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Anglican Unscripted Episode 70 April 28, 2013 April 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Church of the Province of the West Indies, GAFCON, Property Litigation, South Carolina, Virginia.
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In Episode 70, your hosts talk about their experiences from the New Wineskins Global Conference held in Ridgecrest, NC. Kevin and George also discuss (in depth) the Boston Bombing and the new hobby terrorist. In our legal segment Allan Haley tries to redeem his years of Unscripted Legal Commentary by demanding that judges follow the D**n law. Oh… and much more including Gafcon news. #AU70 AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com

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.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 55, November 3, 2012 November 3, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican Ordinariate, Anglican.TV, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, GAFCON, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Marriage, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Anglican Unscripted Hosts Kevin and George talk about Gafcon II and the need for a global Anglican Congress to protect the Communion. You will also learn about Rome’s desire to bring Protestants into the ever expanding Ordinariate. AU also asks you to pray for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and we bring you perspective from skyscraper based storm landfall.

Canon Ashey talks about the dummying down of Scripture and other news from ACC-15. Peter has the latest rumors about the Crown Nomination Committee and Allan Haley discusses the second state to refute the validity of the Dennis Canon. Comments to AnglicanUnscipted@gmail.com #AU54 Please Donate to http://www.anglican.tv/donate

Dennis Canon dead in Virginia: Anglican Ink, October 30, 2012 October 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The Falls Church

The Virginia Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that held the Dennis Canon has no legal effect in property disputes in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In an order released last week, a three-judge writ panel of the Supreme Court refused to hear the Diocese of Virginia’s cross-appeal in the case of The Episcopal Church v. The Falls Church and left standing Fairfax County District Court Judge Randy Bellows ruling the Episcopal Church’s national property canon is not binding on the civil courts of Virginia.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Virginia Supreme Court accepts Falls Church appeal: Anglican Ink, October 29, 2012 October 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Ink, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The Falls Church

A three-member writ panel of the Virginia Supreme Court has voted to review the case of the Episcopal Church v. The Falls Church.

On 26 October 2012 the court’s website stated it had “granted” The Falls Church’s petition for appeal of the March 2012 order issued by Virginia Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows granting trusteeship of the property and control of the congregation’s assets to the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Supreme Court dates set in U.S. property cases: The Church of England Newspaper, October 21, 2012, p. 6. October 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Fort Worth, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The Supreme Court of Virginia has announced that it will hear oral argument on the Virginia church property cases on 16 October 2012.  The news of the Virginia hearing follows upon last month’s announcement by the Texas Supreme Court that it will hear argument on the dispute between the Diocese of Fort Worth and the national Episcopal Church on the same day in Austin, Texas.

The Virginia court will hear 15 minutes of argument from attorneys representing the Falls Church and the Attorney General of Virginia, who have asked the court to overturn a lower court decision giving ownership of the church’s property to the Diocese of Virginia.  Virginia’s Attorney General has intervened in the case on the side of the parish, arguing the lower court erred in ordering cash donated to the congregation be given to the diocese violated charity laws.

The Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments reviewing a lower court decision giving control o diocesan assets to a rump group controlled by the national church. The Texas court will rule on the issue of whether a diocese may withdraw from the national church.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Virginia Supreme Court schedules hearing for The Falls Church case September 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Ink, Property Litigation, The Episcopal Church, Virginia.
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The Rev. John Yates and The Falls Church

The Supreme Court of Virginia has directed The Falls Church to present oral argument to a writ panel on 16 October 2012 in support of its petition to throw out a lower court decision turning over its property to the Diocese of Virginia.

In a 25 September 2012 statement, Henry Burt, secretary of the Diocese of Virginia said The Falls Church attorneys will be given ten minutes of oral argument to “persuade the Court to hear their appeal on the merits. The Supreme Court will decide whether it will hear the case in a few weeks after the hearing. If the appeal is accepted for argument, it is likely to be heard in the first half of next year.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Anglican TV Episode 42, June 2, 2012 June 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Anglican Church of North America, Anglican Consultative Council, Anglican Covenant, Anglican.TV, Church of England, Property Litigation, Virginia, Women Priests.
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So much news so little time. In this week’s Anglican Unscripted Kevin, George, Peter, and Alan bring you the latest Anglican News. Peter brings news of a Diamond Jubilee and Women Bishops in England. Alan delivers the latest supreme court news from The Falls Church. Kevin and George talk about a cancer in the Anglican Communion and updated betting on the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Settlements in 2 US property cases: The Church of England Newspaper, May 13, 2012 p 6. May 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Georgia, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Christ Church, Savanah

The Dioceses of Georgia and Virginia have settled lawsuits brought against two of their breakaway congregations, ending five years of litigation with Christ Church, Savannah and Truro Parish in Fairfax, Virginia.

On 3 May 2012 the Diocese of Georgia and Christ Church issues separate statements announcing that the parish was withdrawing its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of the November state court decision that ruled the property of Georgia’s oldest Anglican church – the one time home of John Wesley and George Whitfield – must remain in the Episcopal Church.  Approximately 78 lawsuits have been brought by dioceses and the national Episcopal Church seeking to retain the property of breakaway congregations and dioceses.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the diocese agreed to withdraw its lawsuits seeking to recover approximately $1 million in legal costs from the vestry and rector. The agreement also allowed the congregation to keep the name “Christ Church” and the church’s historic ministries to the city.

