Updated Sunday morning
Episcopal News Service reports that Court will use Church’s Constitution and Canons in deciding property disputes.
Virginia’s Fairfax Circuit Court ruled August 10 in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia in denying the claims of 11 separated congregations that the court should not consider the Church’s Constitution and Canons in deciding property disputes.
The congregations, in which a majority of members have voted to leave the Episcopal Church but continue to occupy its property, asked the court to dismiss the complaints of the Church and the diocese.
After hearing arguments by all parties, the judge overruled all but one part of the motions. The court dismissed the claims of the diocese for a judgment that the congregations had committed a trespass by holding onto the property. Such claims, the court ruled, should be pleaded separately…
Also on August 10, after hearing arguments on a motion to dismiss all the individual defendant vestry members, clergy, and trustees from the litigation, all of the parties agreed that they — together with the separated congregations — will be bound by whatever ruling the trial court makes regarding ownership of the real and personal property. Their agreement extends to any ruling on appeal.
According to the agreement, if the court rules in favor of the Episcopal Church and the diocese, an orderly transition with respect to all property would ensue. The Church and the diocese reserve the right, however, to seek an accounting of all monies spent by the departed congregations and bring the individual vestry members and clergy back into the litigation for that purpose.
There is another account of yesterday’s court session here: A Very Good Day.
A recent letter from the diocese (mentioned in the ENS report) can be found here.
Update Sunday morning:
The Diocese of Virginia now has this: Judge Overrules Motion to Dismiss Lawsuits:
Today in Fairfax Circuit Court, Judge Randy I. Bellows overruled a motion to dismiss lawsuits filed by The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church against 11 congregations that voted last year to leave The Episcopal Church and attempt to take Episcopal Church property.
The decision to overrule the motion to dismiss came at the end of a four-hour hearing in Courtroom 4-C. In addition, two-hours into the hearing, The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church agreed to allow individuals named in the lawsuits to be taken out of the suits on assurance that those individuals and their successors will be bound by the rulings of the court on diocesan and Church claims concerning property.
“Our only aim in including these individuals was to make sure the proper parties were before the court so that the relief and remedies we seek could be properly sought and obtained,” said Patrick Getlein, secretary of the Diocese. “The assurance to be bound by the rulings of the court achieves that objective.”
Those individuals whose names were removed today include the vestry and rector of each congregation. Trustees remain named in the suits only in their capacity as holders of title.
“We are pleased with today’s rulings and the agreement on removing the names of individuals from the suits. But by no means is the work here done,” said Mr. Getlein. “There are still individuals and congregations who have been dispossessed and literally locked out of their churches. Their exile continues.”