Thinking Anglicans

Virginia Supreme Court rules in favour of TEC

It has been a full year since we last reported on the long-running property disputes between CANA and the Diocese of Virginia. (Previous reports here, and also here.)

This week the Supreme Court of Virginia made a ruling. Here is the Diocese of Virginia press release: Supreme Court of Virginia rules in favor of diocese.

In a dispute over the ownership of The Falls Church, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled today in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. The decision affirms an earlier ruling returning Episcopalians to their church home at The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va. The Falls Church Anglican had sought to overturn the lower court’s ruling in favor of the Diocese. The court also remanded a portion of the case back to the Fairfax Circuit Court for a decision to determine a minor fractional difference in funds owed to the Diocese of Virginia.

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court of Virginia has once again affirmed the right of Episcopalians to worship in their spiritual home at The Falls Church Episcopal,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia. “This decision ensures that Episcopalians will have a home for years to come in Falls Church, and frees all of us, on both sides of this issue, to preach the Gospel and teach the faith unencumbered by this dispute.”

The court also held that the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church have a trust interest in the property, in addition to the contractual and proprietary interests already found by the lower court. This provides greater certainty regarding church property ownership.

“The Falls Church Episcopal has continued to grow and thrive throughout this difficult time,” said Edward W. Jones, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff. “This ruling brings closure to a long but worthwhile struggle, and will allow the members of the Episcopal congregation to put the issue behind them and to focus their full energies on the ministries of the Church. We hope that The Falls Church Anglican will join us in recognizing this decision as a final chapter in the property dispute.”

Bishop Johnston added, “We pray that all those who have found spiritual sustenance at The Falls Church Episcopal and our other churches will continue to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and love.”

Nearly a year ago, the Diocese settled the conflict over property with six other congregations. The Falls Church Episcopal and the other continuing and newly formed congregations, including Church of the Epiphany, Herndon; St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge; St. Paul’s, Haymarket; and St. Stephen’s, Heathsville, spent the past year growing their membership, supporting outreach and strengthening their church communities. Members of the Diocese have joined them in these efforts through Dayspring, a diocesan-wide initiative that is bringing a spirit of vision and rebirth to our shared ministries as a church.

Read the full opinion of the Supreme Court of Virginia online.

Some press reports:

Washington Post Episcopal Church wins Virginia Supreme Court ruling

Falls Church News-Press Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Decision Conveying Falls Church Property to Diocese

Update
There is a letter from The Reverend John Yates to the CANA congregation: The Falls Church statement on VA Supreme Court decision.

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Jeremy
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Jeremy

This may not be the final word, as there may be an effort by the splinter group to appeal to the US Supreme Court. Not that any such effort would have much of a chance of succeeding….

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Yet another ruling in the Supreme Court of The U.S. that favours the right of TEC (The Episcopal Church) in America to retain properties alienated by various schismatic dioceses and parishes of TEC. The ‘Dennis Canon’, protecting TEC from the prospect of losing out on property ownership to schismatic entities, has again proved vital. Although the situation is somewhat different from that pertaining in the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, where a schismatic Bishop tried to hang on to the property of the Church in which he was formerly the Bishop of Harare; the principle is, nevertheless, quite similar: Departing entities… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court of Virginia has once again affirmed the right of Episcopalians to worship in their spiritual home at The Falls Church Episcopal”

Indeed, grateful. Every once in a while, the levers of the State stumble upon the Lords’s work (I believe, OCICBW).

God grant reconciliation, in God’s Good Time.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I’m originally from the Northern Virginia area where these parishes are located. It is in the suburbs of Washington D.C. But I’ve only worshiped at a couple of the parishes as a guest, because I didn’t grow up in the Episcopal Church (Falls Church was the church of my mother, however). When I was a guest numerous times at St. Margaret’s in the 1990’s, sporting my Episcopal Church/AIDS button, I was welcomed just fine and people were curious about the AIDs ministry. I sensed no judgement whatsoever and they had a dynamite female priest. And then there was a distinct… Read more »

The Apostle Paul
Guest
The Apostle Paul

“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among… Read more »

cseitz
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cseitz

Fr Smith–The US Supreme Court has heard no cases whatsoever. You are mistaken. In Va, the language ‘church diocese’ exists in the statute and influenced the decision in consequence. No other state has such language. In SC, the courts have ruled against the position of the PB and her chancellor. The judge will hear testimony in Illinois this coming week; he ruled against the request for summary judgment and made it clear that hierarchy may well end with the Bishop (the view the present PB herself took in an amicus brief in DC a decade ago). We are awaiting the… Read more »

Concerned Anglican
Guest
Concerned Anglican

This is good news as it has wider implications for the future of the Anglican Communion.