The congregation vacated the building in December and will now turn over the endowments to the diocese.  The Episcopal congregation retains the name Christ Church, Savannah, while the breakaway congregation will be called Christ Church Anglican.

“We are pleased that these remaining issues could be resolved and that all parties can move on,” Bishop Scott Benhase said.

The rector of Christ Church, the Rev. Marc Robertson, told the Church of England Newspaper that he expected there to be mixed views within the congregation over the decision to leave their building.  However, it “was time” to move forward and focus on the work of the Gospel in Savannah, he said.

On 17 April 2012 the Diocese of Virginia and Truro parish released a joint statement announcing that they had settled their lawsuit.  The statement said the diocese had given the parish a “rent-free lease of the church buildings” until June 2013, while the parish agreed to “deed the properties to the Diocese by April 30, 2012, and will pay the operating costs of the properties during the term of the lease.”

The diocese agreed to accept $50,000 in lieu of its claims for $700,000 of cash.  But in a break with previous settlement agreements, the diocese has not attempted to force the congregation to withdraw from the Anglican Church of North America while it remains in the building.  “Because the Diocese and Truro Anglican are part of different ecclesiastical bodies who share the Anglican tradition, they have

“This is an important step for the Diocese of Virginia and Truro Anglican,” Bishop Shannon Johnston said. “What the Diocese has sought since the court’s ruling has been a ‘witness’ and not merely an ‘outcome.’ The parties have carried on a public dispute for five years and it is important that we publicly begin to make peace.”

“We are grateful for the Diocese’s generosity in allowing us to continue to use the property for another 15 months at no cost,” said Truro rector the Rev. Tory Baucum. “This allows us time to make a good transition to interim facilities and then to our new church home.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

U.S. property cases may go to the Supreme Court: The Church of England Newspaper, April 6, 2012 p 7. April 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England Newspaper, Connecticut, Fort Worth, Georgia, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Four of the Episcopal Church’s key property dispute cases have moved to the state and U.S. Supreme Courts for review.

Briefings have been filed in the Episcopal v. Anglican Dioceses of Fort Worth cases in the Texas Supreme Court, while the breakaway congregations in Northern Virginia have asked the Virginia Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling giving the diocese custody of the parish properties.

The breakaway congregations in Christ Church v. Diocese of Georgia and Bishop Seabury Church v. Diocese of Connecticut have filed writs of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court has also been asked to review a third property dispute, Timberridge Presbyterian Church v. the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, that addresses the same legal issues.

The issue before the courts, as summarized in the Bishop Seabury petition, is whether the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “requires state civil courts to enforce an alleged trust imposed on local church property by provisions in denominational documents, regardless of whether those provisions would be legally cognizable under generally applicable rules of state property and trust law.”

The American state courts are divided and have made contrary rulings based on their interpretation of Jones v. Wolf.  Five state supreme courts and one federal circuit court hand held that denominational property trust rules such as the Episcopal Church’s Dennis Canon should only enforced in civil court if they were in conformance to “objective, well-established concepts of trust and property law,” while four state supreme courts have enforced “denominational documents asserting a trust regardless of whether those documents are other ‘embodied in some legally cognizable form’.”

Canon lawyer Allan Haley noted the legal question being presented to the Supreme Court is the quasi-establishment of one group of churches over others that has arisen since the Jones v. Wolf decision.

In interpreting the Jones decision some state courts have permitted the canon law of the Episcopal Church, and other ‘hierarchical’ churches to take precedence over state law in property disputes.  Mr. Haley argued that “no other body or organization — religious or otherwise — has been granted the privilege of creating enforceable trusts in such a unilateral fashion.”

The state court decisions in favour of the Episcopal Church have relied upon obiter dictum (a remark made as an aside, in the course of a decision) made by Justice Blackmun in the Jones case.  This remark “suddenly become the law of the land, sufficient to override all state and local laws to the contrary? That is not how the law is supposed to work,” Mr. Haley said.

The “practical effect” has been to grant “special State privileges to just one type of church. And that ‘establishment’ of one type of church over all other types, and over all other kinds of property owners as well, quite plainly is contrary to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as applied to the several States through the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Mr. Haley argued.

However, writing in the Washington Post, the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston argued the issues should be seen through the lens of theology. “We are called to be good stewards of property given to us by our forebears. Stewardship is a theological concept: we give thanks for the gifts God has given to us all. Stewards are bound to preserve gifts for future generations,” the bishop said

“The matter of biblical interpretation is at the heart of the issues, and there are real differences. Differences over biblical interpretation, not authority, remain unsettled. Even so, the common, ancient tradition as to authority, polity and property stands with the diocese and its bishop,” he argued in support of the diocese’s legal campaign.

The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear the petitions from the state courts as four of the justices must agree to hear a case before it is brought before the court.  The court is expected to announce whether it will review the church cases at the close of its current term in June or at the start of the next term in October.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

VA cases conclude: The Church of England Newspaper, March 9, 2012, p 7. March 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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A Virginia court has rejected the plea of the state’s Attorney General to revisit his decision granting ownership of the property and assets of seven breakaway congregations.  On 1 March 2012, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows said the ACNA-affiliated congregations must turn over their properties to the Diocese of Virginia by 30 April 2012.

On 22 Feb 2012, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed a brief in support of a motion filed by the congregations asking the court to reconsider its decision ordering all property be turned over to the diocese including funds donated by parishioners.  He argued that donor intent not canon law should govern the disposition of the charitable donations under Virginia law.

Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston stated he hoped last week’s ruling will “mark the end of this lengthy litigation” and allow the diocese to focus its energies “on mission and ministries.”

A spokesman for the breakaway congregations stated that “while our congregations will comply with the final order, we are saddened that the Circuit Court did not accept the motion for partial reconsideration and we continue to believe that, as a matter of religious liberty, it is the right of donors to restrict the use of their own gifts to the church of their choice.”

We “prayerfully considering their legal options,” said Jim Oakes, the spokesman for the breakaway churches.

The logic used by the court and the Episcopal Church was “Heads we win; tails you lose,” canon law scholar Allan Haley observed.

“The first sentence of the Dennis Canon [the church’s property canon] lets them claim all of the parishes’ property because they could not leave the Church, while the second sentence has to be read to mean the opposite of what it says” to allow the court to reach the finding it did.

“The parish can certainly continue to spend its money to keep up the grounds, the buildings and the mortgage, but they are to receive no credit for having done so and having thereby ensured that the property would still be valuable and in good condition when the Diocese took over possession,” Mr. Haley wrote, stating it was “obvious” the court and the Episcopal Church had not “bothered to think through the consequences of their reasoning.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Virginia cases back in court: The Church of England Newspaper, March 2, 2012, p 5. March 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

The Attorney General of Virginia has filed a motion in the property dispute between the Episcopal Diocese and seven breakaway congregations that have affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) break, asking the court to reconsider its January ruling that all property donated to the churches prior to 31 January 2007 be turned over to the diocese.

On 22 Feb 2012, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed a brief in support of a motion filed by the congregations, asking Judge Randy Bellows to reconsider his decision ordering all property be turned over to the diocese as donor intent governed the disposition of the charitable donations under Virginia law.

Beginning in 2003 the seven congregations permitted their members to designate whether their congregations may be passed on to the national church or the diocese.  By 2006 almost all of the donations received by the congregations were restricted by the donors for the use of the congregation.  This donor intent governed the disposition of property, the attorney general argued.

In its 27 February response the diocese argued the congregations’ argument had no “legal or factual merit.”

Donor intent has no place in “a neutral principles of law analysis,” the diocese argued, and there is “no violation of religious freedom because no donor is being or has been compelled or coerced to contribute” to the diocese or national church.

Parish spokesman Jim Oakes stated the “core issue” under review was the “right of donors to restrict the use of their own gifts to the church of their choice.”

The parishes believed this was a “religious liberty issue at its core as the courts are not lawfully able to coerce contributions to a specific religious entity against the wishes of the donors. We ask that the court honor the gift restrictions designated by individuals that have faithfully offered their contributions to these congregations,” said Mr. Oakes.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Diocese of Virginia prevails in parish property case: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012 p 7. January 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of North America, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A Virginia circuit court has ruled that the properties of seven breakaway congregations belong to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.  The 10 January 2012 decision by Judge Randy Bellows comes almost five years after litigation began and millions of dollars expended over the control of seven Northern Virginia congregations.

In his 113-page opinion, Judge Bellows held that national Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have a “contractual and proprietary” interest in each of the churches.  The court “denied in their entirety” the counter-claims of the breakaway congregations, and ordered the congregations to turn over the properties and assets of the congregations acquired before the state of the lawsuits in 2007 to the diocese.

“Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” said Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia after the verdict was announced.

He added that he was “grateful for the decision in our favor” but was “mindful of the toll this litigation has taken on all parties involved, and we continue to pray for all affected by the litigation.”

A spokesman for the congregations stated “although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith.”

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the properties involved in the lawsuit stated the “core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world.”

“Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith,” Mr. Yates said.

Bishop John Guernsey of the ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic told the seven congregations not to be afraid for the future.  “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”

Virginia property cases back in court: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2011 p 8. May 2, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Church of the Word, Gainesville Va.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Virginia property cases have returned to the Fairfax County Court this week for a retrial.

Six weeks of hearing and testimony will be presented beginning April 25 in a Northern Virginia court to determine the ownership of seven congregations that broke away from the Diocese of Virginia in 2006.  Last June the Virginia Supreme Court overturned Judge Randy Bellows’ 2008 ruling that found that under the state’s “division statute” the properties belonged to their congregations.  The court disagreed with the judge’s interpretation of the law and sent the dispute back for a retrial.

“We remain confident in our legal position and we continue to remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith,” said Jim Oakes, chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia, which is the umbrella organization for the seven Anglican congregations.

Two of the nine congregations that originally participated in the lawsuit have entered into settlement agreements with the diocese.  On April 18 the Church of the Word in Gainesville settled the lawsuit brought by the diocese, following in the footsteps of the Church of Our Savior, in Oatlands, which reached an agreement on Feb 20.

An unusual codicil of the two settlements is that both churches must withdraw from the Anglican Communion in North America (ACNA) and its member churches for five years.  In the case of the Church of Our Savior, in Oatlands, the parish can end the restriction by giving thirty days notice, and vacating the property.

While modeled on a non-competition clause commonly found in the sale of businesses, it is questionable whether this provision is enforceable, as US state and federal law prohibits any court from enforcing any restraint on the free exercise of religion.

The Rev. Robin Adams, rector of the Church of the Word, said the requirement to temporally disaffiliate from ACNA was one of the more difficult aspects of the settlement, but he remains positive.

“Our goal is to return to the ACNA fold when the disaffiliation period is completed as a stronger Christian body,” he said. “We’ll continue to worship in our accustomed manner, and for most of our members, this provision will not even be something they’ll notice in our day-to-day church ministry.”

