10/27/2008

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! What’s up with the Courts.

Well, the courts have been in session across the Episcopal part of Anglican Land and here are some of the more recent results:

(i) New York State Supreme Court ruled that The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester has the rights to the property of the All Saints Church in Irondequoit even though the parish voted to break away from the denomination. (October 23, 2008)

(ii) A California appeals court has ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, which in 2006 sued St. John’s Anglican Church in Fallbrook that aligned itself with a foreign bishop and kept the building that had been St. John’s Episcopal Church. (October 24)

(iii) A Montgomery County Court jury found yesterday that Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. did not commit fraud in the process that led to the defrocking of a priest (David Moyer) in the Pennsylvania Diocese. David Moyer was a priest resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania who, about the time he was deposed in Pennsylvania popped off to Central Africa and then was received by then Bishop Duncan in Pittsburgh. Moyer then became a bishop in the Traditional Anglican Communion, an action that ticked almost everybody off. (October 25)

(iv) Arguments have been heard in the California Supreme Court reviewing the legal arguments of lawyers from The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Los Angeles, and the majority of members at a congregation formerly affiliated with the diocese. According to The Living Church, “A lower court ruled in favor of the parish, which had refused a diocesan request to vacate the property. The Los Angeles appellate court reversed the lower court, finding in favor of the diocese, a decision which ran counter to other recent California appellate court rulings. A ruling by the state Supreme Court is expected within 90 days.” I understand from sources in the Diocese of Los Angeles that it looks as if the Court will be in favor of the Appellate Court ruling. Oct. 8.


(v) The ongoing complex case in Virigina continues under Judge Randy Bellows, the last arguments have probably been heard and now matters will go forward. Best guess is that this case is going upstream and will not be settled for a while yet. See BabyBlue’s coverage here.

What are we to make of all this? Well, it would appear that in most of the property cases decisions seem to be headed in the direction of supporting the notion that the properties are indeed held in trust for the Episcopal Church, just as the canons suggest, and that the civil courts are not too eager to jump in and tell a church how to manage its affairs. Virginia may be a special case, but even there “special” may be found wanting.

In David Moyer’s suit against Bishop Bennison the wider question is what will follow. Will there now be suit to recover the property of Good Shepherd, Rosemont? We will see.

If these cases continue to be decided for The Episcopal Church and / or dioceses of TEC many more suits of this sort will not be needed. At some point real negotiations might be able to take place, ones that don’t begin with the claim that the property belongs to the majority of the members of a congregation when they leave The Episcopal Church.

And perhaps The Living Church will find a new way to refer to David Moyer. In their article on his suit they refer to him as "Fr. David Moyer" although he is deposed. Then, late in the article they acknowledge that he is a bishop in the Traditional Anglican Communion. Having decided that his deposition did not require referring to him in some other way, perhaps they might have recognized him as Bishop Moyer. Oh well.

11 comments:

  1. I did not support the David Moyer's suit. I think that it could have had a chilling effect on religion in America. It also violates Paul's injunction, "Why not be wronged?"

    The parish in New York, was sold for $450,000 but the money was being held pending the outcome. Most certainly it cost the diocese much more than this to bring the case to the Supreme court. (I believe that just the first phase of medical lawsuits are estimated to cost $800,000. The appeals would push it into the millions. I don't think the diocese has anyone doing pro bono work.)

    Was it worth it? In one sense, it is important to never lose a single battle, for it might open up the flood gates. But there are other hidden costs. The diocese of Central New York is in precipitous decline - membership down 20% in the past 5 years alone. The diocese recently announced "restructuring", i.e., layoffs. It is an understatement to say that lawsuits against fleeing Christians trying to keep their parish home then only to sell the building off to a different denomination is not very good PR. This is certainly not a win for the institutionalists.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No one has ever really bothered to say why property is more important than people. This PR fiasco won't really hit home until TEC realizes that there's lots of dead property and no people within. Oh, I forgot the continuing parishes. In a couple of cases the loyal remnant is usually less than 10% of the membership still holding on to property that they never have hope to manage or maintain. It must look impressive to be a visitor and see an empty shell with a few souls while down the street someplace the 90% are worshipping and growing in a storefront.

