9/19/2009

Let the Lawyers do their work. Let's do ours.

Many in Anglican and Episcopal blogland have gotten caught up in the legal proceedings in South Carolina and Texas this past week. Aside from show our collective ignorance of the fine points of legal-speak, very little light has been thrown on the subject.

In the case of the Texas ruling, about the best we can say is that the ruling was very simple, but the conversation was very complex. There was no clarity at all about the substance of the case, except to say it is still alive. Exaggerated reports abounded.

In the case of the ruling by the Supreme Court in South Carolina, it appears that the isolated and specific situation of All Saints, Pawleys Island,, was such that the Court held that the parish was indeed holder of its title quite apart from the Diocese, who at an earlier time had actually worked with the parish to establish its separate status. The blosphere has been excited by the possibility that this either makes the "Dennis" canon no longer valid or that this is a case that parallels others and therefore provides precedence. I think this is all wishful thinking.

When the excitement dies down I think it will become apparent that the specifics of the case were very specific and unique to this situation. It says very little to other cases. And, of course, it is unclear if this will stand without further redress. We shall see.

I am interested that the Canons of the Church hold for members of this church, which I understand includes its lay and ordained leadership. So when leaders are ordained, elected, or chosen they lead within the pledge to uphold the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. The results ought to be that quite independent of the legal status of the deeds for land and proofs of ownership, the leadership has pledged to abide by the CandC of the church.

The State has no business determining if vestry persons have fulfilled their responsibility re the Constitution and Canons. That is for the Church to decide. So the State of South Carolina may have been correct to say the deed was in the hands of the vestry who disengaged with The Episcopal Church. I don't know. But I do know that that vestry was in violation of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

Interestingly, the so called "Dennis Canon" was accompanied by another canonical provision, I.7.5 that states, "The several Dioceses may, at their election, further confirm the trust declared under the forgoing Section 4 by appropriate action, but no such action shall be necessary for the existence and validity of the trust." The Diocese of South Carolina apparently attempted to extract such a confirmation of the trust from All Saints at about the time that they were voting to leave The Episcopal Church.

I think the Texas hearing is very preliminary. My sense is the South Carolina judgment will stand unless someone had the courage to take it to the US Supreme Court on some basis having to do with South Carolina mucking about in the fields of Episcopal Church polity where it ought not go.

But what do I know? Obviously not much. I am not a lawyer.

I am a priest, however. And as a priest my sense is the folk of All Saints may or may not have been right in taking the property in this very peculiar case, but their vestry was not acting as a vestry of The Episcopal Church when they did so. They were either ignorant of their responsibilities as vestry members in a Diocese of The Episcopal Church, or they ignored the implications of such office, having already left in spirit.

I believe that we in the blogsphere need to step back from immediate reading of the tea leaves in such matters. One of the interesting things about the legal mind is that it brews its mix like tea leaves steeped in the pot. All the rest of us dash madly about trying to make sense of the position of the tea leaves in the pot, but the lawyers are waiting for another day, another stirring, another reading to come.

My sense is that we might hold back from early commentary and see what the lawyers will do.

22 comments:

  1. I agree, ..that is why I have been rather absent during all these legal wranglings, that and Summer is just a lazy time for me.

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  2. But Pere Sud states on your Professor Mullin thread that "many years ago .... +Salmon gave every deed back to the vestries of the parishes in SC". If true - and I do not doubt that it is - this could radically affect the ability of SC parishes to secede with property. It may well hinge on whether Salmon had the authority - particularly in light of the Dennis canon - to take this action.

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  3. I really think that what Mullins provides is an outstanding, well-reasoned and effective defense ofthe Epsicopal Church in the United States BUT, it is one (learned) person's opinion not having any more legal standing than say, robroy. Well, much more erudite than anything robroy could put out there but, is there disagreement here? TEC more than likely works off that document (or the thinking of that document) but, Fr. Mark, is there more to this than meets the eye? If so, could you explain.

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  4. Like Father Mark, I am not a lawyer, and my own great hope is for all this dust to settle at some point. Yet I cannot help but be intrigued by the question of whether there can be a neutral application of civil law regarding the question of whether a vestry majority in an Episcopal parish acted/acts rightly and legally - specifically in acting against the Constitution and Canons of the Church to which they were/are bound.

    christopher+

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  5.      I once heard it said that a device for getting through the strains of life is recognizing when some things are bigger than we are.

         The traffic congestion on the way home is too big for me to handle; if I fight it, I'll be tense and possibly in an accident. It's better to recognize it's bigger than I am and relax into it.

         In these legal matters, I feel the same. I find my heart constricting as I read the back and forth accounts. I have come to realize the whole things is bigger than I am. I get depressed and cynical if I dwell on it all too much.

         Being kind to my neighbor, praying, and ministry in my own little corner of the world, however, are just the right size for me.

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  6. I am currently slogging through the ACI document on the PB's authority and property lawsuits. Unless I've really misinterpreted something, Mike Watson states that the Executive Committee cannot function as a corporate Board of Directors, because TEC isn't a corporation.

    That's really interesting, because the The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America is a non-profit corporation in the state of New York. The canons clearly state that the Executive Committee serves as a BOD, and names officers.

    There's also a finer point, which makes me wonder about his practical knowledge of non-profit law. He states that the Executive committee wasn't named in the constitution adopted in 1789. The constitution pretty much stands until an entity re-incorporates. Details are added in a non-profit's bylaws, or in this case - the canons.

    Honestly, am I missing something here? It seems Watson's house of cards is falling down, because he states there is no person or body that can exercise day-to-day legal authority in TEC.

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  7. For what it's worth, Stand Firm has the 9-16 transcript up. I wish they'd watermarked it somehow so that we could compare their version with others that get posted thereafter since the word is that some people that refuse to go to "that site" used their file last time, albeit hosted in a different place.

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  8. And- on page 22- I would note the judge clearly says that he thinks the plaintiffs aren't the Diocese. It may be a comment, but Iker wasn't lying.

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  9. Why does TEC reject 1 Cor. 6:1-8? (I put this question to the readers on another post and no one answered, but I'd really like to hear theories on this.)

    Scott

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  10. "...they ignored the implications of such office, having already left in spirit".


    Mark. I think that if you look into the matter much deeper you will find significnt sections of this Church has leadership and members who have already left the political whims and questionable leadership of TEC in spirit. What DOES it tell you when you can't keep the loyalty of more members in this Church? What DOES it tell you when you lose the respect of a retired clergy family who are just glad to be shed of the tentacles of the leadership of this Church? Before you cry "Disloyal!!" just know that this family included the Canon to the Ordinary of a diocese.
    They're just sick of the liberal sloth that has weakened this Church.

    It's a shame when the only true hold that you can muster on people's loyalty is by threat or by a vow that favors the interpretations of a mere 2,000 people at GC every 3 years...who often operate under their own guilt or by sway of revisionism so severe that they can't sell what they vote for back home.

    Look for more such losses of spirit towards such hireling leadership. As for the vestries and members, I think that most of them are rather healthy in their churches and communities.

    They just "don't play no more".

    It's now your problem to solve why you can't muster more loyalty from the many hundreds of thousands of fine members left in this Church.

    Are you up to the task or just quoting the book...?

    Sorry. I already knew your answer.

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  11. The AMiA Waccamaw congregation brought the suit against the diocese of South Carolina, Scott. Why don't you ask them?

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  12. According to its 2010 budget, TEC Diocese of Colorado spent $2.9 million litigating the ownership of Grace Church in Colorado Springs. They "won" that lawsuit and got to keep the building. 815's website reports that from 1997-2007, the Diocese of Colorado lost 20% of its membership. Loyalty is something an institution has to earn and deserve.

    Scott

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  13. Do you know what might have brought +Mouneer Anis to New York City yesterday? I visited a church because they were hosting Sacred Harp singing and I wanted to be in the area when it started, and lo his name was on the bulletin as the preacher!

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  14. Scott:

    The Episcopal Church has not rejected I Corinthians 6:1-8. We have interpreted it, however: it's one thing for me as an individual to choose not to argue for my own assets. It is another for me as a leader to do so regarding assets of the whole Church, and so not mine. By long understanding (confirmed but not created by the Dennis Canon) these properties were held for the future, and not simply for the present; for those ministries we might develop, and not simply those we have served in the past.

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  15. Scott,

    Your question is meaningless as it ignores virtually everything that has gone before the lawsuits. Why don't you ask the orthodites why they are ignoring the 8th, 9th and 10th commandments?

