7/24/2009

Now about the Episcopal Church as a hierarchical church....

Good news from the Diocese of San Joaquin, reporting on the findings of the California Superior Court. Here is Bishop Lamb's letter:

Dear Friends,

We received word yesterday that the Superior Court in Fresno had issued its final judgment in our motion for summary adjudication concerning who is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin. I am pleased to tell you that the court found overwhelmingly that I am the Episcopal Bishop and therefore the Corporate Sole of the Diocese and have control of the properties and assets of the Episcopal Church. The importance of this decision by the Superior Court should not be underestimated. Here is a quote from the decision, “The diocese of San Joaquin (plaintiffs),” i.e. the Episcopal Church, “is not a new organization that ‘split off’ from the defendant’s older organization. It is the older organization from which defendants removed themselves.” I rejoice in this decision and give thanks to God in this blessing, but I am aware that there are more legal hurdles ahead of us as we continue to recover assets that belong to the Episcopal Church.

I am also aware of the pain and suffering that these legal actions and reactions have caused. I hope that this recent ruling will cause some of the congregations that chose to attempt to leave the Episcopal church to rethink their actions and become open to conversations about the return of properties to the Episcopal Church.

Please be in conversations with friends and acquaintances who are part of the group that left the Episcopal Church and invite them to return to the church. A motto of the Episcopal Church in 2009 is “All are welcome here.” We are strong enough and broad enough for everyone to be welcome here. I look forward to conversations with those who have left the church.

Peace,
+Jerry Lamb,
Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

Well, its not over yet, but the case is building. The Diocese issued a press release in which some of the particulars were spelled out:

On July 23, 2009, the Diocese received an order issued by the Superior Court of Fresno County, California, sustaining the position of the Church and the Diocese that the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb is the Bishop of the Diocese and the officeholder of the Diocesan corporations, and that former Bishop John-David Schofield is no longer the Bishop and has no claim to any of the corporate or ecclesiastical offices of the Diocese.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court found that there is no question that The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church, of which the Diocese is an integral part. It also held that “If the Constitution of the Diocese incorporates and accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, which require accession, then the Constitution of the Diocese cannot be amended to remove such language.” The Court additionally ruled that the continuing Diocese of San Joaquin is "not a new organization" created after former Bishop Schofield attempted to remove the Diocese from the Church, but that the Diocese "is the older organization from which ([defendant] Schofield and the other) defendants removed themselves."

On that basis, the Court also ruled that the amendments to the Diocesan Constitution, Canons, and corporate documents that purported to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church were void and invalid.

The order will greatly expedite the resolution of the remainder of the case, which will ultimately provide for the recovery of the Diocese's properties and assets so that the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin can continue to pursue its ministry to the central third of California utilizing these resources. A copy of the Court’s Order is posted on the diocesan website."

Note the line in red: "The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church." That of course is contrary to what the Anglican Communion Institute and the author of the essay, "Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church wished to contend.

They stated that "
... we emphasize that The Episcopal Church consists of autonomous, but interdependent, dioceses not subject to any metropolitical power or hierarchical control. The Ecclesiastical Authorities in our dioceses are the Bishops and Standing Committees; no one else may act in or speak on behalf of the dioceses or of The Episcopal Church within the dioceses."

It appears the Superior Court of Fresno California believes otherwise.

That is not the end of the matter, of course, but arguments contending otherwise did not prevail in California. In California it appears they understand that contrary arguments notwithstanding, The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church.




22 comments:

  1. I suspect this will hold within the US. The status of dioceses or even parishes not in the US such as those in Central America would probably be up to the laws of their respective countries.

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  2. you win. take a moment to revel in that.



    joel

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  3. Great, if not unexpected news, and a gracious, non-triumphalist letter from Jerry Lamb.

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  4. I look forward to the dioceses and national church now stepping up to the plate and assuming all legal liability for every church building across the country - except in Virginia, where the law is both "legal" and moral.

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  5. When a judge says that the Episcopal Church is an "hierarchical church", he is using legal language. That phrase has a specific meaning in the law and you aren't going to figure it out by looking at what you think "hierarchical" means and debating whether TEC fits your notion of "hierarchical".

    Instead, you go and read the legal decisions where this term has been defined. Once you do that, it becomes quite clear that the question of whether TEC is "hierachical" or not is a closed question. The Supreme Court of the US has found it so. It can not be reasonably challenged in a court of law.

    But that doesn't stop people with unclear motives fgrom trying to muddy this one particularly clear area of jurisprudence.

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  6. Surely you know this is the argument for centralization: the moment the theological definition is indistinguishable from the legal.

    I, of course have no problem with the decision, as it is right. I do think, however, that this is the wrong way to advance our common cause for TEC.

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  7. Care to wager a couple of bucks on how Virginia's 1860's Anti-Reconstruction ordinance will fare as it works its way though the legal system and is weighed against the Hierarchical Church principal, Phil?