However, Mr. Adams, a native of Londonderry who was educated at Oak Hill Theological College and served the Church of Ireland for eleven years before taking a cure in the United States in 1990, called the disaffiliation requirement “a failure to ‘respect the dignity of every human being,’ as the baptismal covenant says, and is certainly unchristian.”

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published on April 20, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated that negotiations with breakaway groups were governed by the principle that gifts given for the Episcopal Church “not be inappropriately disposed of. We have to recover some approximation of fair market value,” she said.

The second “is that we shouldn’t be in the business of setting up competing ecclesiastical interests with Episcopal Church resources.”

“The buildings and the bank accounts are the legacy of generations before us. I don’t have the right to give those away for other purposes. My fiduciary responsibility, my moral responsibility, is to see that those gifts are used for the ministry to which God calls us in the Episcopal Church,” she said.

Mr. Haley, who has advised the breakaway Diocese of San Joaquin in its lawsuit with the national church, was un-persuaded by the presiding bishop’s arguments, noting her words rang hollow as Bishop Jefferts Schori was “not above dipping into those same long-ago gifts to pay” her lawyers “to go after every departing parish.”

“Hypocrisy rolls off the Presiding Bishop like water off a duck’s back,” he said, adding the non-compete agreements required of departing parishes were barbaric.  A church is not a business, Mr. Haley said, and to speak of “competition” from another church “is fundamentally to misunderstand the Great Commission to spread the good news of the Gospel to all the world.”

The Episcopal Church as led by the Presiding Bishop “Katharine Jefferts Schori offers nothing that is in competition with traditional churches,” Mr. Haley said.

Seminary chapel destroyed by fire: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 29, 2010 p 6. November 1, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Virginia.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Chapel of the Virginia Theological Seminary was destroyed by fire last week.  On Oct 22 at approximately 3:55 pm, a blaze was discovered in the 129 year old Immanuel Chapel of the Episcopal Church’s largest clergy training college.

The fire service responded quickly to the blaze, but not before the roof and most of the windows were destroyed and the church heavily damaged.

“At this stage, the cause of the fire is unclear. The VTS Community is saddened and devastated by this catastrophe,” said Dean Ian Markham.

“The buildings nearby are intact and safe. The ministry and mission of VTS continue, even as the community grieves,” he said.

Dean Markham said the seminary will rebuild the chapel, “but we cannot think about that at this moment,” as there are business, insurance and there are “countless other concerns, some immediate and others long term” to be taken into account.

An investigation by the US government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is under way, the dean said, noting that nothing should be read into the federal government’s taking over the investigation of the fire as an “ATF investigation is standard for all church fires in the United States.”

No split in the Anglican Communion, Virginia Supreme Court finds: The Church of England Newspaper, July 2, 2010 p 7. July 9, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Virgina Bishop Shannon Johnston

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Virginia Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling permitting congregations affiliated with the Nigerian-backed Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) to quit the Episcopal Church, holding the lower court misinterpreted the state’s “division statute” that allows congregations to quit their church and take their properties with them.

The court found that while a division had taken place within the Episcopal Church, no division had occurred within the Anglican Communion.  As such, the move from Virginian to Nigerian oversight did not meet the terms of the state’s Civil War era law on church secessions.

On June 10 the Diocese of Virginia stated it was “gratified by the Supreme Court of Virginia’s ruling.”

“This decision brings us one important step closer to returning loyal Episcopalians, who have been extraordinarily faithful in disheartening and difficult circumstances, to their church homes,” said Bishop Shannon Johnston.

A spokesman for the breakaway parishes said “we are disappointed with today’s ruling and will review it as we consider our options,” but noted “this is not the final chapter in this matter.”

Jim Oakes stated the court’s ruling addressed only “one of our statutory defenses,” and added that the properties in question “are titled in the name of the congregations’ trustees, not in the name of the Diocese or The Episcopal Church.  So we continue to be confident in our legal position as we move forward.”

The Supreme Court focused on the language of the “division statute” which states that when a “division” occurs in a “church or religious society,” a majority vote by the congregation will “determine to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong.”

The court rejected the Diocese of Virginia’s contention that a division could only occur if authorized by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, but found that by voting to join the Church of Nigeria, the breakaway parishes had not joined “branch of the church or [religious] society” from which they had seceded.

Canon lawyer Allan Haley noted that “under the court’s interpretation, the CANA congregations would have had to declare that they remained affiliated in some way with [the Episcopal Church] or the Diocese in order to avail themselves of the statute’s provisions. Under the current leadership” of the Episcopal Church, he noted, “such a step would obviously have been impossible.”

The “practical effect of this decision” Mr. Haley said, “will be to make the provisions of the statute largely inapplicable to divisions occurring within churches with central national structures, unless the split results in two self-governing, autonomous groups.”

On June 18 the breakaway group filed a motion for a rehearing.  If the rehearing is rejected the case goes back to the trial court to ascertain and weigh the competing claims found in the language in the church deeds, the parish articles of association, and the relevant provisions in diocesan and national canons as to the ownership of the property.  A final adjudication would likely take place in two to three years.

Diocese pulls back from approving same-sex rites: CEN 2.26.10 p 8. March 5, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Virginia.
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The Episcopal Church’s largest diocese has pulled back from approving rites for the blessing of same-sex unions, voting at its annual synod to wait for the national church to take the lead on gay marriage.

