Skip to comments.Chancellor: Episcopal Church Will Prevail in Communion and Courts
Posted on 11/09/2006 6:22:31 PM PST by sionnsar
Although The Episcopal Church currently fin ds itself in uncharted territory both legally over ownership of diocesan property and with respect to its standing within the Anglican Communion, the Presiding Bishop's chancellor, David Booth Beers, does not anticipate that the Archbishop of Canterbury will make any formal change in the church's membership status in the Communion nor does he expect any dioceses affiliated with the Anglican Communion Network to attempt to leave.
To his consternation, Mr. Beers feels a badly behaved and vocal minority has left some Episcopalians with the mistaken idea that their church is under siege. He made an exception to his long-standing policy against being quoted by journalists in order to lead a public workshop titled "Legal Issues Confronting Parishes and Dioceses" at an event sponsored by the organization Episcopal Majority. The Nov. 3-4 gathering was held at St. Columba's, Washington, D.C. and attracted about 200 attendees.
"You hear a lot about our being swamped by litigation," Mr. Beers said. "It has been [former Presiding] Bishop [Frank] Griswold's belief that this is not an epidemic. We'll have some troubles. I think he's been proven right."
Mr. Beers went on to list and discuss briefly 10 cases that have been filed over property since 2000. The Episcopal Church has prevailed in all situations that have already been decided except for one in Los Angeles, although some pre-trial decisions have been unfavorable in San Diego, South Carolina and Central New York. Mr. Beers said he expects the Los Angeles decision to be overturned on appeal and a favorable final verdict in the other cases.
"That's it," he concluded. "It's not an epidemic and it's not a wave of victories for what I would call the 'arch conservatives'."
The cases he discussed have all involved a congregation seeking to leave The Episcopal Church with its property. A number of conference participants asked Mr. Beers what would happen if a diocese voted to cut its ties with the constitution and canons of the General Convention. Last week The Living Church reported that Mr. Beers had written to the chancellors of two Network dioceses - Fort Worth and Quincy - on Oct. 19 inquiring whether the dioceses they provide legal counsel to had qualified the supremacy of General Convention bylaws over their diocesan ones. The letters also threatened possible "action" by the Presiding Bishop if the diocese failed to make satisfactory changes.
Mr. Beers said he had written a similar letter to the chancellor of the Diocese of San Joaquin last summer and expressed annoyance that details concerning "private correspondence" had been published. He did not share a draft with either Bishop Griswold or Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who assumed office Nov. 1, prior to sending the letters, but they "didn't come as a surprise to either one of them." The letters, he said, were not meant to be taken as threats, merely a reminder that according to Episcopal Church polity, the diocese "is a creature of General Convention" and cannot change its status with respect to The Episcopal Church without General Convention approval.
Under the canons, Mr. Beers said the Presiding Bishop can declare a diocese "vacant" of leadership. A decision as to when legal action against a diocese would become necessary is nominally up to the Presiding Bishop, although presumably she could be overruled by General Convention, a precedent Mr. Beers cautioned against.
"What I urge you to think about is what 'cross the line' means," he said. "What they say is that we'll accede to the constitution and canons, but only in those things we think are consistent with the gospel, but they haven't really acted. Are they going to pull out of the pension fund? I've got to have something to explain to a judge who already thinks we're crazy."
While concerned about legislative events in many Network dioceses, particularly San Joaquin, Mr. Beers does not anticipate that any diocese would actually attempt to leave.
"These conditional things don't particularly trouble me, although the language used in San Joaquin is very blunt," he said. "Where are they going to go? They seem to be positioning themselves for what? They seem to be preparing themselves for the day when the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes them as a separate province, but I don't see evidence of that happening and I don't see [Bishop Jefferts Schori] suing bishops and diocesan leaders without a lot more evidence that they're doing something to take property away from the national church or violating their ordination vows."
Mr. Beers said there might be some symbolic gestures by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to distance The Episcopal Church from the rest of the Anglican Communion. But he does not expect any formal break in part because too much of the Communion's funding comes from the United States, both directly from The Episcopal Church and also through the Compass Rose Society.
Even if formal action to recognize the Network dioceses as the legitimate Anglican Communion partner in the United States did come, Mr. Beers said it was unlikely that would change the outcome of a property dispute in U.S. court. Despite language in the preamble to the General Convention constitution which defines it as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, the highest legislative body to which The Episcopal Church owes allegiance is General Convention. Communion ties are merely historical and symbolic, he said.
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