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  8. Erp... property problems have come up in Central and South America. In Ecuador Central the prior bishop attempted to take considerable property with him. Most of that has been worked out, but some issues still remain. It's a mess.

    Joel / Anonymous... I'm not sure
    "winning" is a source of joy as much a feeling of accomplishing a task. There are still more, and if reconciliation is to be realized, still more beyond that.

    Phil...I don't think you understand the canon at all.

    ruidh...you are right.

    Lapinbizarre...how do you think it is going to come down?

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  9. The Judiciary being the way it's been this past 20 years, who knows, at least if it stays within Virginia? The past career of the judge who presided at the first hearings suggests that his was not an obviously partisan ruling. I gather that "constitutional" issues tend surface for consideration at the appeals level, so we'll see. If it's heard at the Federal level I imagine that Hierarchical Church argument will win out.

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  10. I rejoice for the Episcopalians in San Joaquin. And kudos to Bishop Lamb for his gracious letter, still extending a "come home" offer to those who left TEC.

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  11. Happy as a clam and yes, there can be ¨issues¨ in courts in Latin America...Buddy, can you spare a dime?

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  12. For me, this decision was special for two reasons. The first, it was a summary judgment, i.e no trial needed and the second, the judge's response to the "expert" testimony of Bishop Wantland, very late of LaCrosse. I refer to lines 12-17 on pg. 6 The Court noted that: "His [Wantland's] declaration as to the nature of the Church (regarding whether or not it is hierarchical) is an inadmissible opinion and legal conclusion..It is thoroughly established that experts may not give opinions on matters which are essentially within the province of the Court to decide" (For those unfamiliar with Wantland, he is Bishop Duncan's right hand man on canon law and also responsible for what came to be known as the "Wantland Coup", about a decade ago.) The Court's comments regarding Wantland did not seem necessary to its judgment which makes the Court's inclusion of them all the more interesting. It may have been Wantland's possible willingness to do the Court's business for it, ruffled the judge's feathers a bit. But, then again, such intrusions on others authority have not seemed to pose a problem for him in the past. EPfizH

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  13. I can't speak to the issues in California, but I do have a problem whene the situation involves a parish that has built up, entirely with funds from within the parish, and the diocese or national church comes in to claim property to which they lent only their name, but no money, no toil, and no equity of any kind. That was the situation at Christ Church Plano, within my own diocese in Dallas, which our bishop recognized and which was, from what I could tell, instrumental in his allowing them to go their own way.

    The situations are very different and unique to each parish. I don't think that an across the board interpretation of "the presiding bishop or national church takes all" is the best solution in all circumstances or even most of them. THe hard line taken by some that "all who leave the Episcopal church and want to enjoy the fruits of their money and toil are thieves" does not reflect all situations, and the insistence on that line by the Presiding Bishop and other church leaders, particularly some who posted regularly on the HOBD listserve (when I followed it; that was a singularly depressing experience, but off topic for this post) does not reflect the reality of much many of the churches that want to leave. I can't rejoice in the California court's decision.

    Paul in Dallas

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  14. Christopher (P.)26/7/09 10:15 AM

    For Paul in Dallas:

    The point at which I part company from you is that I consider that the people have already enjoyed the "fruits of their toil": in their giving, and in their toil. That, after all, is the point of stewardship. The attitude that "I paid for it, and so, by God, I'm going to keep control over it," is counter to the Gospel, and the source of much mischief in our national culture, besides.

    The point of the dispute is that the giving and the toil are for God and God's purposes through the Church, and in TEC, the locus of the Church is the Diocese and, through the Diocese, the Province (TEC). If people didn't know that "going in," that points to a failure to communicate. No one can claim not to know it now!

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  15. Paul in Dallas--I am puzzled by your statement:

    "but I do have a problem whene the situation involves a parish that has built up, entirely with funds from within the parish,"

    I believe all parishes are built up entirely with funds from within the parish.

    Recently my former church was involved in a lawsuit in which the Episcopal congregation prevailed. But when I felt more than a little snarky about the money, time, energy and talent my husband and I contributed for many years to a priest who tried to take this church, these words started running through my head:

    All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee.

    And also, just saying, if you wish to personally claim what you have given to the "Greater Glory of God" maybe you should consider that the Episcopal Church still welcomes you and has not asked you to leave.

    Being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the "Greater Glory of God."

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  16. Paul in Dallas-

    I think Bishop Stanton is quite sympathetic to the ACNA schismatics. He plays his cards close to his well-tailored vest and lets others walk point in this business, but if the wind blows in the direction of being able to take the money out the door with him, he'll be out of the door in a hot Dallas minute along with his cardinal rectors.

    Kahu Aloha

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  17. Kahu Aloha -

    ... but if the wind blows in the direction of being able to take the money out the door with him, he'll be out of the door in a hot Dallas minute along with his cardinal rectors.'

