Friday, October 24, 2008

Some very bad news...

Yesterday the New York State Appeals Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church in her lawsuit against a Rochester parish in a position similar too (but not exactly like) ours:

Here is the article in the Press and Sun:

"The parish in suburban Irondequoit quit supporting the diocese and the Episcopal Church of the USA after the 2003 ordination of its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

“We conclude that the Dennis Canons clearly establish an express trust in favor of the Rochester Diocese and the National Church, and that All Saints agreed to abide by this express trust either upon incorporation in 1927 or upon recognition as a parish in spiritual union with the Rochester Diocese in 1947,” Judge Theodore Jones Jr. wrote. The other six judges agreed.

All Saints’ attorney Eugene Van Voorhis had argued that the Dennis Canons, adopted in 1979 by the General Convention of the National Church, should not apply since they came nearly 30 years after it joined the diocese. He said the land and church were bought and built by the parishioners...more

While Jones agreed there was nothing in the original deeds or certificate of incorporation indicating the church property was held in trust for the diocese or National Church, he said applicable case law set in 1979 by the U.S. Supreme Court requires looking to the constitution of the general church."

This decision is not a good one. It essentially affirms property theft; that on the basis of a 1976 Canon a denomination may claim the property of parishes in existence long before. It is as if a CEO were argue that all of his employees' personal property belongs to his corporation so that when any one of them resigns, he takes their home and car.

We will be discussing this decision and the possible ramifications for Good Shepherd between services this coming Sunday.


eulogos said...

So in order not to be implicitly agreeing with this trust, a congregation would have had to withdraw from TEC as soon as it was notified of it?
Or is it being maintained that the 1979 law only put in writing what had been an agreement between the parties all along? That seems to me to be an unwarranted assumption!

I wish Mr Dague would do the research on the St. Michael's case. In that case the people established a church, a Byzantine Catholic Church, considering themselves to be part of the Catholic Church but to own their building and other property. When the Eparchy (Diocese), to be in accord with the policy of the Latin rite churches in this country, declared that all parish property would belong to the Eparchy, and ordered that deeds be amended to say this, the people of St. Michael's were not happy.
The Orthodox church offered them the option of continuing with exactly the same form of worship and the ownership of their own property (and they could have married priests). Some of their people identified more strongly with the idea of being Catholics and in Communion with Rome, and did not want to do this, but many identified more strongly with their Eastern tradition and form of worship and were willing to affiliate with the Orthodox hierarchy instead of Rome if it meant they could keep possession of their church. The issue went to court and was decided in 1939.
The court decided that the church building belonged to the congregation, and that the affiliation should be decided by majority vote. The Orthodox party won by a slim margin. The Catholic party left, and after 12 years of worshipping in other facilities (ie Roman rite parish gyms etc) they were able to build a church, Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church. St. Michaels kept the name "Greek Catholic Church" but it is actually an Orthodox church under the American Carpatho-Russyn Orthodox Diocese, or ACROD.

Anyway the legal circumstances do not seem all that different. I really think it is worth looking at as a precedent to set against the very unfortunate one for Good Shepherd which was set by this most recent decision.

Otherwise, things do not look good.
Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

I guess this means we won't be discussing the Joint Statement on Justification? I did print 20 copies of it for the class, which are in my car so I can't forget them.

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Hi Eulogos,

Very good points.

We will be talking about this on Sunday but please bring the printed copies of the Joint Declaration anyway