Presiding Bishop: “I ordered U-turn on deal”: CEN 11.23.07 p 6. November 23, 2007Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
In testimony before a Virginia court last week, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated she had directed the Diocese of Virginia to sue the clergy and lay leaders of 11 congregations after they had quit the Episcopal Church for the Churches of Nigerian and Uganda.
In video taped testimony presented to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, Bishop Schori said she ordered Virginia Bishop Peter Lee to break a verbal agreement allowing the 11 parishes to withdraw from the diocese so as to prevent “incursions by foreign bishops.”
Bishop Schori’s testimony during the four hour deposition, recorded on Oct 30 and presented in evidence on Nov 15, did little to engender the sympathy of the court, as observers noted she carefully parsed her words, and at one point was directed by the court to answer a question.
Testimony in the week long trial, revealed that shortly after her installation as Presiding Bishop in November, Bishop Schori met with Bishop Lee, telling him she “could not support negotiations for sale if the congregations intended to set up as other parts of the Anglican Communion.”
In December the diocese broke off negotiations with the congregations, and filed suit in January to recover the assets of the congregation. However, Virginia law permits congregations to depart from their denominations with their property, if the title deeds are not encumbered and if the majority of the congregations votes to leave.
“Virginia has a long history of deferring to local control of church property and the statute at issue says that the majority of the church is entitled to its property when a group of congregations divide from the denomination,” a spokesman for the Anglican District of Virginia, the breakway group, said.
“The Episcopal Church admitted in its complaint that it does not hold title to any of these eleven churches and that the churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of the congregations,” said ADV vice-chairman Jim Oakes.
In her testimony, Bishop Schori said she was miffed by the incursions of the Church of Nigeria into the US, saying its American arm, CANA, violated the “ancient principle of the church that two bishops do not have jurisdiction in the same area.”
Had the 11 parishes been offered to sale to Methodist or Baptist groups, Bishop Schori said she would not have objected, but “the Episcopal Church, for matters of its own integrity, cannot encourage other parts of the Anglican Communion to set up shop within its jurisdiction,” she said in her deposition.
At the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in February, Bishop Schori endorsed the communiqué which called upon the US Church to cease litigation with traditionalist breakaway groups, and seek reconciliation.
However, in her deposition, Bishop Schori said the Primates’ communiqué was not binding upon the American Church.
On Nov 16, ADV rested its case. The Diocese will present its case to the court this week with the trial expected to conclude before the week’s end.
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