Thinking Anglicans

US Supreme Court will not hear Falls Church case

Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post reports: Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of dispute over Episcopal Church’s property in Va.

Seven years after 15 conservative Virginia congregations made global news by breaking away from the Episcopal Church — and refusing to give up tens of millions of dollars in property — the Supreme Court on Monday ended the complex legal dispute by declining to take up an appeal by the last remaining plaintiff.

The Falls Church Anglican, a 2,000-member breakaway congregation, had asserted that the nearly 300-year-old sprawling property belonged to the Anglican group because the Episcopal Church “left” its umbrella Anglican tradition by becoming more liberal in interpreting scripture and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy…

Mary Frances Schjonberg at ENS reports this way: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Falls Church Anglican case. This article contains many links to earlier documents.

More than seven years after a majority of clergy and members of several Diocese of Virginia congregations declared they had left the Episcopal Church and the question of ownership of the property involved began to be litigated, the U.S. Supreme Court refused on March 10 to hear the appeal of the last congregation still at odds with the Episcopal Church and the diocese.

The court gave no reason for deciding not to review a 2013 ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirming an earlier circuit court ruling that returned The Falls Church property to loyal Episcopalians to use for the mission of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. The court’s decision was included in its March 10 order list and was one of 121 requests for review that it refused.

All that remains in the case is for the Diocese of Virginia to request an order from the Fairfax Circuit Court releasing to the diocese more than $2.6 million that was in the Falls Church’s bank accounts at the time of the split and that the court has been holding in escrow during the progression of the case…

Diocese of Virginia: press release and letter to diocese.

There is no press release as yet from CANA or ACNA. The latest email to the Falls Church Anglican congregation can be found here.

We received word today that the United States Supreme Court has denied our church’s petition for certiorari and declined to hear our case. This means that the long legal process in which our church has been involved since we were sued by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2007 has come to its end.

We have pursued this legal process out of the conviction that it is one of the ministries that God has entrusted to our church and out of our desire to be faithful to God’s calling to see it through to the end. We are grateful that our nation’s civil justice system allows us this recourse and we thank the Supreme Court for its consideration of our petition.

We will keep praying for the many churches and dioceses that remain embroiled in lawsuits over their property with The Episcopal Church or other denominations. We will continue to pray for clarification of this area of law, which has become increasing convoluted and confusing for the lower courts since the Supreme Court last addressed it in 1979…

A.S. Haley has published Heartbreaker: U. S. Supreme Court Denies Falls Church Petition.

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badman
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badman

A S Haley has been wrong about these cases all the way through, but nothing dents his confidence that he is right and everyone else is wrong. The post you link to here is a classic: it proceeds on the basis that his reading of Jones is correct, and then complains that, despite him being correct, the Virginia Supreme Court, the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Georgia Supreme Court, the New York Supreme Court, and the California Supreme Court all say something different. From this, he concludes that all five Supreme Courts are wrong, and he is still correct. Now the… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Excellent news. The price of conscience is having to give up your real estate.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“This means that the long legal process in which our church has been involved since we were sued by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2007 has come to its end.”

I thought the breakaway congregations were the ones that initiated legal action. True?

Josh L
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Josh L

I believe that the breakaway church had no right to the property. But the bigger matter is asking why people do not want to stay with TEC. What in the world will they do with that property? There are close to 3000 people who left and 150 who wanted to stay. Empty buildings, office space, huge classrooms…all empty. TEC is currently renting that main area to an evangelical church (more conservative than ACNA) and the remaining TEC church is meeting in the chapel. There are no Episcopal churches in the US who will suddenly gain a thousand members to support… Read more »

robert ian Williams
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robert ian Williams

And who was the real winner?..the lawyers on both sides!

The “trads” have made a record of the TEC legal spending, but what about their own? However you can rest assured that Minns, Lawrence, Duncan et al will not lose a penny of their own money. Not even their TEC pensions.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Mr Hayley ‘heartbreak’ story was bound to end in this way. It simply is not cricket to leave your parent Church and expect to keep the family jewels.
The fact that lawyers have been the primary beneficiaries in all of the litigation that has been going on, with intentional schismatics demanding ‘their rights’, should give Mr. Hayley pause, before he backs other attempts to steal the property of TEC.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

Josh:

TEC and the Virginia diocese can use the property for many purposes–they can continue to rent it, gaining revenue that can be used to support their missions; they can repurpose it as a school, or some other function; they can sell it and, again, use the revenue for their missions.

