Canadian Anglicans fight over parish properties

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Breakaway Anglicans and the national church sit down today in a last-ditch effort to resolve a potentially ugly dispute over who gets the keys to three local churches.

The three congregations, in Oakville, Lowville and St. Catharines, all voted recently to split from the Anglican Church of Canada, which they see as having become too liberal. If no agreement is reached at the closed-door session between the churches and the Diocese of Niagara, the matter goes to court Friday.

"It's not in anybody's interest for this to end up in court," said Cheryl Chang, lawyer for the breakaway churches.

Chang will argue today the disputed properties were built to uphold a historic Anglican tradition that the church itself no longer follows.

"When people gave money to build the churches, they gave it because the believed in the Anglican Church," Chang said.

"They believed in the faith that the Anglican Church was teaching and that it is bound to."

The Anglican Church of Canada is among the most liberal in the worldwide communion, which Chang called "a breach of trust" with past generations.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of Canada

Posted February 26, 2008 at 3:29 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. William P. Sulik wrote:

Question:  Which is worse, the embezzlement of $500,000 by a bookkeeper, in the story below, or the dissipation of faith by a group of Bishops, as discussed herein?

Compare Matthew 6:19-21

February 26, 5:16 pm | [comment link]
2. Bill in Ottawa wrote:

Money can be replaced much more easily than bishops grin.

February 26, 5:51 pm | [comment link]
3. Observing wrote:

Canada looks like its going to make the same mistake as the US. Sue the leaving congregations and claim their properties. It seems like the smart move - put a good ounce of fear in anyone wanting to leave that they will have to start over.

Only problem is it actually makes more congregations leave. Witness the exodus in the US of the last few years. Why? Because now everything freezes in those conservative congregations remaining. Want to start a capital campaign to refurbish anything? Forget it, everyone can see the writing on the wall, they are going to lose the building so its a non starter. Want to encourage evangelism? Forget it, why would anyone introduce someone to a church which they feel is teaching heresy. Want to go to seminary? Forget it, no point in spending that amount of time and money to get a qualification that is probably going to be worthless in a decade. So the only way for the congregation to actually move forwards is to leave and start over. Its hard, but it ends up a more healthy congregation, as the people have a vision to unite around once again.

Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish”

The lawsuits are destroying what vision remains for these congregations. More will follow…..

February 26, 5:57 pm | [comment link]
4. Michael D wrote:

I think the argument that starts with “when people gave money to start this church…” is a strong one.  The old liberal diocese would only have a good counter-argument if they could convincingly say “we have a strong congregation waiting in the wings to inhabit this church property…” In that case (and only that case) both the “breakaway” churches (who are actually the “stay-in-the-communion” churches) and the old liberal dioceses could claim that they had a way forward that would use the property as the original builders intended.
The reality is often much different: the old diocese is already closing down churches and selling them off, and the same would likely happen to the fought-over church building.  In that case, the only way to keep using the buildings as envisioned by the builders, is to pass them on to the “departing” congregations.
It seems to me that this argument needs absolutely no analysis of whose theology is correct - a delicate topic that secular judges will refuse to base their decisions on.

February 26, 6:48 pm | [comment link]
5. Abigail Ann Young wrote:

Well, the thing is that in the Diocese of Toronto, at least, the diocesan ownership of church land and buildings is pretty clearly established. I think it may even be covered by the governing Act. Parishes really are creatures of the diocese, legally. Our parish was, for instance, disestablished and some of our land and our air rights sold to a developer, and the proceeds divided between the diocese and the parish-in-waiting, with some of the money used to restore the building. When we were able to be re-established, we got control of our share of the proceeds. But the point is, there was no question but that what the diocese did was completely legal. And it seems to me that in fairness the same principles should be applied across the board to all parishes. So I can’t really see that the departing congregations have a leg to stand on unless they can allege a breach of trust, which is what it sounds like they are arguing for. It’s a pity that it has come to this, but I don’t see that the congregations have a right to take the building over to a new diocese, or that the existing diocese should let them do so without coming to some kind of financial arrangement.

February 26, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
6. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Oh, the Canucks will follow the ECUSA/TEC/GCC in this matter of law suits, of course.  Like their former Primate said to PB KJS - “We’re behind you in this.”  Recall that was whether or not to agree to Dar es Salaam.  With such powerful figures on the world stage, you really can get what they say…and do.

February 26, 7:40 pm | [comment link]
7. Michael D wrote:

Assuming Abigail is correct, let’s shame Bishop Johnson into giving the properties to the departing churches even though he doesn’t have to.  He has no moral justifaction for keeping them - only a financial one.  Live on the edge, Bishop. Take the big leap of faith. Be a hero.  Fight for the Kingdom.  Give those parishes what should be rightfully theirs.

February 26, 7:44 pm | [comment link]
8. Tom Roberts wrote:

5 et al- there are a very few ACC parishes which own outright their real estate, generally because some individual donor built the church and donated it to the corporation which owns the facility that the local diocese uses to conduct services. But these are very rare and over time tend to be absorbed into the diocesan real estate holdings if that corporation ever has financial troubles. Most of the Canadian parishes are virtually equivalent to ecusa missions, legally and functionally. Clerical deployments are also much more heavily influenced by the local diocesan than in the US.
All this makes me wonder how +Westminster has such issues controlling his dissident parishes and clergy, but I’m guessing that Ingham has other things to do than herd those cats.

February 26, 9:21 pm | [comment link]
9. jamesw wrote:

Tom - However, note also that when the Diocese of the Caribou in British Columbia went bankrupt several years ago as a result of a damage settlement against it (Indian residential schools) the diocese successfully argued that it did NOT own the parish properties.  Such an argument would only work if the actual property deeds were not in the name of the diocese.

I do not believe that property ownership is quite the open and shut case in Canada that some are claiming it to be.  Having said that, I do believe that the Canadian courts are much more “politically correct” then the American courts are, and I would have a hunch that if it came to appeals, the conservatives would need to have a *much* better legal case then the liberals to prevail, as the courts would bend over backwards to find for the liberal pro-gay party.

February 26, 11:45 pm | [comment link]
10. Tom Roberts wrote:

9 There is some interesting history behind those native school abuse cases. Indeed, that was the defendants’ argument, but it was never really tested as the deep pockets of the those defendents were found to be rather shallow. I got the idea that nobody wanted to actually try for a lien against whitened financial sepulchres. Then the issue of provincial government culpability in not supervising the situations in those schools needed non-resolution, and the cases sort of disappeared into the limbo of having the provinces paying off the litigants with some funding from the church. It was far from a duel to the death like unto the suits against the US Catholic Church dioceses. Most Canadian indeed.
So like good Anglicans, apparently these dioceses reserve the right to say one thing one year and the exact opposite the next, because the short term memories or shallow interests of the church membership, who never seem to come to grips that it is their church that is mendaciously using the truth in a ductile manner depending on how current circumstances might lie from moment to moment.

February 27, 12:58 am | [comment link]
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