The American religious world is in any case quite different to anywhere else. Competing and fissiparous denominations are the norm and catholicity as such hardly exists. The endless number of mostly protestant groups of various kinds mirrors the competitive commercial world in the States. The ANCA and others are exactly in this mould. Anglicanism would be well advised to keep a good distance from them if it wishes to avoid complete disintegration into self-righteous and self affirming groups.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I feel very deeply for John Yates and his congregation, they have done what they could and TEC did what it was obliged to do. The Episcopal congregation too has been through much pain, often over friends and even family who have left. It seems to the casual observer that both congregations are flourishing, that is good. Outcomes elsewhere are unpredictable, it illbehoves us to make all this suffering a matter of “winning” or triumph. All of us are losers n the present division, that is the only certainty. I am particularly sad for those (some of them my friends)… Read more »

Charlotte
Guest
Charlotte

Back in the 1970s, earlier breakaway groups had tried to lay claim to Episcopal Church assets and failed in every instance. The courts had consistently ruled against them. So I will never really understand why the new group of breakaways had convinced themselves so completely that the courts would rule in their favor, when all precedents were against them. Many of the Falls Church group were, in fact, Bush-era neocons. There is a long list of other things that, against all experience, they’d convinced themselves were true: * that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, * that the Iraq war… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I think, Concerned Anglican, that this view of Anglicanism in America is highly distorted. Anglicanism in the US doesn’t actually seem that different from other corners of the globe, especially amongst our cousins. We came up against an impossible situation. Throw women and LGBT sisters and brothers under a bus or face schism. There was no middle way, certainly not for the culture warriors from my home region in Northern Virginia. This is the problem that CoE faces now. Is there a way to not humiliate and discriminate against women and yet provide for those who can’t accept WO and… Read more »

FD Blanchard
Guest
FD Blanchard

I think the “competing and fissiparous” nature of religious life in the USA is a sign of healthy vitality. We take religion seriously enough here to argue about it. I don’t think very secular and increasingly anti-clerical England with its state church is any model of success.

John Wirenius
Guest

While the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the Great Unpleasantness directly, the Dennis Canon tracks the Court’s description of how a hierarchical church can protect its property rights in local property “by providing, in the corporate charter or the constitution of the general church, that the identity of the local church is to be established in some other way, or by providing that the church property is held in trust for the general church and those who remain loyal to it.” Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979). Courts are notoriously reluctant to destabilize property rights,… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Mr Wirenius, Let’s see how the TX Supreme Court rules. It shouldn’t take much longer. They have been deliberating since November. I’d guess we could hear any day now, and certainly not later than end of summer.

The Quincy case starts up on Monday of this week.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“the great preponderance of authority is in TEC’s favor” — wouldn’t that be nice!

The Cathedral, St Michael’s, St Philips–whose congregations are 95% behind the Diocese of SC–will simply be handed over to the ‘national church,’ along with 30 others.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“They were not betrayed by TEC.” In the record are the efforts of the Bishop of VA to negotiate with the parishes in NoVA and reach a settlement. Why? Because the PB at the time believed he had no role in dioceses and acted accordingly. So +Howe in CFL and +Stanton in Dallas reached property settlements with parishes wanting to leave. +Lee was also doing this — until the present PB demanded that he cease. A new ‘policy’ was followed. Think of all the money that has been wasted because of this change in procedure and invention of a role… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“Think of all the money that has been wasted because of this change in procedure and invention of a role that no PB ever claimed before.”

Perhaps because no previous PB had been confronted with a concerted, multi-state, multi-diocesan effort to alienate and appropriate property held in trust for the national church.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Are you saying that +Griswold was wrong because he viewed TEC Bishops’ authority to negotiate beyond his own remit?

