Tuesday, 11 March 2014

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.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 2:29pm GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

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 Supreme Court of the United States has, not only failed to overturn the five state Supreme Courts, but expressed no interest in even considering the case. But this does not affect A S Haley one bit. In his blogworld, he is still right. And, in the real world, everyone who actually decides the law and tells us authoritatively what it is - says he is wrong.

Posted by: badman on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 4:08pm GMT

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

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:27pm GMT

"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?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:15am GMT

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 a church like this. They thought when the breakaway was removed from the church it would bring back all of the folks who wanted to 'stay with the building' and none came. Just my thoughts.

Posted by: Josh L on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:19am GMT

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.

Posted by: robert ian Williams on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 6:33am GMT

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.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:28am GMT

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.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 10:29am GMT

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 property. And they have taken with them a theological millstone around their necks. And the international ties to provinces that criminalize same-sex attraction must be deeply embarrassing.

This is telling:

"While we still believe marriage is a heterosexual union for life, we realize this is under intense scrutiny in the culture and we’re trying to talk about it in ways that people will understand and think about,” Yates said. “We’d not want our identity to hinge on those issues.”"

Good luck, Rev. Yates, with trying to change the fact that it was the ordination of Gene Robinson, only a few years ago, that caused you to depart.

Like it or not, the breakaway Fall Church congregation is built on homophobia. People will remember that for decades. And young people especially will find it a door-closer.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 10:40am GMT

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 enough to stay. Ironic as it is, at least they found a renter. I don't think Vancouver has found one yet for J.I. Packer's old church. As for why people are leaving, I think it's rather like "death by a thousand cuts",everyone has different reasons not to go to church. People don't join groups or organizations in general now, and TEC hasn't been able to articulate a really good reason for getting people to come. The general population makes up their own morals these days, picking and choosing among different religious/humanist ideas and TEC bishops are better known for agreeing with them than for encouraging Christianity's truth above other truths.(See Bishop Robinson's latest article.) People interested in causes/justice can get involved without Sunday mornings and tithing, etc. so why bother? That is the question all churches are facing now.

Posted by: Chris H. on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:10pm GMT

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 property, and have long been restricted from its alienation or sale by Canon Law long preceding the Dennis Canon. This was recognized in Jones, and is why property cases were similarly decided long before the Dennis Canon. The clergy and lay leaders of a congregation have trusteeship or custody, but not outright ownership -- they cannot sell the property to fund a trip to Bermuda. The trust relationship was implicit prior to the Dennis Canon making it explicit, but this was not the imposition of a novel idea, merely its clarification.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:02pm GMT

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'.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 3:44pm GMT

"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 ways for people to volunteer to help the hungry and homeless that are pervasive in our downtown area.

I'm very glad for the Supreme Court ruling. Falls Church (in Falls Church, VA) was the church of my mother, many years ago. And no, she had no problem accepting me and my partner.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:19pm GMT

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?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 10:21pm GMT

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.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 12:36pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Doug18 on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 1:29pm GMT

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 General Convention in 2003 to get on with their mission in as close a union as possible with the Diocese of Virginia. The report contains a section entitled Protocol for Departing Congregations.

“The Executive Board and Standing Committee both voted to receive the report."

That is where the argument comes in. The diocese says they accepted, but never approved the protocol mentioned. The conservatives say they did. That "Protocol" included the parish having a vote to leave and registering it with the local court. TEC then filed suit against those parishes saying the act of registering the vote was the conservatives stealing the property. TEC was the plaintiff in those original suits and the local judges sided with the breakaways, beginning the long haul to the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Chris H on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 3:12pm GMT

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..

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 5:38pm GMT

"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.

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:33pm GMT

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 are choosing to formally leave the church year after year.

Posted by: Josh L. on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 2:15am GMT

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 the granting of these petitions. They also filed actions against the congregations seeking a declaration that the Church and the Diocese possessed a proprietary and contractual interest in the disputed church properties. Pet. App. 274a. The congregations in turn counterclaimed, seeking a declaration that they possessed such interests. Pet. App. 275a.


The statute under which the schismatic groups proceeded, Virginia Code 57-9(A), provides as follows:


2006 Code of Virginia § 57-9 - How property rights determined on division of church or society.
A. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a church or religious society, to which any such congregation whose property is held by trustees is attached, the members of such congregation over 18 years of age may, by a vote of a majority of the whole number, determine to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong. Such determination shall be reported to the circuit court of the county or city, wherein the property held in trust for such congregation or the greater part thereof is; and if the determination be approved by the court, it shall be so entered in the court's civil order book, and shall be conclusive as to the title to and control of any property held in trust for such congregation, and be respected and enforced accordingly in all of the courts of the Commonwealth.


So it doesn't "depend" on any technical definition, as Chris H would have us believe.

The schismatic groups sought court intervention first.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 6:09pm GMT

"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.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 1:05am GMT

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.

Posted by: Chris H. on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 1:05am GMT

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 the first step in finding an answer.

Posted by: Doug18 on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 1:39pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Paul Theerman on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 3:35pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 4:03pm GMT

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?

The false witness throughout this episode is something that we must not let anyone forget. Right from the start, the "leadership" of the Falls Church CANA congregation deliberately and systematically deceived their congregation about the outcomes they might realistically expect from the legal process. They also deliberately and systematically excluded anyone with a dissenting or even questioning voice.

This false witness is re-enforced, if you needed it, by the continued repetition of the deliberate and diabolical lie that the Episcopal Church "started" the legal case; this false witness should be enough, in itself, to shred any remaining stitch of credibility from these charlatans.

What makes this so frustrating is that a brief glance at the court documents, which are all available on-line, shows anyone with eyes to see and any sense to understand that the original filing was from the CANA cabal. One can only wonder how it is possible for any reasonable person to still lend ANY credibility to these criminals at all.

What I also don't understand is why the church is not holding those responsible for this donnybrook personally liable for their very obvious misdeeds. Unfortunately, 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. I note that the AofC has just made one (Baucum) a "Six Preacher" at Canterbury in the presence of another (Duncan).

Where is the justice in that?

Posted by: paul c on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 2:01am GMT

"..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.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 10:29am GMT

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.

Although the church does release its spending on legal fees (in general terms through its published annual budget), the schismatics have consistently refused to even discuss not only the amount but also the source of their legal funding. To keep a case going all the way to the SCOTUS requires enormous legal and financial resources. Isn't it time the schismatics published their spending (and sources) on legal costs, just as the church has done in it's annual budget?

Just THINK of the evangelism the church could have engaged if not forced to defend her patrimony and catholic order against these schismatics and their deliberate acts of vandalism.

Posted by: paul c on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 12:58pm GMT

"...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?

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 9:30pm GMT

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.

Posted by: RMF on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 at 1:52am GMT

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 states to have settled the issue to date. He has been wrong with a consistency that is stunning.

If I were Mr. Haley's clients, I would be actively seeking more competent legal counsel.

Posted by: paul c on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 8:10pm BST
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