The Feb 20 vote by delegates to the annual council meeting of the 80,000 member Diocese of Virginia halts the push for the legalization of gay clergy and blessings in the Episcopal Church as it prepares to debate the Anglican Covenant—which would blocks such innovations.

At its July 2009 General Convention the Episcopal Church voted to lift its ban on gay bishops and blessings and asked the diocese to begin “collecting and developing theological resources and liturgies” for same-sex blessings.

Saturday’s vote by Virginia stated the diocese would not undertake this work until the national church had authorized these developments. It came as a compromise between resolutions that reaffirmed the traditional teachings on marriage, with a call on lifting the prohibition on permitting the ordination and deployment of gay clergy and the use of same-sex blessings.

The diocese “remain[s] divided over the wisdom and theology of blessing same-gender relationships” the resolution said, and conceded the “growing differences between Christian and civil understanding of marriage and relationships.”

Should the national church authorize gay blessings at its 2012 General Convention in Indianapolis, the compromise resolution said the diocese must examine the question of providing a “theological principle” for clergy who refuse to perform gay blessings.

The close vote reflects the shifting politics of the diocese, which lost over 10,000 members and its largest congregations to CANA, the Convocations of Anglicans in North America. A report to the diocese stated that litigation with breakaway conservatives had consumed over $3.5 million. The diocese hopes to recoup this loss through the sale of church land.

Sudan Church expels US missionary: CEN 5.22.09 p 7. May 26, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Virginia.
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The Archbishop of Juba has expelled an American missionary for having claimed the Episcopal Church of the Sudan backed the Episcopal Church’s stance on gay blessings.

On May 13, the Diocese of Virginia reported that the Rev. Lauren Stanley’s comments to the January meeting of its diocesan synod “were deemed offensive” to the Episcopal Church of the Sudan.

“As a result,” Archbishop Daniel Deng of Juba, the Primate of the Sudan, requested that Ms Stanley “be withdrawn from that mission field permanently. Bishop Lee brought Lauren home in early March in response to that request.”

Virginia Bishop Peter Lee stated that Ms. Stanley had “served faithfully in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan, for nearly four years, receiving widespread support among her students and the local community” and as an advocate for the Church in the Sudan amongst parishes in the US and was currently seeking a new mission posting overseas.

Mary Ailes, an Anglican writer in Northern Virginia, reported that at the January Virginia synod meeting, a resolution affirming the blessing of same-sex unions was put forward that endorsed the “inherent integrity of and blessedness of” such “committed Christian relationships.”

Ms. Stanley, a lecturer at Renk Theological College endorsed the amendment, and discounted concerns raised by other delegates that the resolution would lead to strained relations with the diocese’s partners in the Sudan.  Ms. Stanley argued same-sex blessings in the US church were not problematic for the church in the Sudan.

While open to financial and administrative support from progressive Western dioceses, the Church of the Sudan has taken a dim view of the innovations in sexual ethics made by the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada.  The Sudanese House of Bishops has rejected gay bishops and blessings, and at the 2008 Lambeth Conference Archbishop Deng called upon New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson to resign.

Court case targets Virginia parishes: CEN 4.17.09 p 6. April 22, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The Diocese of Virginia and Episcopal Church have petitioned the state’s supreme court to overturn a circuit court ruling that awarded trusteeship of parish property to breakaway groups affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

In its April 7 filing the diocese asked the court to return the properties to “loyal Episcopalians in Virginia,” and argued the lower court had made an error in interpreting the law, and that a statute vesting ownership with the majority faction of a congregation following a denominational schism be overturned for being unconstitutional.

The diocese asked the court to review three legal questions: “whether it is constitutional for a court to impose a congregational majority rule requirement on hierarchical churches, against their faith and traditions; whether ‘neutral principles’ should be used for resolving property disputes between congregations and denominations; and whether property may be held in trust for hierarchical churches.”

Overturning the circuit court ruling would restore the “long-cherished freedom in Virginia for churches to organize and govern themselves according to their beliefs,” the diocese argued.

A spokesman for the parishes said he was saddened by the diocese’s decision to appeal, arguing it was a dubious use of church funds. “Both sides have already spent some $5 million in legal costs, money that could have gone to helping our communities during these tough economic times,” Jim Oaks said.

However, “the legal victories we’ve had so far in support of our religious freedom have only encouraged us to stand firm in our Anglican faith and work together to deliver the message of Christ,” he said.

The exact amount spent on the US church property lawsuits is unclear. However, in financial information released earlier this year, the national church reported that it spent $4.7 million (£3.15 million) over the past three years in fighting property lawsuits and in deposing conservative bishops.

While budgeting only $100,000 in 2008 to fund property litigation, the national church spent $1.655 million. Its budget for the investigation and trial of clergy under the Title IV canons for 2008 was $350,000, but it spent $889,026. The 2009 budget for legal expenses and Title IV expenses is $600,000.

Virginia go-ahead on same-sex rites: CEN 1.30.09 p 6. January 31, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Virginia.
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The Episcopal Church’s largest diocese has begun the move towards accepting same-sex blessings. On Jan 23 the annual council of the Diocese of Virginia approved a six-week “listening process” for 12 congregations to explore pastoral blessings for same-sex couples.

While stopping short of endorsing rites for the blessing of same-sex unions or gay marriage, the diocese’s Windsor Dialogue Commission submitted two model two liturgies to bless same-sex relationships and one to celebrate celibate same-sex relationships for review. The “majority” of the commission “believes that the time is right for same-gender unions to be blessed,” the report said, but added that given the restraints imposed by the Windsor Report “liturgies should not be authorized” at this time.