None of this would be possible if the property were given to the schismatics.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Josh, although the continuing Episcopal congregation has had the property for two years now, I wouldn’t expect many members of the breakaway group to come back. By now, they are doubtless steeped in their own narrative. The question, however, is whether that homophobic narrative is one that they will want to maintain, going forward. The Post article was revealing because it suggests that the breakaway congregation is trying to downplay the very reasons why it broke away. Reading between the lines, it looks as though they do not want to be known as the “anti-gay church.” They have lost the… Read more »

Chris H.
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Chris H.

Jeremy, there were a few exceptions. Originally these were just internal matters in each diocese and some bishops sold a few churches to breakaways when there wasn’t enough of a remnant to continue and I think this church was negotiating with the previous bishop to buy the property but TEC national stepped in. Some of these historic churches had local deeds, not to the diocese. Josh, I’m not sure TEC cared. The point was to prove that TEC owned it no matter what, especially a beautiful campus like this, though I’m sure you are correct they hoped people were attached… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

I respect Mr. Haley and his reflections, but I think the problem he has is that from the outset he has gotten the wrong end of the stick. He sees this as a question of ownership, when in fact it is a question of access and use. Member congregations of hierarchical churches (such as TEC — and yes, I know there’s a school of thought that attempts rather incongruously to argue that TEC is not hierarchical) may well hold title to their property, including deeds and other instruments, but they do not possess absolute rights concerning the disposition of that… Read more »

Concerned Anglican
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Concerned Anglican

Josh L – The loyal TEC congregation are up to 200 now which is 25% growth in a short period, in the C of E that would be considered very good.

Of course TEC can’t allow its buildings to be commandeered by breakaway factions, it would set a precedent for anarchy and as Father Ron Smith puts it ‘theft’.

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“As for why people are leaving…{TEC}.” One third of Episcopal dioceses have actually posted growth in the last couple of years, and that is true of my parish. This is way out-of-line with general trends of church going. I haven’t seen the data on the reasons for the growth. At my parish, young families say they don’t want to raise their children in a bigoted atmosphere. The demographics are that our city is growing, especially around transportation centers, where our church is located. We maintain excellent liturgy and music. Our outreach is good, not great, but good. We provide easy… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Chris H, both I and the breakaway group were referring to the parishes in the Diocese of Virginia. I’m questioning the accuracy of their press release. Can you defend it?

cseitz
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cseitz

I think the best way to state it is: two-thirds of all TEC dioceses declined at a much steeper rate than any offsetting growth. No one is any genuine doubt about TEC numerical and financial decline. Certainly TEC isn’t. That’s why so much time is being spent on how to adjust via down-sizing.

Doug18
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Doug18

Just to be clear about it, the overwhelming reason for the numerical decline of TEC has been related to low birth rates, not people leaving for more theologically conservative denominations. TEC, on net, picks up members from more conservative denominations.

Chris H
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Chris H

Jeremy, In Virginia it depends on how you define who “started it”. Then Bishop Lee had parishes asking about how to leave since 2005 or earlier because of Bishop Robinson’s election. He actually sold one to it’s congregation, but then more followed. According to a post on the diocese site dated 11/15/2006: At a meeting of the Executive Board and Standing Committee last Thursday in Burke, members of those bodies received and considered the report of the Special Committee set up by Bishop Lee in late 2005 to help those congregations continuing in conflict over the decisions of the 75th… Read more »

Robert ian Williams
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Robert ian Williams

FACT: If the same number of English Anglicans practiced their faith in the proportion that US Episcopalians do, there would be nine million in Church on Sunday and not less than a million..

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“two-thirds of all TEC dioceses declined at a much steeper rate than any offsetting growth.”

Last I heard, the losses stabilized a couple of years ago. In some places the break aways are coming back. I think people make this stuff up.

Josh L.
Guest
Josh L.

Cynthia, I am glad to hear that you are in a growing parish. I am also. My church grew from around 200 to around 350 in the last three years. There are signs of life everywhere in my parish, my diocese and my home diocese where I come from. (Also posted growth for two years in a row) To the person who commented on the low birth rate scenario, that is false. The church is loosing around 50,000 members per year. Only around 18,000 of them are through death. The loss of the members of TEC is through members who… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

If you check the documents and the statute, it becomes clear that the schismatic groups sought court intervention first. Here is what four named lawyers told the Supreme Court in the Diocese of Virginia’s (successful) brief in opposition to certiorari: After purportedly disaffiliating from the Church and the Diocese, TFC and ten other congregations in the Diocese filed petitions pursuant to Va. Code § 57-9(A), seeking entry of an order permitting them to continue to occupy and control real property historically used by the congregation. Pet. App. 267a, 273a. The Church and the Diocese intervened in those actions to oppose… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“The church is loosing around 50,000 members per year. Only around 18,000 of them are through death. The loss of the members of TEC is through members who are choosing to formally leave the church year after year.”

