Diocese, Congregations Argue Virginia Property Case

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Lawyers for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia challenged the constitutionality of a 141-year-old Virginia statute that grants congregations control over local church property in the event of a denominational split in Fairfax County Circuit Court on May 28. They also claimed the law discriminates against hierarchical denominations in favor of congregational ones.

The statute was in turn defended by a representative of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and lawyers representing 11 departed congregations, who pointed out that the issue could have been avoided if the diocese had broken with its custom of placing title to parish property with the elected leadership of the local congregation.

Last month, Judge Randy Bellows ruled that a division within The Episcopal Church had occurred and that the statute was applicable in the case of the 11 congregations which have subsequently affiliated with the Anglican Church of Nigeria as the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The hearing was to determine whether Virginia Statute 59-7 was a constitutionally prohibited government intrusion into the internal working of a religious denomination.

At one point Judge Bellows noted that the diocese already has specific title to 29 plots of land and questioned the lead lawyer for the Diocese of Virginia why it had not required title of all church property to be held directly in the name of the diocese.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: Virginia* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal Issues

12 Comments
Posted May 29, 2008 at 6:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. francis wrote:

The Dennis Canon was developed after two hundred years because there is no unanimity among the churches or dioceses as to who owns the property.  The Virginia Diocese is a specific case.  Very few of their churches would have ever signed on.  This was the CG doing a shell game.  Individual churches were specifically NOT consulted on this and so the TEC lawyer specifically obfuscates the question.  Local churches do not agree with the Dennis Canon.  Local churches if asked would not sign over their properties.

May 29, 6:44 pm | [comment link]
2. MikeS wrote:

Williams Hurd, a lawyer representing the Diocese of Virginia, said that asking churches, some of which were incorporated before the Diocese of Virginia existed, to put title in the name of the bishop would be tantamount to saying that The Episcopal Church no longer trusts the local leadership and “would disturb the peace and unity of the church.”

Dio VA said they don’t want to “disturb the peace and unity of the church” by not trusting the local leadership?  That is an amazing quote.  So I guess they do trust the local leadership of the parishes involved and will be letting them leave with their property after all?

May 29, 6:58 pm | [comment link]
3. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

The Living Church said that the ruling would take at least a month, while BabyBlue heard Judge Bellows say that his ruling would be “soon.” Does that mean that, in judge-speak, “at least a month” equals “soon”?

Was this the only day of testimony? No more hearings? That has been unclear to me.

The Rabbit.

May 29, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
4. KevinBabb wrote:

“Does that mean that, in judge-speak, “at least a month” equals “soon”? “

Not necessarily, but such a meaning is implausible.  Remember, we brothers of John Marshall can, with a straight face, refer to a document of several hundred pages as a “brief.”

May 29, 9:00 pm | [comment link]
5. KevinBabb wrote:

Correct that…“such a meaning is _not_ implausible.”

(Note to self:  Bill 2/10 of an hour…“review and revise t19 comment.”)

May 29, 9:02 pm | [comment link]
6. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “. . . would be tantamount to saying that The Episcopal Church no longer trusts the local leadership and “would disturb the peace and unity of the church.” . . .

[Chuckle]

Hee hee.

. . . HA HAHAH AHHA AHAHAHAH AHAHA AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHAHA AHAH [snort, gasp] AHAHA HAHAHAHH AHAHA [thweep, ping . . . ggggghhhhhhhh clatter . . . thunk]

May 29, 9:23 pm | [comment link]
7. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

One free pass to the Laffin’ Place for Sarah.
(Hold on a sec… She’s already there! How’d she get past security without a pass?)
The Rabbit.

May 29, 9:42 pm | [comment link]
8. seminarian wrote:

Br-er Rabbit.

This was the only day of arguments.  However the issues have ben extensively briefed in numerous rounds of briefs filed by not only TEC and the DioVA but by the attorneys for the CANA congregations, as well as numerous amici briefs on both the part of the attorney general and also other denominations.  That is why there is only one day of arguments.

May 29, 10:06 pm | [comment link]
9. Cennydd wrote:

Sarah, MY stomach hurts, too!  Oh BOY, does it hurt!!  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

May 30, 1:04 am | [comment link]
10. Chris wrote:

so the Dio. Va and ECUSA lawyers basically said the Denis Canon is in effect if you try to leave, and not really until then.  An incredibly dubious stance…..

May 30, 7:30 am | [comment link]
11. pendennis88 wrote:

Now here is something odd that I noticed, in looking at the bios of the attornies named in the article.  CANA and the Diocese of Va are represented by experienced First Amendment lawyers.  The counsel to TEC is a products liability and toxic tort litigation attorney.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it would seem to stand out to someone used to hiring high-priced legal talent for bet-the-company cases.

May 30, 8:48 am | [comment link]
12. CanaAnglican wrote:

11. Dear Pen,

Sorry to take your words out of context, but it broke me up to see the way you had strung together at the beginning of line three the following words:

    “TEC is a products liability and toxic”

Perhaps the only lawyers they have available are
products liability and toxic tort litigation attorneys.
That’s what they need, so that’s what they have.

May 30, 9:53 am | [comment link]
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