For Immediate Release
Contact: Jim Pierobon, 301-520-1758
FAIRFAX and FALLS CHURCH, Va., Feb.12 - Leaders of The Falls Church and Truro Church Monday called new lawsuits filed against their congregations and nine other congregations by The Episcopal Church, in the words of Falls Church Senior Warden Tom Wilson, “not surprising but sadly un-Christian and heavy-handed.”
The complaint by The Episcopal Church was filed Friday against the 11 churches, along with their rectors, vestries and trustees, that have severed ties with The Episcopal Church since mid-December. It comes on the eve of meetings beginning Wednesday in Dar es Shalaam, Tanzania, where The Episcopal Church is under growing scrutiny from a majority of the 38 primates, or archbishops, in the worldwide Anglican Communion over The Episcopal Church’s disrespect for Scripture. This disrespect for Scripture is what drove the 11 congregations to join a growing movement of orthodox Christians to strengthen ties with the Anglican Communion – ties that are separate from the Episcopal Church – through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, or CANA.
The complaints cite internal Episcopal Church rules known as “canons” in support of the claim that the denomination owns the properties at issue. The deeds to the properties, however, are in the name of trustees for the congregations, not the Diocese or The Episcopal Church, and the buildings were constructed and have been maintained without financial support from the denomination. In addition, neutral principles of Virginia law do not recognize denominational trusts in congregational property, and a Virginia statute provides a neutral method for protecting congregations’ property rights in the case of a division within a diocese or denomination. In short, the congregations are prepared to defend themselves against these lawsuits.
“If The Episcopal Church were half as devoted to the Scriptures as it is to its so-called ‘canons,’ perhaps it would not find itself in these dire straits,” said Wilson.
“This is just the latest evidence of division within the Episcopal Church,” said Jim Oakes, Senior Warden of Truro Church. “It’s unfortunate that anyone who sides with an orthodox branch of the Anglican Communion finds itself being sued. But we have studied the law and are prepared to respond.”
The 20-page lawsuit seeks a “preliminary and permanent injunction” ordering the defendants to relinquish control of the church buildings and other assets. Some of the Vestry members named as defendants include those who voted against departing the denomination. The lawsuit names persons serving as trustees at many of the churches. All totaled, almost 200 individuals are named as defendants, 108 by name and another 88 earmarked as “John Does” and “Jane Roes.”
The lawsuit follows a similar set of lawsuits against the congregations filed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia on January 31, 2007. Rather than join as a co-plaintiff in the Diocese’s lawsuits, which assert similar claims – except for the preliminary injunction – The Episcopal Church brought its own claims in a separate proceeding.