Skip to comments.News Everywhere about the St. James Newport Beach Ruling [a lawyer on the Dennis Canon]
Posted on 08/12/2005 12:39:10 PM PDT by sionnsar
There are so many links about this at TitusOneNine, that I wont repeat them here. The earlier California case involving a Methodist church indeed tipped us all off some time ago that this was the likely result under California law.
So, what is the main fallacy of the Dennis Canon? A Trust requires actual assent of settlor (ie. the person putting the property in trust) under many state laws. While the results may not necessarily be uniform throughout the fifty states, this is the main argument that will be made if churches attempt to leave the Episcopal Church, assuming the parish is a validly incorporated non-profit/religious corporation, and holds title to their property.
So, what does this ultimately mean? It means dissenting parishes can more than likely leave the Episcopal Church and keep their property, although there will some exceptions (mortgages to the Diocese, different state laws on trusts, etc.) As Ive always said, church is a voluntary association.
Will this change anything? That is the big question. I tend to think it wont, although the more states that have definitive opinions on these issues, the better, as there will then be fewer lawsuits and more amicable divorces of parishes from their Dioceses.
The whole thing, however, is terribly sad. I wish this would change something - maybe have the liberal/reappraiser side negotiate fairly with the conservative/reasserter side over things like DEPO in order to thold the church together. God may yet surprise us.
Here is an article, Ruling for Breakaway Parish, in the LA Times about the judge in the dispute between the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the Church of St. James, which is seeking to keep its properties after leaving the Episcopal Church. The judge has issued a tentative ruling in favor of the church; although this is still not final, perhaps it is a good sign that the parish is near victory in the courts.
While I am not one to want courts to have to rule in ecclesiastical disputes, the Dennis Canon is one situation where the denomination is simply wrong to have done what it did--to claim all properties of parishes were simply held in trust for the Episcopal Church. That is about nothing but power, and as we have seen in subsequent years, it has led to the strengthening of the power of bishops who do not hold to Christian orthodoxy. If the Dennis Canon had never been implemented, I do not think things would have ever degenerated to the point they have in ECUSA, for the freedom of a parish to leave with its properties would have restricted the ability of bishops to do the kinds of things we have seen in Connecticut. It is my hope that we will see a series of court decisions that undo and roll back at least some of the effects of the Dennis Canon.
My parish in Illinois actually bought their property and put up their building using a loan from the Diocese, which they paid off in full. I'd love to wave that in court and see the Diocese claim that they still owned our property.
Our Canons specifically prohibit Diocesan ownership of parish property, and of mission property only to the extent of the loan.
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