Skip to comments.Judge sides with two Episcopal parishes in property dispute
Posted on 12/13/2005 12:32:29 PM PST by sionnsar
SANTA ANA, Calif. - A judge ruled that two conservative parishes that broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles were the rightful owners of their church buildings and other property.
The diocese had argued that it held the property in trust for All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood.
Those parishes, along with St. James Church in Newport Beach, pulled out of the six-county Los Angeles Diocese and the 2.3-million member national Episcopal Church in August 2004 following the ordination of a gay bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire. They announced they were placing themselves under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in Uganda.
Los Angeles Diocese officials said Monday they would appeal the ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge David C. Velasquez , just as they appealed his August ruling in favor of the Newport Beach parish.
"We continue to be very confident of our position on all three of these cases and believe the Court of Appeal will see it our way," said diocesan attorney John Shiner.
Father William A. Thompson, rector of All Saints Church in Long Beach, said he was "exceedingly pleased and not surprised" by the ruling. Orange County attorney Daniel F. Lula, whose firm has represented the parishes, said he was confident the congregations would prevail on appeal.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 75 million member worldwide Anglican Communion, whose spiritual leader is Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Conservative prelates in Africa, South America and the Far East have severed or downgraded relations with the U.S. Episcopal Church over its decision to ordain the gay bishop.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com
Episcopal churches can keep property
By Greg Mellen, Staff writer
SANTA ANA - William Thompson, rector of All Saints' Church in Belmont Heights, turned around from his front row seat, smiled and gave a thumbs up to the half-dozen or so parishioners seated behind him Monday in an Orange County courtroom.
Judge David Velasquez had just dismissed a suit by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles against All Saints' and St. David's of North Hollywood, allowing the parishes to maintain their property.
The decision Monday mirrored a ruling Velasquez had made in August in favor of St. James parish in Newport Beach. Velasquez's ruling essentially closed the books on one chapter in the legal struggles of the three parishes that made national news by announcing their split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 because of "core doctrinal issues," including the consecration of an openly gay bishop and the blessings of same-sex unions. "Pending appeal, it's over," Thompson told several followers outside the courtroom in Santa Ana.
John Shiner, attorney for the diocese, said an appeal in the case of St. James could be heard by the 4th District Court of Appeal by spring, and that the rulings on the other churches will also be appealed.
The appeals might be consolidated, but probably not decided until sometime in 2007, said Daniel Lula, an attorney for St. James parish. Monday's decision also came on the heels of an October decision Velasquez made against the national Episcopal Church in its suit against the three churches.
In that ruling, however, Velasquez did allow the national body the opportunity to amend its complaint if it could find different facts or theory of law on which to base its complaint.
On Jan. 12, Velasquez is expected to hear the new complaint and rule on a request by the parishes to dismiss the national church's amended complaint. Lynn Moyer, the attorney representing All Saints', expects the judge to side with the parishes yet again. "In my opinion (the Episcopal Church) did not amend its complaint in good faith," said Moyer, who is a 27-year congregant at All Saints'.
Instead, Moyer said, the national church, like the diocese, continues to try to apply canonical law over California state law, a theory the courts have consistently denied. The Los Angeles diocese has maintained that the churches' property and hymnals belonged to the larger church under church canons and were held in trust by the smaller parishes.
Velasquez, as he has done throughout the process, wrote in his decision, "Plaintiffs have not produced competent evidence of an express trust." Velasquez wrote that because the smaller churches owned the deeds and titles of their properties and because the churches' articles of incorporation don't expressly create a trust, the national church does not have claim to the property.
On that issue, Shiner said the "churches bound themselves to canons to which the churches must adhere that provides that property is held in trust for the diocese." Shiner said Velasquez had "pretty much telegraphed his analysis" of the cases when he dismissed the diocese's case against St. James.
"We always believed the cases will be won at the Court of Appeals," he said. The three dissident parishes were able to bring about quick resolution to the case by filing anti-SLAPP motions, which claimed the lawsuit arose from the defendant's exercise of freedom of speech and religion.
That allows the case to be dismissed immediately if the plaintiff is unable to show it was likely to prevail in a trial. SLAPP is an acronym for strategic lawsuits against public participation. Laws that were created regarding anti-SLAPP motions were "intended for entirely different kinds of situations than the facts" present in the church cases, Shiner said. "The court found that by bringing the lawsuit, it had a chilling effect on the defendant's ability to worship as they wish," he said.
"Nothing could be further from the truth." Although the ruling was consistent with Velasquez other decisions, Thompson was happy to hear the final verdict. "It wasn't unexpected," Thompson said of Velasquez's ruling, "but of course we're pleased and relieved. The court did the right thing." Jose Poch, the rector at St. David's, was thrilled.
"A huge burden has been lifted so we can minister in our own building to our people," Poch said. Thompson said the verdict allows his parish to focus on spiritual rather than legal matters. "Although (the court case) wasn't a huge distraction, it was always there," Thompson said.
"Now it's been lifted and we can move on." Although the three parishes ended their affiliation with the Episcopal Church, they remained in the Anglican faith and have aligned themselves with a diocese in Uganda. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Good news for those of us who live in California.
This may be good news in other states.
"Velasquez wrote that because the smaller churches owned the deeds and titles of their properties and because the churches' articles of incorporation don't expressly create a trust, the national church does not have claim to the property."
Curses, they are foiled! HAHAHA!
If anyone believes that they weren't going to sell or mortgage that property owned by the All Saints congregation, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
"As I have often said, the liberals are really after the property. The use of gay clergy and same-sex marriage support is just a way to get conservative parisioners to leave, abandoning the real estate and the trust funds to the liberals."
They are after control of the properties, pension funds and the huge endowment/trust funds.
However, things aren't going all their way any more.
Yes, and this is a very promising development. If the courst real this way in some other states, I will bet you that some of these gay priests suddenly feel the need to become Methodists. (Methodists have a more difficult time getting control of their property from the church hierarchy, because the Methodists used more iron-clad language.)
The above paragraph should contain the phrase "If the courts rule..."
Or maybe they'll change to ELCA Lutheran? They forced a constitution revision on their synods and congregations in 2003 (I think), to give their bishops the power to allow a congregation to leave the denomination. And, the ECUSA and ELCA share bishops, communion and churches (federated congregations in Detroit and Florida).
>> Deeds prevail. <<
Don't tell that to the Lutherans. *Snicker*
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