The Diocese of Virginia has just released a statement on the state of their lawsuits against the eleven Virginia Churches that followed the Protocol for Departing Churches and voted to separate from the Episcopal Church.
In their weekly Communique under the headline "Judge Sets Date for Trial," the diocese states that “The Hon. Randy I. Bellows has set Oct. 6-30, 2008 for the second phase of the trial over ownership of Episcopal Church property.” The Diocese then asserts that "In this second phase The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church seek declaratory judgment regarding the property, a ruling that requires the CANA congregations to vacate Episcopal property, transfer of title and a full accounting of all property. "
This is not true.
The judge has reserved trial dates this fall, but the judge has not yet ruled on the subject covered by those dates and won’t make a decision until after he rules on the 57-9 filings, some time after January 19, 2008 (which will probably be in February or March 2008).
On January 4, 2008, the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church had originally petitioned Judge Bellows to begin litigation of their lawsuits immediately, which would have caused a dramatic increase in legal costs for the eleven churches now sued by the Diocese and TEC. These eleven churches followed the Diocese's Protocol for Departing Churches and voted to separate from the Episcopal Church. The protocol followed the Canons of the Diocese of Virginia and the statutes of the Commonwealth, including Virginia's Statute 57-9
The judged said no.
The Diocese had originally agreed that they did not consider the filing of the reports (no property has ever been transferred) a hostile action and made this clear in the Standstill Agreement approved by both the Standing Committee and Executive Board of the Diocese of Virginia. The Standstill Agreement still does not appear on the Diocese of Virginia’s website.
What the Diocese calls the “second phase” is actually the original lawsuits the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in separate actions filed against the eleven churches, their trustees, their rectors, and over 200 lay volunteers who had operated in good faith under the Protocol for Departing Churches under the authority of the Bishop of Virginia. This was done despite the fact that the Diocese and the eleven church had begun the next steps (following the model set by Bishop Lee with the property negotiations with All Saints, Dale City), including electing representatives to Bishop Lee’s own Property Committee. This was in place, as the Standstill Agreement illustrates, until the Episcopal Church intervened and the negotiations were shut down.
While the judge has reserved trial dates this fall on his calendar, he has not yet ruled what the content of those dates will be - let us make that perfectly clear. There are all kinds of speculation now underway on what the focus of those dates will be (others have differing opinions, depending on the judge’s opinion), but the judge has not yet ruled – and the last time we checked, he has the final say in the matter.