    Why IS property more important than people? WHAT people can TEC claim to be talking for when the PEOPLE themselves have left?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Mark. I appreciate the round-up and wholistic presentation.

    And, oh God, I am struck this evening how grievious this all is.

    sigh.....

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is about ethics, folks. Foreign bishops taking that which does not belong to them is simply wrong. To not hold them accountable for such unethical behavior would also be wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Allen,

    Good question. As law and canon clearly show it is not yours, why are lawsuits even needed? "Thou shalt not"

    Oh never mind.

    FWIW
    jimB

    ReplyDelete
  6. Let's not count chickens, sir.....still waiting for Virginia's courts to sock it to TEC (again)....

    And after Virginia, then TEC will have to roll out its now very rich legal team to fight for the property of Fort Worth and then SC parishes....and then.....

    TEC could and should have handled all this in a much better way...it has played into the hands of those who want to portray it as authoritarian and political - but if that is the truth, that is the truth. Of course, the reality is that a small and shrinking TEC needs to recover property in order to sell it in order to fund its decline in the comin decades.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Sorry Terry Martin,

    The deed on OUR church will not be re-written for either an African bishop nor a reappraiser bishop spouting his "rights" after 85 years of dead silence. The deed says that the property is held in trust for the religious congregation of """. They chose to be Episcopalian 85 years ago and we still choose it...until some reasserter hands us a heretic Prayer Book, or says of the property, "Give it here. We laid claim to this in 1979...we're just now getting around to wanting your deed rewritten to keep you honest."

    BTW: Will 815 or the Diocese start paying for all the upkeep on what they now want to possess? Insurance? Repairs?

    And, next year some bright boys and girls will legislate that the deeds and keys go to the home office. "Just keep paying the bills. This property is an inheritance that WE know how to operate better than you." Sorry, neither 815 nor our out-of-touch bishop even KNOW the names of our families, much more WHO gave what over 85 years. And yet, they want to speak for THEM and us?

    Right. It IS about ethics, Terry. You should earn respect and loyalty without having to legislate it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Allen asks: "WHAT people can TEC claim to be talking for when the PEOPLE themselves have left?"

    TEC is speaking for the many who gave the property (and everything else) in the first place, the few who worship there now (at least two or three plus Jesus), and the generations of Episcopalians to come. One of the glories of being members of the church is that we're part of something much larger than ourselves, populated overwhelmingly by people who have no voice but ours.

    Thanks for asking! Peace,

    Mark.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mark said,

    "...populated overwhelmingly by people who have no voice but ours".

    I saw that last night on the empty Virtual Church.

    You need not lecture me about who gave what to whom and why. And to be plain, a generic cleric someplace in front of a computer doesn't speak for anybody in my church or any that I know of. One thing's for sure. The donors of labor and property would surely trust their families and communities more than a revisionist 815 or diocesan officer who want to use their donations and work like play toys in the quest for the micro-Church.

    A Church that is getting smaller and more insignificant was NOT what they had in mind.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous Mark...could you be say, Mark the Better, or something to distinguish you from me.. Mark (blogger Preludium) Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Terry Martin writes, "To not hold them accountable for such unethical behavior would also be wrong."

    I think that is the whole point of St Paul's words, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers." It is clear that Paul was talking to people who clearly thought they were in the right. Should they have answered, "But we need to hold these guys accountable."

    The cost of this is much more than the $2 million to lawyers from the national church, plus the monies spent on propping up the remnant, plus the amounts that the diocese pays, plus the loss of any income from the parishes or dioceses.

    I forget how much the cost of the full page ad twice in the New York Times was estimated to be but I am pretty sure that it was in the six figures. (This was about 6 months ago.) Those ads were more than undone by the George Will article. Terry is in charge the reborn 20/20 program. He is going to be trying to counteract headline after headline. I would be depressed if I had his job, sort of like when J. Pierrepont Finch gets the vice presidency of marketing.

    ReplyDelete

OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.