Virginia Bishop Peter Lee said 12 congregations, working in pairs, will report back to the diocese by Easter on the proposed liturgies, at which time a second committee will “evaluate the reports and determine next steps.”

While the voice vote to adopt the pastoral blessings program was close, conservatives remaining within the diocese were resigned to its passage as most of their leaders have quit the Episcopal Church over the past three years. Long considered a “middle of the road” diocese within the Episcopal Church, the defection of over 15,000 of the dioceses 95,000 members to the Nigerian-led Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA) has pushed the diocese to the left.

Virginia court ruling a blow for the US Church: CEN 1.2.09 p 3. January 6, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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A Virginia state court handed the Episcopal Church its fourth straight legal defeat last week, -permitting 11 congregations to secede and take their parish properties with them.

On Dec 19, Judge Randy Bellows held that a state law that permitted congregations to secede from their denominations with their properties when a schism has occurred, applied to the situation within the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “no legal right to our property” according to the court ruling, said a spokesman for the congregations, Jim Oaks. “We have maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of these congregations. It’s also gratifying to see the judge recognize that the statute means what it says-it’s ‘conclusive’ of ownership.”

Litigation between the parishes, including two of the largest and wealthiest in the state, Truro Parish and The Falls Church began in Jan 2007 after negotiations collapsed. Last week’s ruling is the fourth legal defeat for the Episcopal Church. On April 3, Judge Bellows held that a schism, or division as defined by state law, had taken place within the Episcopal Church. He had also ruled that state law, not canon law, controlled the disposition of property, and rejected claims by the Episcopal Church that the state law as unconstitutional.

Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA said the decision was a “great victory for religious freedom.”
“While on paper this has been a battle about property, the division within our church has been caused by TEC’s decision to walk away from the teaching of the Bible and the unique role of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Our position has always been that we have a right to continue to hold dear the same things that our parents and most of the leaders of the Anglican Communion have always believed. The Bible is the authoritative word of God and is wholly relevant to all Christians today and for generations to come.”

US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia would appeal the rulings. “We are not surprised — or discouraged — by the adverse aspects of today’s decision,” she said, adding that she was “optimistic” that she would prevail on appeal. “The decisions in this case have no relevance for the property litigation brought by dioceses with the support of the Episcopal Church before courts in other states,” she added.

Virginia court ruling blow for US Church: CEN 1.02.09 January 3, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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A Virginia state court handed the Episcopal Church its fourth straight legal defeat last week, -permitting 11 congregations to secede and take their parish properties with them.

On Dec 19, Judge Randy Bellows held that a state law that permitted congregations to secede from their denominations with their properties when a schism has occurred, applied to the situation within the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “no legal right to our property” according to the court ruling, said a spokesman for the congregations, Jim Oaks. “We have maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of these congregations. It’s also gratifying to see the judge recognize that the statute means what it says-it’s ‘conclusive’ of ownership.”

Litigation between the parishes, including two of the largest and wealthiest in the state, Truro Parish and The Falls Church began in Jan 2007 after negotiations collapsed. Last week’s ruling is the fourth legal defeat for the Episcopal Church. On April 3, Judge Bellows held that a schism, or division as defined by state law, had taken place within the Episcopal Church. He had also ruled that state law, not canon law, controlled the disposition of property, and rejected claims by the Episcopal Church that the state law as unconstitutional.

Bishop Martyn Minns of CANA said the decision was a “great victory for religious freedom.”
“While on paper this has been a battle about property, the division within our church has been caused by TEC’s decision to walk away from the teaching of the Bible and the unique role of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Our position has always been that we have a right to continue to hold dear the same things that our parents and most of the leaders of the Anglican Communion have always believed. The Bible is the authoritative word of God and is wholly relevant to all Christians today and for generations to come.”

US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia would appeal the rulings. “We are not surprised — or discouraged — by the adverse aspects of today’s decision,” she said, adding that she was “optimistic” that she would prevail on appeal. “The decisions in this case have no relevance for the property litigation brought by dioceses with the support of the Episcopal Church before courts in other states,” she added.

Litigation between breakaway parishes and the dioceses, and breakaway dioceses and the national church is underway in several states. Property law in the United States differs from state to state, and while the Episcopal Church has lost the Virginia case at trial, it has prevailed everywhere but in California—whose Supreme Court is currently considering the matter.

Courts hear arguments over pivotal church property dispute: CEN 9.29.08 September 29, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Two high-profile church property cases in the United States are coming to a close, with courts in New York and Virginia hearing arguments as to whether secular law, or canon law, should govern the control of church property.

On Sept 22, the Diocese of Virginia announced it had conceded most of the remaining issues under consideration by the court in its property lawsuit with the breakaway parishes of the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA), stating that it will focus its energies on an appeal.

The diocese said that in the fourth and final lower court hearing on the multi-million dollar property dispute on Oct 6, the diocese would not challenge the legality of the votes to secede, but would only raise the issue of which church properties were at issue.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Courts hear arguments over pivotal church property dispute

Court setback for Episcopal Church: CEN 8.30.08 August 31, 2008

Posted by geoconger in CANA, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The Virginia courts have handed the Episcopal Church its third straight legal defeat in its battle with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), all but assuring a final legal victory for the Nigerian-overseen group led by Bishop Martyn Minns.