    ... all the more true with our dual TEC/ACNA bishop of Springfield, IL Peter H. Beckwith. +Peter is most recently quoted on virtueonline as saying: 'We [TEC] are under God's judgment'. That's one of the nicer things I've personally heard him say about this church he's sworn to uphold and defend. You can imagine the contempt he shows for the loyal Episcopalians still lurking in the corners of this diocese. Lord have mercy!

    Jay in the Dio. of Springfield

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  18. Kailua Aloha, re Bishop Stanton. While Bishop Stanton may be sympathetic to the theological positions of ACNA (you should ask him, and not make assumptions on what you think he might say or what I or anyone else might tell you), I vigorously disagree with you on whether he might leave. I have heard him say, over the course of several years and on several different occasions, that he is not going anywhere else and has no intention of going anywhere else. You may choose not to believe him, but I choose to take him at his word. I also have heard him say (in response to a question put to him concerning the diocese of Fort Worth before its departure) that he does not agree with its direction (i.e., pointing to a departure).

    With respect to how this will play out in Texas, we'll have to see as the litigation in Fort Worth winds its way through the courts. I think it's an open question here.

    Christopher P., I can see and am sympathetic to your argument. The distinction, in parishes such as CC Plano, where many of the benefactors of the parish's capital campaigns are still active benefactors of the parish, and where many of those same benefactors deeply disagreed with what the national Episcopal Church was up to. While they could, of course, leave the church plant to the diocese to deal with, they chose to cut a deal with the diocese whereby they kept the church plant and are compensating the diocese for their departure. In another case, St. Nicholas Church in Midland, the Bishop of that diocese did not cut a deal, and most of that congregation left, leaving behind a new church campus and 10% of the congregation and starting a new Anglican church under an African bishop. That new church is thriving, and St. Nicholas and the other Episcopal church in that city - once the largest in the diocese - are either struggling or very slowly rebuilding.

    Which is the right approach. To the "anyone who leaves TEC and doesn't hand over the keys is a thief" crowd, anything short of total abandonment is thievery, and much of the rhetoric I've seen conveys that. It doesn't convey much love for one's fellows, however one wants to dress up that language with "they're always welcome to come back" sentiments, which, to me at least, come across as lame at best. (Why on earth would they want to return?)

    The CC Plano solution, to me, made sense. BOth the diocese and the church got to get on with their business, and haven't had to spend years and lots of money in litigation that leaves both groups poorer, both monetarily and spiritually. As a member of the Diocese of Dallas, I would much rather we have the attention of the bishop and the diocese focuses on other ways to build up the diocese, plant new churches, etc., than in depositions and litigation.

    As membe

    Paul in Dallas

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  19. Again, Paul, you seem profoundly selective in who should show love to whom.

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  20. One thing lost in the argument of those who believe they can leave The Episcopal Church at will and take their propery because "they built it alone" are missing a key point. Many, many people came to their church in the first place because it was an Episcopal Church. Had it been a brand X church, people over the years would not have come.

    At a minimum you can't ignore the fact that the "Episcopal brand" helped establish any particular church - yes even Christ Church Plano. Those who wish to leave and give no credit at all to the National Church for their success are truly not being fair in their belief that "they did it all themselves". Acting a little bit thankful for all the Episcopal Church has meant to them over the years would make them more sympathetic. To just storm out and forget the beauty, majesty, and deep theology of our liturgy, prayer book, and hymnal just seems to me to be ungrateful.

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  21. Mark, are you saying that because I disagree with someone or hold opinions that are apparently different than yours I am therefore selective about whom I love? Must I agree with someone to love them? If that's the case, then there isn't much love going around nowadays. I don't really understand your comment otherwise.

    Dallas Bob, I agree with you on your last post. I don't agree that they should have left (though I understand why), and would not have stayed in that parish after its departure had I been there. My point was that the manner in which their departure was handled seemed to fit their particular situation and is preferable to the route that the Presiding Bishop prefers.

    Paul in Dallas

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  22. Paul,

    I was addressing your statement, posted at 4:15 on the 27th, as follows:

    It doesn't convey much love for one's fellows, however one wants to dress up that language with "they're always welcome to come back" sentiments, which, to me at least, come across as lame at best. (Why on earth would they want to return?)

    Given that we've told you the harm they've done to us, both TEC and GLBT's, I would say that your love is exceptionally selective. They've "lost" buildings and items that were never theirs once they gave it to God, we've lost a great deal more. So, what you present is that it's loveless to ask someone to leave without trinkets. but it is loving to take what others - who will stay - also contributed. It is loving, apparently, to rail, deride, degrade, defame, deform and destroy, while unloving to ask someone to either stop doing those things, or leave.

    You really have no right to complain so loudly to us. We stayed through decades of abuse - to put it plainly - while they bailed after one openly-gay bishop and *gasp* a woman as PB.

    Your outrage comes across as self-serving and defensive. If you've just come to vent, say so, and we can stop wasting our time engaging you.

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