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.