On Aug 19, Fairfax County Circuit Judge Randy Bellows rejected arguments put forward by lawyers for the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia, which seeks to acquire control of property worth £20 million from the 11 CANA parishes. The national church had argued that contract law as codified in the US Constitution took precedence over state church property law. It also argued that an 1867 Virginia law that permitted congregations to quit their parent church with their property in the event of a schism was not applicable to the Episcopal Church.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Court setback for Episcopal Church

The Bishop of Virginia July 21, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Lambeth 2008, Virginia.
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The Rt. Rev. Peter J. Lee on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral at the close of opening Eucharist service for the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

Civil War law is blow to Episcopal Church: CEN 7.13.08 July 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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A US state court has rejected attempts to overturn a state law permitting congregations to withdraw from the church with their properties following a schism, delivering the Episcopal Church its second legal loss in its battle with 11 Nigerian-affiliated parishes in Northern Virginia.

On June 27, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows held that Virginia Statute 57-9A did not violate the US Constitution. The decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia against 11 Northern Virginia parishes that had quit the Episcopal Church for the Churches of Nigeria and Uganda.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Civil War law is blow to Episcopal Church

Civil war law queried: CEN 6.06.08 p 7. June 7, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Canada, Church of England Newspaper, Colorado, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Lawyers for the Episcopal Church were in court last week challenging the constitutionality of a Civil War era Virginia law that permits congregations to secede from their parent churches with their parish properties in the event of a denomination wide schism.

At a hearing on May 28, lawyers for the national church sought to overturn the 141 year old law, Virginia Statute 59-7, arguing was an intrusion by the state into the internal life of a religious group, and also discriminated against “hierarchical” churches.

In April, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows ruled that a schism had occurred within the Episcopal Church under the terms of the Virginia law. However, he granted the Episcopal Church leave to appeal the legality of the law before the full case went to trial.

During the day long proceedings, lawyers for the national church argued that internal church rules on property stewardship could not be overturned by secular courts. However, Judge Bellows noted an inconsistency in the argument, asking why only 29 of the congregations of the Diocese of Virginia had titled their property in the name of the diocese, if church polity-as codified in 1979–mandated that all parish property be held by the diocese.

Lawyers for the diocese said that re-titling parish property would be needlessly upsetting. However, Virginia Solicitor General William Thro responded the “Episcopal Church could have changed their method for titling property but they chose not to.”

“That choice has consequences,” he observed, according to a report in the Washington Times, noting the church could not plead the benefit of the clergy as an exemption from civil laws on matters not touching upon doctrine. A final ruling is not expected until mid-summer.

Property litigation has also animated the Anglican Church of Canada. Last month judges in Ontario modified a lower court order giving physical custody of the property of breakaway congregations to the parishes—ordering the parishes to share their facilities with the diocese pending a final adjudication. While a judge in British Columbia ordered a breakaway parish to turn over its property to the diocese pending a final court ruling.

On May 13, a Colorado judge dismissed a motion by the Diocese of Colorado asking for a summary judgment against the state’s largest Episcopal Church, Grace and St Stephen’s of Colorado Springs.

The court held “neither party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under summary judgment analysis” as the “material facts” of the case were “clearly in dispute.”

A spokesman for Grace Church applauded the ruling, noting the court had accepted the argument that civil property law prevailed over “sectarian arguments about ecclesiastical hierarchy.”

Episcopal Church launches lawsuits in California row: CEN 5.0908 p 6. May 11, 2008

Posted by geoconger in CANA, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, San Joaquin, Virginia.
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The Episcopal Church’s legal battles entered a new phase last week, as lawyers for the national church filed suit in California against the Bishop and Diocese of San Joaquin in a bid to take control of its assets, while the Methodist Church sought to enter the fray in Virginia on behalf of the diocese.

Lawyers for the national church filed suit in a Fresno County Superior Court on April 24, seeking to transfer the assets of the diocese under the control of Bishop John-David Schofield based in Fresno to the new diocese based in Stockton created by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori under former Northern California Bishop Jerry Lamb.

“While it is regrettable that legal action is necessary, the diocese and The Episcopal Church have no other viable option but to seek the intervention of the court to recover the property and assets of the diocese,” said Bishop Lamb, the provisional Bishop of San Joaquin–Stockton

Last December, a supermajority of clergy and lay delegates at the San Joaquin-Fresno synod voted to quit the Episcopal Church and join the Province of the Southern Cone. Dioceses may not succeed from the Episcopal Church as “such actions are contrary to the Canons and Constitution of The Episcopal Church and the diocese,” the media Stockton diocese said.

Writing to the Fresno diocese, Bishop Schofield said, “please be assured that we have been expecting this litigation, and the contents contain no surprises,” adding that “in spite of the claims by The Episcopal Church, nothing in their current constitution and canons prohibits a diocese from leaving one province and moving to another.”

Bishop Schori’s handling of the San Joaquin affair has raised concerns. One group of bishops and church leaders commissioned a legal opinion on the validity of her actions from an international lawyer, who concluded she had committed 11 violations of canon law and should be brought to trial for abuse of office.

The Presiding Bishop issued a counter statement the same day, saying that her advisors had concluded that she had properly interpreted church canons. The Episcopal Church has no independent judiciary and has no way of reconciling opposing views save through political confrontations.

In Virginia the United Methodist Church on April 24 filed a brief in support of the national church and Diocese of Virginia against the breakaway congregations now grouped under the banner of CANA.

