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Virginia Supreme Court rejects Episcopal Church property canon: The Church of England Newspaper, November 11, 2012 p 7. November 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, The Episcopal Church, Virginia.
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The Virginia Supreme Court has refused to overturn a lower court decision dismissing the Dennis Canon – the national church’s controversial property laws that seek to impose a trust on congregational property in favor of the national church and local diocese.

On 26 Oct 2012 the court announced that a three judge writ panel had granted the petition of The Falls Church to hear its appeal in The Episcopal Church v. The Falls Church.  However, it also let stand the lower court ruling that the Dennis Canon has no legal effect in property disputes in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

On 16 Oct, attorneys for the Northern Virginia congregation were permitted 10 minutes of oral argument to state why they believed the court should review their case.  The church asked the court to “review the entire lower court decision for failing to follow U.S. and Virginia Supreme Court decisions applying ‘neutral principles’ of secular property and contract law to resolve disputes about church property. Our Petition also sought review on several other grounds, including some specific to the Historic Church building, where our deed pre-dates the existence of both the Episcopal Diocese and the entire Episcopal denomination, and to the ‘non-consecrated’ property.”

The Attorney General of Virginia also filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of The Falls Church asking it to review the “lower court’s decision to override the expressed desires of a substantial majority of our donors that their contributions should not go to the Episcopal denomination or Diocese,” the parish said.

In a statement released on 30 Oct 2012, a spokesman for the Diocese of Virginia said they were disappointed by the court’s decision.  “Regardless of this development, this diocese looks toward the future with hope as we continue to serve this world in need,” said diocesan secretary Henry Burt.

Canon lawyer Allan Haley observed the diocese’s appeal sought to give legal effect to denominational property trusts.  “By its order, the writ panel expressly refused to consider the Diocese’s and ECUSA’s cross-assignments of this claimed error, so Judge Bellows’ ruling on that specific point will stand,” Mr. Haley said.

This “means that the Dennis Canon has no effect in Virginia. Instead, according to Judge Bellows, Virginia courts will look to other indicia of ‘proprietary interests in’,” such as actual ownership and control over parish property in adjudicating these claims, he said.

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