In Niagara the sensible thing would be to sell Good Shepherd (which would be a prudent move anyway) and divide the spoils, and then split ownership of the other two properties . But +Niagara does not seem to view the situation rationally anyway; the lawsuit is already well under way so hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees have already been squandered; and the provocative presence of Charlie Masters+ in the diocese inhibits any settlement -- particularly one in which he retains his building.