The Methodist Church argued that Virginia’s law granting congregations to withdraw from their parent churches in the case of schisms raised questions of the “appropriateness of the government’s intrusion into the freedom of any church body to organize and govern itself according to its own faith and doctrine.”

Virginia’s Attorney-General Robert McDowell in January filed a brief opposing the national Episcopal Church’s. A spokesman for the breakaway congregations, Jim Oakes, said the law, enacted in the wake of denominational splits following the American Civil War, was a tested and “reasonably neutral way for the state to adjudicate” the dispute.

Church’s Court Blow: CEN 4.11.08 p 5. April 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in CANA, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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An American state court has handed the Episcopal Church a major defeat in its battle for control of the property of breakaway congregations in Virginia, rejecting its argument that there was no “division” in the Episcopal Church.

In an 88 page opinion released on April 3, Fairfax County Judge Randy Bellows held that a Nineteenth century law governing the disposition of church property in the event of a church schism applied to the dispute between the Diocese of Virginia and CANA—the American jurisdiction of the Church of Nigeria.

The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia last year brought suit against 11 congregations of the Anglican District of Virginia seeking control of the breakaway parish properties, including the diocese’s two largest congregations—Truro Parish and the Falls Church in suburban Washington.

Judge Bellows rejected the Episcopal Church’s contention that the CANA secessions were a local matter. He held “it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the diocese, [the Episcopal Church], and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude.”

“The rapidity with which [The Episcopal Church’s] problems became that of the Anglican Communion, and the consequent impact-in some cases the extraordinary impact-on its provinces around the world,” he said.

The Episcopal Church and the Diocese have challenged the legality of the law, saying it violates Federal constitutional guarantees separating Church and State. A hearing before Judge Bellows is scheduled for May 28 on this issue. Virginia’s Attorney General has announced he will defend the legality of the statute against the Episcopal Church’s claims. The third phase of the litigation—disposition of the property—will be addressed later this year.

While the trial court’s ruling on the applicability of the relevant law does not rule out the Episcopal Church eventually prevailing in the fight, the April 3 ruling comes as a blow to the Church’s plans to use civil courts to enforce the interpretation of Church canons by the Presiding Bishop.

The Virginia law “plainly deprives the Episcopal Church and the Diocese, as well as all hierarchical churches, of their historic constitutional rights to structure their polity free from governmental interference and thus violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced,” US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on April 4.

The Diocese of Virginia objected to the ruling as well arguing that the “people in the CANA congregations were free to leave, but they cannot take Episcopal property with them.”

A spokesman for the parishes lauded the judge’s decision that upheld its contention that “”our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of the congregations.”

CANA Bishop Martyn Minns said he was confident they would prevail. “There will be another hearing on the constitutional issues that have been raised and I am sure that there will be a variety of appeals but we are confident of the rightness of the path that we have chosen and grateful to God for his favor,” he said.

State ruling is blow to Church: CEN 1.18.08 p 9. January 21, 2008

Posted by geoconger in CANA, Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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The state has intervened in the Diocese of Virginia property lawsuits, backing the legal arguments of the Nigerian-led breakaway group, CANA.

In a brief filed in the Fairfax County Circuit Court on Jan 10, Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell defended the constitutionality of a state law governing church property disputes, dealing a sharp blow to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s campaign to halt the defection of traditionalist congregations through litigation.

“As a matter of federal constitutional law, the Episcopal Church is simply wrong. The Constitution does not require that local church property disputes be resolved by deferring to national and regional church leaders,” the government brief said.

While not addressing the factual issues in dispute between the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in its suit against the 11 breakaway congregations, the attorney general said CANA’s legal arguments were “constitutionally sound.”

Virginia law states that if the majority of a congregation’s members decide to secede from their parent church, that congregation can retain the parish property, if there is no legal encumbrance recorded on the property deed.

The Attorney General stated the “Episcopal Church believes that, when there is a property dispute involving a hierarchical denomination, the National and Virginia Constitutions require deference to regional and national church leaders.”

This was false, he argued, as civil law governs church property disputes when issues of doctrine are not before the court.

Lawyers for the Episcopal Church have disputed the applicability of the Virginia statute that allows congregations to keep their property, and have also disputed the constitutionality of the law.

Presiding Bishop: “I ordered U-turn on deal”: CEN 11.23.07 p 6. November 23, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, Virginia.
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jefferts-schori.jpgIn 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.

Note: If you would like to comment about the issues raised in this article, please do so at Titusonenine, Standfirm, Transfigurations, To all the World, A Reasonable Faith, and the various other blogs discussing this issue.  If you want to discuss the merits of the article, as an article–I encourage you to do so here.

Bishops Defy Virginia Ruling: CEN 8.10.07 p 6. August 9, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Virginia.
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Five US bishops have announced they will not abide by the decision of the Bishop of Virginia to depose 21 priests for “abandonment of communion” after having affiliated with the Churches of Nigeria and Uganda.

In a statement released on Aug 2, the Bishops of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Springfield, San Joaquin and Quincy stated that “in conscience we must remain in relationship and ministry” with the 21 deposed priests.

On Aug 1, Virginia Bishop Peter Lee announced that he had defrocked the 21 for having abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. In December Bishop Lee warned the clergy he would deprive them “of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in Ordination” unless they submitted to his authority.

The 21, including Ugandan Bishop-elect John Guernsey, declined to accede to the bishop’s demand, noting they had been lawfully received by the Churches of Nigeria and Uganda. Omitted from the list of deposed clergy was CANA bishop the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns.