1/11/2012

Decision in Virginia

In the long awaited decision, concerning the properties held by seven CANA churches, by the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Virginia, Judge Randy I. Bellows presiding, was made yesterday. The conclusion of the judgments says this:
 

"the Court finds for TEC and the Diocese in the Declaratory Judgment actions and against each of the seven CANA Congregations. The trustees of the churches must, therefore, promptly convey the properties to the Diocese and the CANA Congregations must promptly relinquish control over the properties to the Diocese. Further, the Court finds the Amended Counterclaims to be without merit and grants TEC‟s and the Diocese‟s Motions to Strike the claims for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and constructive trust. Further, the Court finds that the Vestry entitled to elect the directors of the Falls Church Endowment Fund is the Falls Church Episcopal congregation recognized by the Diocese.
 

"The Court orders that all personal property acquired by the congregations before January 31, 2007 or February 1, 2007 (depending on the congregation) shall be conveyed to the Diocese and all liquid personal property (e.g., contributions and donations of money) acquired after these dates shall remain with the CANA Congregations. As to tangible personal property acquired by the CANA Congregations after these dates, they shall be conveyed to the Diocese unless the CANA Congregations can establish that they were purchased solely with funds acquired after these dates or were donated to the CANA Congregations after these dates."
 

Well there it is. It will be interesting to see if the CANA congregations want to appeal, but I think this judgment has all but finished the legal process in Virginia.

Now the Diocese of Virginia has an opportunity to renew the congregations in those churches, working with the continuing Episcopal Church congregations that have been without their church buildings for this time. It may also be time to explore with the CANA congregations new ways of cooperating even across the divide of theological differences.


What did all this decide? That the property belongs to The Episcopal Church, locally by the Parish part of the Diocese of Virginia, and more widely by the Diocese in trust for use by members of the Episcopal Church.


It may well be that the Episcopal Church parish or Diocese might find ways to cooperate with groups of its congregation that leave to form another church. But it would do so with the understanding by all parties that it is the Episcopal Parish leadership that exercises stewardship over the holdings of the parish and determines how the properties will be used.


Now the CANA congregations will have their transitional time without permanent residence. It may be a source of strength to them as it has been for some of the Episcopal Church congregations who have been without buildings. But in the end there will be CANA congregations and Diocese of Virginia congregations and somewhere down the path there will be new convergences in prayer and action, for which we can only hope and pray.






26 comments:

  1. I suspect the Bishop of VA has a lump in his throat all the same. The idea that one can rejoice in Richmond over a 815 victory in Falls Church is a bit of a stretch for old Virginians. It may sound like a victory because the TEC legal position is seeking wider claim in Quincy, TX, Louisiana, SJ. My question is simply: Falls Church and Truro Church are major operations. (This may be why no one bothered to complain about +NJ negotiating a church property). Are we talking about 8,000 members and all that goes with that in terms of property maintenance, schools, programming, staff, etc.? The Diocese of VA has certainly had time to consider the huge loss, in that it will probably need to sell these two churches. So it will get the income, and the 815 legal team will say the hierarchy argument is emboldened (though this is not, as in FW, SC, etc, a case concerning matter of a diocese but of individual parishes). In other words, two historical VA churches will come to an end, and they are the kind of places with such a loyal following it will be necessary to completely refill them or sell them. It is hard to see how this is not a tragedy whatever side one is on, and of course a public scandal. The SCOTUS ruling yesterday upheld the LCMS in saying it had principles that ruled out lawsuits. It is hard not to see the wisdom of that principle and that ruling both.

    Msgr

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  2. This has never really been about the property. It's always been a mean-spirited, highly unChristian attempt to punish The Episcopal Church, drain our resources and bleed our coffers. Oh, and if they could prove their point and get the property for themselves, so much the better.

    Even so, I hope we can eventually and finally come to some peaceful resolve. I'm not holding my breath.

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  3. The real winners are the lawyers....they must be singing,
    " What a friend we have in ACNA and CANA"

    The CANA congregations could have spent the millions in legal fees on new properties and left with their heads held high.

    Has our lord been honoured?

    I think not.

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  4. The Diocese of VA may very well decide the best thing to do would be to work out a deal with Falls Church and Truro. A way forward could be reached that would benefit both sides.

    IMHO, the only thing that should be non-negotiable is that the "ex-Episcopalians" should pay the legal fees for the folly they created.

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  5. Ah yes, the property.

    Never mind the thousands lost due to the ever mind-boggling twists of leadership and spiritual fantasies in our TEC. The National Cathedral was recently the scene of the consecration of a new bishop wherein the lesbian speaker used the phrase "kick-ass" and the new bishop referred to Jesus as one of many spiritual masters.

    Yes, for pity's sake, keep the property. Turn it over to the Muslims as in New York. But you don't have the people - in ever-increasing numbers they are reacting to the out of control leadership that shouts "kick-ass" from the pulpits in this Church.

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  6. The thing that's really interesting about this opinion is that if finds that the diocese and the national church have control over the properties where the Dennis Canon, concerning trust principles, does NOT apply.

    The court affirmed its previous rulings that trusts imposed by the the Dennis Canon, and its diocesan counterpart, are not enforceable under Virginia law (pp. 47-51).

    Nonetheless, based on the whole structure of the constitution and canons as well as the course of the dealings between the parties, TEC and the diocese have control over the property:

    "The foregoing provides compelling evidence that TEC is a hierarchical church and that its dioceses, including the Diocese of Virginia, exercise control, supervision, and authority over each Episcopal local church and parish. That control, supervision, and authority absolutely extends to matters related to property, even when one excludes from consideration the trust canons." (p. 91)

    Instead of a trust interest, the court found that TEC and the diocese have a "contractual and proprietary interest" (p. 14) in the properties in this case.

    I understand that the schismatics in Texas are basing their claim on an argument that there can be no enforceable trusts under Texas law. This decision should give them pause.

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  7. David and John -- interesting. Has this been suggested? Obviously both sides have had lots of time to think about outcomes.

    Primrose -- yes indeed, let us see how the Supremes in TX deal with Ft Worth. In TX we are not talking about parishes bucking the diocese, but the corporation of FW disassociating from a voluntary association. Are you suggesting TX Supremes will be taking their lead from VA? And a completely different situation?

    That would be odd. Just as we see the Judge in Quincy throwing out a summary judgment request.

    Msgr

    WV: lawed

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  8. The transfer of a parish's real property requires the consent of the diocesan standing committee. What the vestries of the Episcopal parishes in question tried to do was transfer the property to CANA parishes, with the legal fiction that these were the same legal entities. The court quite rightly disagreed. I noted in one statement from the diocese a concern for the CANA congregations in the transition. I hope this concern results in concrete actions.

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  9. Whoa folks! Let's remember that Bishop Lee's protocol for departing parishes which may have led to a gentlemanly and morally fair settlement before more millions were spent was challenged and reversed by the "new Sheriff in town" namely KJS.

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  10. Christopher (P.)14/1/12 8:20 AM

    Anonymous--

    Often alleged. Proof?

    As pointed out some many months ago, Peter Lee's own take on this, as expressed in his diocesan council address and printed in the Virginia Episcopalian, recounts lack of faith on the part of the CANA folks as the reason for the tack taken.

    A hermeneutic of suspicion, of course, can spin his statement. But at least it's a statement on record, rather than surmising from the sidelines.

    So, again, proof?

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  11. Anon makes a good point.

    +Lee's protocol was of the same thinking as obtained in CFL and Dallas (and then more recently in NJ). Dallas and CFL are doing just fine, post departing parishes.

    But all of this changed when +Griswold stepped down and pressure was applied in VA. The cost has been enormous and the protocol way forward could have spared that. Tragic.

    Msgr

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  12. ( I was the anonymous 2 posts above but forgot to sign): the sherrif quote was acknowledged by Lee acc to many in VA AND personally to me 2 (!) assisting bishops in Dio of Ohio said +Hollingsworth had property litigated, against his own plans to settle out of court, PRECISELY and only because the PB said so or action could come his way.

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  13. And to Christopher P : surely you don't think this course of events is better than the protocol, do you? Further, Lee DID cancel it. Period. It was a unilateral decision.

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  14. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8949878082609465579#

    In her own words

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  15. Anonymous...you forgot to sign again. Three strikes and you are out. Please give a running name that identifies multiple comments by a single writer.

