Updated again Friday night and republished
The long-awaited Virginia court ruling has arrived. It is favourable to the breakaway congregations.
The PDF file containing the full text of it is here (4.5MB).
Episcopal Café has this summary of the situation, Judge rules: Advantage CANA.
Julia Duin has Breakaway Episcopal parishes awarded property, assets in the Washington Times.
No doubt other reports will follow. The full report is 88 pages. To give the flavour, two excerpts are reproduced below the fold.
Diocese of Virginia press release
Associated Press Matthew Barakat Fairfax judge rules in favor of breakaway congregations
Reuters Michael Conlon US judge rules for Episcopal Church secessionists
Washington Post Michelle Boorstein Judge’s Initial Decision Favors Breakaway Churches
Ruth Gledhill has this blog article, Judge rules for Virginia ‘orthodox’.
Friday night additions
Episcopal News Service Office of the Presiding Bishop, Diocese of Virginia respond to preliminary court ruling
and also Mary Frances Schjonberg Virginia judge issues preliminary ruling on application of state statute
Fairfax Times Gregg MacDonald Fairfax judge rules against Episcopal Church
The only way in which this Court could find a “division” not to exist among the pertinent entities in this case is to define the term so narrowly and restrictively as to effectively define the term out of existence. The ECUSA and the Diocese urge upon this Court just such a definition and further assert that any definition other than the one for which they argue would render the statute unconstitutional. The Court rejects this invitation. Whether or not it is true that only the ECUSA’s and the Diocese’s proposed definition can save 57-9(A) from constitutional infirmity, there is no constitutional principle of which this Court is aware that would permit, let alone require, the Court to adopt a definition for a statutory term that is plainly unwarranted. Rather, the definition of “division” adopted by this Court is a definition which the Court finds to be consistent with the language of the statute, its purpose and history, and the very limited caselaw that exists. Given this definition, the Court finds that the evidence of a “division” within the Diocese, the ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion is not only compelling, but overwhelming. As to the other issues in principal controversy, the Court finds the Anglican Communion to be a “church or religious society.” The Court finds each of the CANA Congregations to have been attached to the Anglican Communion. Finally, the Court finds that the term “branch” must be defined far more broadly than the interpretation placed upon that term by ECUSA and the Diocese and that, as properly defined, CANA, ADV, the American Arm of the Church of Uganda, the Church of Nigeria, the ECUSA, and the Diocese, are all branches of the Anglican Communion and, further, CANA and ADV are branches of ECUSA and the Diocese.
ECUSA/Diocese argue that the historical evidence demonstrates that it is only the “major” or “great” divisions within 19th-century churches that prompted the passage of 57-9, such as those within the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. ECUSA/Diocese argue that the current “dispute” before this Court is not such a “great” division, and, therefore, this is yet another reason why 57-9(A) should not apply. The Court agrees that it was major divisions such as those within the Methodist and Presbyterian churches that prompted the passage of 57-9. However, it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the Diocese, ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude, especially given the involvement of numerous churches in states across the country, the participation of hundreds of church leaders, both lay and pastoral, who have found themselves “taking sides” against their brethren, the determination by thousands of church members in Virginia and elsewhere to “walk apart” in the language of the Church, the creation of new and substantial religious entities, such as CANA, with their own structures and disciplines, the rapidity with which the ECUSA’s problems became that of the Anglican Communion, and the consequent impact-in some cases the extraordinary impact-on its provinces around the world, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations. Whatever may be the precise threshold for a dispute to constitute a division under 57-9(A), what occurred here qualifies.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds that the CANA Congregations have properly invoked 57-9(A). Further proceedings will take place in accordance with the Order issued today.