With his leadership on this matter, consistent with the Constitution, he avoided litigation and the spending of vast sums of money.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Exactly, Pat O’Neill. No previous PB faced what KJS has, and she would have been remiss to have just let it go. The only people who believe she should have are the bigots. Not only are there a lot of people wanting to stay in the larger church, there is also the case of rapid evolution on SSM in US society. By 2020, only 7 years from now, the vast majority – not just the current slim majority – the vast majority of Americans are going to be in support of SSM. TEC is not exactly on the vanguard with… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Good points, FD Blanchard, on the robust nature of religion in America, an opposite and more informed view than that of Concerned Anglican. Anglicanism in the US is very strong. It was interesting that the churches formed still have much of the flavor of their founding. Thus, Virginia churches, formed at a time of “low church” have names like Falls Church, and Aquia Church. Meanwhile the US Midwest was established during the Oxford movement and therefore Chicago and Minneapolis have a lot of Anglo-Catholic or at least “high church” practices. Out West is a mix. We have tons of “catholicity,”… Read more »

Steve Lusk
Guest
Steve Lusk

Actually, cseitz has muddled the chronology. +Lee and the breakaway parishes had drafted (but not yet approved) a protocol that would have allowed for a more amicable split. But the breakaway parishes elected not to wait. The wording of their ballots was tailored not to the draft protocol but to the Virginia statute on separations (which in the end was ruled inapplicable to the situation). It was only after the vote — which gave the Diocese the choice of accepting a fait accompli or going to court — that the national church became involved.

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“Are you saying that +Griswold was wrong because he viewed TEC Bishops’ authority to negotiate beyond his own remit? With his leadership on this matter, consistent with the Constitution, he avoided litigation and the spending of vast sums of money.” Not precisely. I’m saying that, at the time Griswold made his decision, the nature of the ACNA et al “movement” was not yet apparent… and by the time Jefferts Schori was in office, it was — which required a different approach to the problem. Further, as Steve Lusk notes, you have the chronology wrong and have (deliberately, I fear) misrepresented… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

No, the water is muddied by your note. 1.There is no factual doubt whatsoever that +Griswold held that he had no authority in individual dioceses on this matter. Do you dispute this? 2. The timeline is also clear: Bishops in CFL, Dallas, W-LA and elsewhere were free to settle property disputes amicably and did. (Even under the present PB, +NJ did as well). 3. This was the uncontroversial policy of the PB and 815 and it was in effect until he retired. 4. The change came with the present PB and the perfect storm of her lack of experience and… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

How many parishes left with church property during Griswold’s tenure? Which ones and which dioceses? What did the “amicable” solutions look like? Did the exiting parishes buy the property? What happened to the people within the parishes that didn’t want to leave TEC? What about endowments and whatnot?

I remember people leaving, but not taking the property, in Southern Ohio during that time.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

One cannot help but wonder whether the so-called ‘ACI’, to which cseitz belongs, is closer in ethos to Bishop Lawrence of the schismatic ‘diocese of S.C.’ than they are to TEC – which is the legitimate ‘Anglican Church’ in the United States. His constant argument in favour of the schismatics would seem to invalidate the ‘Anglican’ part of the title ACI.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Fr Smith, I am surprised that you now reflexively stoop to this; I am a third generation TEC Priest and have 32 years experience as a proud Episcopalian. For some reason you never deal with realities but only with pre-formed slogan. The issues before us are very clear. I have never indulged personal attacks in your case; I have no idea who you are and it would be disrespectful. The facts re: leaving parishes during +Griswold’s tenure are not difficult to ascertain. Valiant efforts in CFL, Dallas, W-LA and elsewhere are in the public domain. Christ Church Plano is one… Read more »

dr.primrose
Guest
dr.primrose

“One cannot help but wonder whether the so-called ‘ACI’, to which cseitz belongs, is closer in ethos to Bishop Lawrence of the schismatic ‘diocese of S.C.’ than they are to TEC.” This isn’t a matter of “wonder”; it’s a matter of ACI’s stated position. See its “Statement On South Carolina” ( http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/2010/04/statement-on-south-carolina/ ), which states things like: “The Anglican Communion Institute has often called attention in recent years to the subversion of the fundamental polity of The Episcopal Church now afoot, and we stand fully behind Bishop Lawrence and the diocese of South Carolina in their defense of our constitutional… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Primrose–in every single instance of involvement in legal and public domain, we have rejected the ‘TEC over here’ and ‘others’ over there. We are defendants of TEC’s constitution. I accept that it is very exciting to depict us otherwise, but your quote is exactly accurate — ‘the subversion of the polity of TEC’ is where our concerns manifest themselves. We support any Bishop who seeks to uphold the TEC ‘fundamental polity.’