Is that about the same as the other denominations? Last I heard, the schismatic situation had stabilized considerably. The culture wide demographic is not one that can easily be escaped. However, the fact that a strong portion of our dioceses and churches are growing, despite the cultural shift, is very positive news.

Chris H.
Guest
Chris H.

Thanks for finding the actual statute. That’s like me paying the guy next door cash for a car, getting a receipt and going to the courthouse for a new title. That’s not a lawsuit; that’s me following the law. If the guy I paid says he took the money but the car’s still his and sues me for it-that’s a lawsuit. The state law said, vote, register, decision. TEC started the lawsuits because it didn’t like the state law. That’s also why TEC lost the opening rounds. The lower courts acted like the words actually meant what they said.

Doug18
Guest
Doug18

The low birthrate scenario that I mentioned above is based on solid research. While the research doesn’t encompass the period since 2003, there’s no reason to believe that it doesn’t form a major part of the the demographic problem that TEC faces today. In fact, it would be ridiculous to assume that it doesn’t. Some parishes, such as the one of which I’m a member, find themselves with an aging membership; a problem that has had nothing to do with people “walking out the door”. Fortunately TEC keeps nearly unparalleled membership records. Knowing the full scope of the problem is… Read more »

Paul Theerman
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Paul Theerman

But isn’t it the point, Chris, that the lower courts were wrong, and TEC right in its objection, in the legal sense? And the pattern remains that the departing parties acted first, and TEC acted in response. If I may, you seem still to be questioning the legal outcome, which decided that TEC was correct–the Virginia legal statute was wrongly applied in this case.

Tobias Haller
Guest

Chris H., the filing of the petition is the start of the legal action. A petition is not the same as an application for a title change.

But as Paul T. notes, the “who started this” is really beside the point. Both sides have “gone to law” and filed complaints and petitions; and ultimately the courts have in the large majority of cases found in favor of the church and diocese, which is in accord with both civil and canon law.

paul c
Guest
paul c

Disagreements can arise between people of good faith, but it is very clear to any objective observer that this is not the case here. It was clear from the beginning that the real objective was to disrupt the long term mission of the church for short term political gains. They can not have genuinely expected to win; they were engaged from the start in a game of brinksmanship: “can we force the church to back down from catholic order (hierarchical church), and her christian duty of pastoral care for ALL peoples simply by holding some of her patrimony for ransom?… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“..most of the early ring-leaders (Minns et al) have already fled the country for locations where their hate can mislead more people, cause still more misery, and bring even greater discredit to our faith.” – Paul C. –

And is ‘Bishop’ Minns not, at this very moment, leading the Gafcon/Cana infiltration of the Church of England, under the guise of A.M.i.E. ? Perhaps, after what has happened in T.E.C. with the Falls Church situation, the Anglican Communion Office might begin to question Bp. Minns leadership of this quasi-Anglican group in the U.K.

paul c
Guest
paul c

By the way, as someone else has pointed out, Mr. Haley has been consistently and systematically wrong on this and a host of similarly related church legal issues throughout this controversy. What was not pointed out is that Mr. Haley is (or at least was) a paid legal adviser to the schismatics in a number of these legal cases; in those cases, his legal reasoning has been similarly rejected out of hand by the courts, often with some asperity. If I were a legal client of Mr. Haley’s, I would long ago have sought more reliable (and competent) legal counsel.… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“…his legal reasoning has been similarly rejected out of hand by the courts, often with some asperity” — and where exactly did that happen? In CA, In IL, in TX? In SC?

RMF
Guest
RMF

Though there must be a certain order and authority in the Church, if parishes and etc choose to disaffiliate based on strong theological conviction about matters that not all agree upon, why must the mother church insist on possession of properties that it can never maintain or use? I hope that the Diocese and parish continue to hold these buildings in trust for future generations and do not divide them, sell them piecemeal, or repurpose them.

paul c
Guest
paul c

Mr. Haley’s legal reasoning has been rejected throughout the US, including CA (where the rejections were directed to cases in which he was directly involved as a paid representative of the schismatics) but also in IL, MO, MA, VT, VA, and a host of other states. Although the cases continue in TX and SC, Mr. Haley’s line of reasoning has not, in fact, turned out to be even remotely the area of contention, let alone the main line of reasoning. These rejections can easily be documented by simply comparing his blog archive to the legal decisions in all of the… Read more »