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  16. As a former member of a vestry of one of the Anglican churches in Virginia, I can tell you there is much that happened that does not see the light of the media. The diocese reversed promises early in the process, and the congregations voted in overwhelming majorities (of over 90%) to separate after 40 days of serious meetings of discernment by the congregations. The churches weren't taken away from Episcopal congregations. A tiny minority chose to worship elsewhere, while the large remainder felt the TEC had left them behind in doctrinal decisions over a 20 year period. Church buildings are not the total picture. Schools based on Christian principles, community program facilities, and centuries old cemeteries, resting places for families of the local faithful, are all hanging in the balance. It's clear the TEC cares nothing about these, just the money. Rob

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  17. I think that video link should be all that is necessary.

    I did not know about +Hollingsworth.

    The protocol could certainly have been preferable to the vast sums now spent. The PB simply asserts that she has the right to sue and the funds allocated to do so, with very little effort to say she has been so authorized by GC. (Hence to reserve of her predecessor).

    Msgr

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  18. Rob says, "TEC cares nothing about these, just the money." That's your opinion, and (my opinion) you are wrong.

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  19. Mark, If what you say is true, then why did the Diocese reverse itself on the protocol to amicably resolve the real estate issue when the TEC came into the picture? This is not opinion. It is fact. There was nothing 'episcopal' about having TEC step into the business of the Diocese. The Falls Church with a parish of 2,000 Anglicans will be be "given back" to 100 who left. It will be interesting to see how long it survives as an Episcopal church. -- Rob

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  20. "...AND personally to me 2" doesn't carry much weight if it comes from "Anonymous". I see that the false claim that it was the diocese who acted in bad faith and abandoned negotiation at the urging of the Wicked Witch has surfaced and is being spun hard. No surprise.

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  21. John 2007 writes: Sorry for not signing (it's a Blackberry thing...small keys make me skimp on words). Assisting bishops in Ohio Persell and Bowman told whole Vestry this. And, now that I think about, Bishop Williams agreed that Hollingswoth's stance was not the same as Katherine's. Didn't call her the wicked witch BTW. And, in one sense, this is no secret at all. This is her policy. It could have been otherwise in my opinion. I was just drawing attention to what this conversation forgot about the VA situation, namely, that a protocol had been developed and was unilaterally abandoned when KJS was put in office.

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  22. The only thing qualifying as spin is your comment, Lapin. Did you not notice that during the period when +FG was the PB he said he would not interfere in Dioceses. He kept his word. Dallas, CFL, et al negotiated with properties and kept the peace.

    Are you claiming this is just made-up?

    Msgr

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  23. Whatever, msgr. Life's too short. The important thing is that the Fat Lady has sung and has done so loudly and very clearly indeed, demonstrating the wisdom of remaining on the correct side of the law and giving others who might be tempted to follow in the steps of the Va CANA secessionist groups, cause to think long and hard.

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  24. Regarding the Falls Church, at least, I personally would be more than happy to sell or rent the new church building, which was built in 1992 and seats 800, to the ACNA while retaining the historic (1767-69) Falls Church building next to it for The Episcopal Church. I can support a division of property, but not a theft by schismatics.

    With the happy-clappy folks possessing the 1992 auditorium, it would be an appropriate time for TEC to restore the old Falls Church interior to its colonial appearance. The central pulpit arrangement in the chancel is a modern innovation, and was constructed in 1959 to meet “Evangelical” taste. The original colonial pulpit, which was high, reached by several steps and had a sounding board above it, was actually located in the north wall in the wide space between the two center windows. Also, until the Civil War, an altarpiece with the Our Father, Ten Commandments and the Creed were above the altar on the East Wall. These were destroyed during the rebellion and it would be proper to restore them for future generations of Episcopalians.

    Kurt Hill
    Brooklyn, NY

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  25. John 2007 again:
    KurtHill's idea is not bad.
    I would like to note, however, these points:
    1. TFC offered long ago under Lee to negotiate a buyout price.
    2. A fair minded interpretation would not label TFC as schismatic when TEC took action against Lambeth and primatial warnings not to tear sacramental unity--which could be seen as equally and precipitatingly schismatic. And of course "theft" is hardly accurate or equable.
    3m The last service I attended at TFC was not happy-clappy at all. Straight out of the BCP and Hymnal. Sermon by young priest was way too long for me and screen was redundant imho but a nice confident joy pervaded the place.
    4. No way, really, for the small TEC congregation to survive on its own.

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  26. Check Diocese of MD for a good model.

    The Diocese of VA litigation is a tragic example of failing to keep one's sense of proportion. Everyone loses, and the costs are staggering, with the outcome: empty churches needing to be sold.

    Msgr

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