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“I am a third generation TEC Priest and have 32 years experience as a proud Episcopalian.”

– cseitz –

You must forgive me, Christopher, If I mistake the your statement here as being totally different from what you have actually been expressing AGAINST TEC. ‘Pride’ in being part of TEC does not seem to have been the motivation for your remarks here on T.A..

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Fascinating that Dr. Seitz and the ACI do not include the Dennis Canon in their interpretation of TEC’s polity…although it has been consistently upheld by the courts.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Thank you for the link to ACI, Dr. Primrose. I couldn’t find the robust theological treatises by leading female theologians. Nor the passionate ones on the call to mission for the poor and marginalized. I’m sure I just missed them.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

I do forgive you Fr Smith.

I confess I have never understood how you have consistently failed to see the actions of faithful Bishops like Salmon, Howe, Stanton, MacPherson, Smith, Bauerschmidt, Lambert and others as anything but what it is: robust defense of the TEC constitution out of concern to preserve TEC from disordered power plays and the marginalization of traditional Episcopalians.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Mr O’Neill. No, what is fascinating is how purposefully one can ignore the legal reality. What is happening this week? There is a trial in Illinois. What is at issue? The Judge dismissed the request for summary judgment from TEC agents and roundly so because he disputes their take on the Dennis Canon, hierarchy, and the constitution. He is a Roman Catholic. He has stated in the record that he does not see the polity of TEC as TEC’s ‘provisional Bishop’ and agents have presented it. Hence, a trial. Expert witnesses will give sworn testimony on both sides. He will… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

cseitz says: I confess I have never understood how you have consistently failed to see the actions of faithful Bishops like Salmon, Howe, Stanton, MacPherson, Smith, Bauerschmidt, Lambert and others as anything but what it is: robust defense of the TEC constitution out of concern to preserve TEC from disordered power plays and the marginalization of traditional Episcopalians. The minute I hear complaints about constitutional powers and whatnot from spiritual leaders who aren’t working every angle to exclude me from the Body of Christ, I’ll take a more focused look. At the end of the day, it is clear that… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

In the light of C. Seitz’s further comment here – about the ‘loyalty’ of the dissenting bishops he speaks of (above), one cannot but suspect that the real object of their institutional disaffection is the Presiding Bishop, Dr. Katharine Jefferts- Schori. She has been labelled ‘inexperienced’, guilty of ‘disordered power plays and the marginalization of traditional Episcopalians’. Can Dr.Seitz explain, then, why she was elected Presiding Bishop? Was it because of these factors he has highlighted? Obviously most Episcopalians thought that Bishop Katharine had the qualities necessary to lead, in the situation of schismatic departure (ACNA) that had overtaken TEC… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“Mr O’Neill. No, what is fascinating is how purposefully one can ignore the legal reality. What is happening this week? There is a trial in Illinois. What is at issue? The Judge dismissed the request for summary judgment from TEC agents and roundly so because he disputes their take on the Dennis Canon, hierarchy, and the constitution.” To dispute something is not to reject it; it is to question it. The judge in Quincy is not convinced of TEC’s take on the relevant points…he has not rendered a decision in the case. He is prepared to hear both sides argue… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Judges make mistakes. The trial-court judge in Virginia got the Dennis Canon wrong too.

The Virginia Supreme Court, however, ruled that there is indeed a constructive trust in favor of the Episcopal Church.

It may take an appeal in Illinois to establish the same principle in that state.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“it has been consistently upheld by the courts” — except where it hasn’t been.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“the real object of their institutional disaffection” — is an inaccurate characterization. These Bishops remain loyal to the history and identity of TEC as established in its constitution and mission. The PB herself signed an amicus brief in favor of the very position these Bishops has asserted more recently. And for that they were charged with Title IV offenses.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I don’t think that all of these “loyal bishops” are loyal to the fact that a woman PB was elected. Wasn’t it Howe who said that he couldn’t be under the authority of a woman? Male headship and all that? Certainly the PB can sign legal documents pertaining to any diocese in TEC, she’s the leader of TEC. I question whether it’s OK for diocesan bishops to sign on to documents in other dioceses if it is against TEC! It isn’t that difficult a concept. Yes, of course the attacks on the PB have a lot to do with the… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Dr. Seitz:

Please point out a jurisdiction where a final decision has been made that the Dennis Canon was not upheld by the court. Texas and Quincy don’t count–no decision has been reached in those cases. That the judges therein refused a summary judgment is not indicative of their eventual decision at trial, no matter how much you may wish it were.

MarkBrunson
Guest

“Loyal?” I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the use of ACNA doublespeak. Why engage *with* such obvious untruth? Simply call it untruth for those who might confused and leave the dead to bury the dead, rather than try to reason with the dead.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

So your point actually was: in the several instances where the Dennis Canon has been determined to be in some kind of effect, that has been the determination. In others cases, that has not been so, and we await some very important rulings (TX, Illinois, et al). In one state, things did not go as planned for TEC (SC). In the vast majority of others, there has been no judicial determination whatsoever. I believe it was Justice Blackmun who said the Dennis Canon and the very idea of ‘implied trust’ were very fragile legally. Soon we will hear with TX… Read more »

curious
Guest
curious

In the interest of full disclosure…Dr. Seitz, according to 2011 tax returns is the President of ACI, and interestingly, although he was compensated at a level of 33,000 plus 5,940 in health benefits for 10 hours per week and the institute is not noted as having any office expenses, assuming at it’s alleged office in Beaumont Tx, almost the entire cost of operating the institute seems to be outside contactor fees paid to Dr. Seitz. Great work if you can get it!He appears to working to set up a successor organization in Dallas, where he lives and institute funds and… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“… in the several instances where the Dennis Canon has been determined to be in some kind of effect, that has been the determination. “

Where, exactly–save in the unique circumstance of South Carolina and All Saints, where a quitclaim had been given decades before the Dennis Canon came into existence–would the Dennis Canon NOT be in effect?

BabyBlue
Guest

“Wasn’t it Howe who said that he couldn’t be under the authority of a woman? Male headship and all that?”

No, Bishop John W. Howe is a public supporter of women in all ranks of the ordained ministry. He was in fact one of the first evangelicals to make the scriptural case for it.

bb

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

This is tiresome.

Obviously (one might have thought) it is NOT in effect in any place the courts have not so ruled.

Viz., most places.

As Blackmun said, ‘it will be tested’ and so it is being.

Are you aware of the legal realities in a United States where there are State courts? I can’t remember where you live.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Thank you, BB, in helping provide basic information about +Howe.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Oops, I don’t want to diss Howe on WB’s. I got him confused with Iker in Fort Worth. It’s hard to keep it all straight, the splinter groups started in opposition to WO. Since in the church in the US I’m more subject to homophobia than misogyny, it isn’t that important to me to keep track of the ones who support women but would throw me under a bus. I lumped them together. It may not be fair, but it comes out the same to me.

John Wirenius
Guest

Dr. Seitz, I’ve largely sat this one out, but as a proud Episcopalian and third generation Episcopal priest, you’re saying that one of the canons you’ve sworn to obey is only in effect where secular courts of last resort have enforced it with the coercive power of the State? Even by this sad metric, the vast majority of cases have been resolved in favor of TEC, as this year’s litigation report from A.S. Haley (pre-Virginia decision) documents: http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/01/annual-litigation-summary-for-episcopal.html The only case I’m aware of where the property has been finally awarded to a “departing” parish or diocese is All Saints,… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Dr. Seitz: I live in the US. And I am very aware of the nature of our legal system — you, apparently, are not. Courts only rule on things like the Dennis Canon in places where it is challenged. In all other places — that is, most of the states in this country — it is in effect because it has been voted on by GC and accepted by the dioceses and parishes in those areas. And, except for the two cases where decisions remain to be rendered (Texas and Illinois), every time the Dennis Canon has been challenged, it… Read more »