    Perhaps, as well, you'd like to contact the judge and let him know that he is - what was it Paul says? - one of the "ungodly?" We judged, we now need an enforcement arm, that's all.

    You may also want to consider that we did do what Jesus asked - you see, we regard Him as superior to Paul in Christianity, if you didn't know - and spoke to the individuals, then to the church. Now, they are as tax collectors and sinners - including being like Jesus and trying to get them to change their ways.

    Hope it answers your question so that you won't need to annoy and disrupt by asking over and over.

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  16. Frankly, I don't care if they get the property legally - at least it's defined, and I've previously said that, since they are no longer brothers in faith, let them go with the buildings, if that's the legal system's judgment.

    Just as long as they go.

    We can buy the buildings back at bargain prices when they fold, or, at worst, grieve over a building becoming a Baptist church after they finally go back to the church they always really wanted to be in.

    As Mark Harris says, let the lawyers handle it. Be detached from these people and from the outcome. By all means, follow all legal avenues to prevent the absconding bishops, but, if it has the law's effect, don't act like them! It's beneath us! We are better than that.

    We needed, all along, to be providing for those left to us, who have shown faith to God and loyalty to us - they are the parishes, not the buildings.

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  17. lawyers getting rich.....TEC having to slash budgets.....what a waste of time, energy, emotion and money....why not let each parish choose for itself and go or stay with blessing? If someone asks for your tunic....let them have it, someone once said. A clean start for all is possible still today, the court cases can stop. No point winning buildings which will have to be sold to pay legal bills....except for the lawyers getting rich....

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  18. Tell it to the Orthodite tribe, Observer.

    You're in the wrong place.

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  19. The right way to handle these disputes seems simple enough to me. The parties should settle property claims without wasting God's money on litigation. (I'm an attorney by trade, and don't ordinarily argue that litigation is wasteful, but sometimes it is.) As an attorney, it is absolutely outrageous that the Diocese of Colorado spent $2.9 million on litigating a property claim over a church. I have never in 10 years of commercial litigation practice seen a legal bill approaching anything like that. You should be able to try any case, no matter how complex, for less than $100,000. They were ripped off. The deserved it, of course.

    It wouldn't be difficult if everyone would get their egos out of the way. They should try and find a price for property on which they can settle. Litigation stays in the background if settlement fails. I do this all the time in my day job. This would also be the best way to resolve these disputes in light of Scripture.

    I bear no ill will toward rank and file TEC members, many of whom are faithful and many of whom are misguided and misled. The people who are actively misleading TEC with the doctrine that Jesus is just "one way among many" are another matter, because they are lying to their parishoners about what Christianity means. I don't have any ill will toward them either, except that I hope their plan to transform TEC into the Theosophical Society fails.

    As for me, my ACNA parish started this year ex nihilo. A priest friend and I started it and are gathering faithful Christians to us. We didn't have anything to fight about with anyone, thank God.

    One thing that might be of interest to you on this side: we never talk about homosexuality. you folks think that's what the split is about, and that's not it. We do preach scripture though, and we mean it. That's what the split is really about.

    all that said, I still root for the ACNA parishes and dioceses in all these disputes. Go ACNA!

    Scott

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  20. Lynn:

    In its own pleadings, TEC describes itself as "a religious denomination and a non-profit unincorporated association formed between 1785 and 1789."

    http://tinyurl.com/kvklzh

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  21. You're free to worship Scripture as much as you like, Scott, if that actually gets you closer to God. That's what Baptists do. It's what all these little "Bible Christian Church of . . ." 's do. It's just - to put it bluntly - one way among many. It's certainly not a way that has brought much in the way of peace, harmony, or godliness, and it's not really Anglican. I suppose we're all upset that you feel the need to destroy our church, while being - let's be honest - Baptists who play dress-up.

    You feel we've been misled, we know you've been misled. You take scripture seriously, we take a Living God seriously. You are a completely different faith, it's true. That doesn't necessarily mean you are faithful to the right thing, but God will understand you tried.

    Go ACNA . . . as far away as possible.

    Oh, and if you're an attorney, you might try being a little more outraged about what the attorneys charge than what the Diocese pays?

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  22. Scott OP wrote: "I have never in 10 years of commercial litigation practice seen a legal bill approaching anything like that. You should be able to try any case, no matter how complex, for less than $100,000."

    From another litigator, that's a ridiculous comment.

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