Skip to comments.A Burglary at an Episcopal Church in Connecticut?
Posted on 07/27/2005 6:23:39 PM PDT by sionnsar
Last week Bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut did the very thing which he had been threatening for several months. Without a trial he ignored all semblance of due process as he declared a priest of his diocese, Fr. Mark Hansen of St. John's Bristol, to be "inhibited," claiming that he had abandoned the Anglican Communion.
I wrote an open letter to Bp. Smith on April 17, 2005 to warn him against the actions which he has now taken
claiming that Fr. Hansen has abandoned the Anglican Communion is nonsense, since just the night before the Letter of Inhibition was written, he did one of the standard things any rector does - attend his parish's vestry meeting. This is hardly an example of a priest who has jumped ship.
I do not know what the legal situation is with St. John's Church, but most Episcopal Churches in New York are religious corporations which are independent of the diocese. They may be a member of the diocese, but as religious corporations they have independent legal existence. If a bishop here did what Bishop Smith did in Connecticut - seize a parish without any civil court proceedings - he would face something more serious than violating his own church canons in wrongly deposing a priest. He and his staff could be charged with the felony of burglary.
Unless the diocese owns the property, the bishop has no legal right under civil law to enter or remain in a church without the consent of the parish. According to published reports, that is exactly what Bishop Smith did with the help of the locksmith on the morning of Wednesday, July 13, 2005, when they allegedly pried open the door of Fr. Hansen's private church office and changed the locks. Without giving the bishop permission to do this, this would be a burglary in most New York parishes and probably in most other states.
Wearing a purple shirt rather than a black mask does not differentiate a bishop from a cat burglar when these tactics are used. That it was done in broad daylight or that the bishop had a canon law document claiming to "inhibit" the priest is irrelevant. Without a police officer carrying a warrant or a court order from a judge, no man can break an office door and seize parish records of a church corporation. Being a bishop confers no special legal right to break into your church, your house, your bank account records, your computer, your website, or any other private property. Unless the rector, church wardens, vestry, or church secretary give the bishop the key and say, "Take it over," a bishop seizing a church corporation without a court order is a common burglar.
An Episcopal Church parish under canon law is not legally a subdivision of the diocese, and the diocese has no more right to seize a church by walking in the front door one morning than the state governor does to seize your house. The so-called Dennis Canon, even if it was lawfully adopted by the Episcopal Church (and that legal issue has not yet been settled), does not apply since St. John's did not leave ECUSA or the Diocese of Connecticut. The Dennis Canon by its own explicit language places no restriction on a parish unless it has left its diocese or the national church.
According to some published reports there is an allegation that St. John's was not paying its mortgage to the diocese. If so, the bishop's remedy is a mortgage foreclosure in court, not a locksmith breaking into the rector's office with the parish secretary in tears watching it all. Even if the parish did not own the property, the bishop should afford them the same right a landlord gives a tenant who is not paying rent - an eviction proceeding. An evicting slumlord apparently has more respect for his tenant than this bishop has for this parish.
What Bishop Smith did last Wednesday against St. John's in Bristol, Connecticut would have been a felony in New York if it had been done against my parish.
Where is the voice of the presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, and the diocesan bishops of ECUSA reprimanding the actions of one of their own? Oliver Goldsmith, the Irish playwright, was on the mark when he wrote, "Silence gives consent." When we do not hear the revisionist bishops of ECUSA speaking out against this travesty, the reasonable assumption is that they quietly agree.
Rectors, wardens, vestry, and parish secretaries - beware! Faithful Episcopal parishes which refuse to bless same sex unions or accept homosexual bishops living with their lovers now need to take extraordinary measures to protect themselves against an unannounced takeover by the bishop. Do parishes need to install burglar alarms, have iron bars on their windows, encrypted computer records with off-site data storage, and the number of the local police department on the speed dial to protect themselves not against thieves in the night, but against their own bishop? Sadly a civil law attorney and a canon lawyer are now essential to every prudent parish.
Just when things cannot get worse in the Episcopal Church, they did.
--Raymond Dague is a New York attorney and the chancellor of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Syracuse, New York, a parish of the Anglican Communion Network.
The Diocese does not own the property, in the case of the Diocse of Virginia.
In fact, Church of the Apostles, Fairfax City, has dared the Bishop to take it over - because they have a hefty mortgage on the property they are working on building a fund large enough so that they can go ahead and start building a new facility. They've said something like, "We'll give the Bishop the property, along with a million dollar debt that he won't have any way to pay" or similar words.
To date, Bishop Lee has taken a hands off position on the 6 large parishes in No. VA who have refused to give their "Diocesan tithe" for over a year now. I doubt that he would anticipate an inhibition "working" at any of these parishes.
But what horrifies me about Bishop Smith if the lack of voices decrying what he did.
Where, for instance, is Bishop John Howe, the Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida? A conservative, orthodox Bishop - his voice hasn't been heard with regard to what this Bishop Smith did. Where is the outrage?
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