Sunday, April 05, 2009

Episcopal Church involved in at least 57 lawsuits over property

George Conger reports that the number of lawsuits that include the Episcopal Church has risen to fifty-seven.

Conger writes that the recent publication last month of the Episcopal Church's national legal strategy that intended to “craft a lawsuit that is trim and focused on the critical claims involving ownership and possession of diocesan property” in Episcopal dioceses that voted to separate from the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone has caused the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy to seek protection from the Illinois state courts.

Meanwhile, Episcopalians in the pews appear to be getting somewhat restless.

From the gathering last Friday afternoon in the Diocese of Washington to the recent announcement that the celebration of the ministry of outgoing Diocese of Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee on May 30th at the National Cathedral is now cancelled, the laity in the pews are showing discontent. This has become most apparent in the current controversy over the process and election of a practicing Buddhist as an Episcopal bishop (more updates here) where bishops are finding themselves being confronted back home by the rank and file laity who want to know how this could have happened.

In addition, with General Convention coming up this summer in Anaheim, Episcopal leaders are calling for the overturning of B033 (which originally attempted to placate in the final hours of Columbus 2006 the requests of the Windsor Report), as well as vows from both the current Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies that the Anglican Covenant will not be seriously considered while they remain in office.

Here in Virginia, briefs continue to be filed in anticipation of a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court to take up the Circuit Court rulings by Judge Randy Bellows over the property of the Virginia churches that voted to separate from the Episcopal Church in 2006. The Episcopal Church is attempting to solicit support from other mainline denominations in their appeals, but it might be wise for those denominations to check with their own laity before moving forward in haste. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, as it were, since 2006, and with the economic downturn, denominational portfolios aren't what they once were.

In fact, the litigious war is wearing down many over the long haul - but then again, was that not why it was pursued in the first place?


John said...

Fifty seven or one hundred and fifty seven it make no difference.
The Episcopal Church must fight to recover all misappropriated property and funds for future Episcopalians.

Anonymous said...

Given the trajectory of TEC's theology and the demographic profile of the laity, "future Episcopalians" seems a bit of an oxymoron....


Anonymous said...

Are you planning on going to Anaheim even though you're not a member of an Episcopal church so that you can post one sided arguments on this blog?

BabyBlue said...

Well, what do you think, Anon? Should I go to Anaheim and be locked in a newsroom all day, or go to my 30th High School Reunion in Honolulu singing Come Ye All of Radford? Like Andy Bumantai, perhaps I could just do a UStream Show live from Waikiki and interview folks in Anaheim via Skype and Twitter. What do you think? Hmmm ...


PS That is correct, by the way, I am no longer a member of an Episcopal congregation but I am still an Episcopalian.

Even at this late hour I pray that we will find a way to stand down from this escalation and return to the negotiating table or at least have a d├ętente, while we attempt to detoxify the situation - just for the record.

it's margaret said...

Baby Blue --perhaps you and I could do coffee at GC. I, too, am looking for ways to detoxify the situation. And I will be working the GC as a volunteer, and posting my one-sided blog as I find the time.... (smile dear. Don't let anon. get you down.)

BabyBlue said...

That does sound fun, Margaret. If I make it there, let's do it!


Soapy Sam said...

Is anyone, Baby Blue for example, keeping a score? I mean how many lawsuits TEC has won, and how many seceders have won?

My impression, and I'm not sympathetic to TEC, is that it may be winning enough cases to make it economically rational to be aggressive.

Anonymous said...

The economically rational thing for TEC to do would be to sell the buildings they have no real use for to the orthodox parishes that do have a use for them. Which was Lee's original agreement in the Virginia Protocol, one may remember.

The rationale of TEC currently is that more lawsuits will stem the tide of departures. But they misjudge the extent to which the departures would occur anyway, and also seem too insular to realize the corrosive effect that their scorched-earth litigation strategy and meanness has on their reputation and their witness. Or its corollary that every dollar spent on litigation is costing them that and more in donations.

Oh, there have been people in TEC and even at 815 who realize this. But they are not running things. Those who are running things, many of whom have no pastoral experience, and it tells, think like the first poster.

Tom said...

Since these lawsuits have been going on for 30 years. 57 does not seem so much. And Soapy is right that the Episcopal Church usually wins. See, Bishop and Diocese of Colorado v. Mote (Colo. 1986) 716 P.2d 85; Episcopal Diocese of Mass. v. Devine (Mass.App.Ct. 2003) 797 N.E.2d 916 (relying on Canon I.7.4 and the fact the local church had agreed to accede to the general church’s canons); Bennison v. Sharp (Mich.Ct.App. 1983) 329 N.W.2d 466; Protestant Episc. Church, etc. v. Graves (N.J. 1980) 417 A.2d 19; The Diocese v. Trinity Epis. Church (App.Div. 1999) 684 N.Y.S.2d 76, 81 (“[T]he ‘Dennis Canon’ amendment expressly codifies a trust relationship which has implicitly existed between the local parishes and their dioceses throughout the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church,” citing Rector, Wardens v. Episcopal Church, supra, 620 A.2d 1280 (Conn. 1991); Daniel v. Wray (N.C.Ct.App. 2003) 580 S.E.2d 711 (relying on Canon I.7.4); In re Church of St. James the Less (Pa. 2005) 888 A.2d 795 (relying on Canon I.7.4 and citing Rector, Wardens v. Episcopal Church, supra, 620 A.2d 1280).

BabyBlue said...

I believe the 57 lawsuits are over the past three or four years.

One of the resolutions up before General Convention this summer is one that requires that no legislation be introduced in the last day of General Convention. The Dennis Canon was one such piece of legislation that came in the late hour (and it's not clear to me - did it get two readings or one?).

General Convention is notorious at introducing major pieces of legislation on the last day, having been a witness of this activist-style legislative process when people are so punch drunk they have no idea what they are doing. The Denis Canon apparently falls into that category as well. And of course, local dioceses did not follow it up by conforming their own legal situation with the Denis Canon for, as we learned in Virgina court last year, there would have been a major revolt on their hands.

The whole process and how legislative activists at General Convention hoodwinked the laity in the aftermath and reaction of the last split in the Episcopal Church following Prayer Book Revisions and women's ordination. The problem is, the TEC leadership never followed through to order the diocesans to order their parishes to change their deeds and why was that? Because 815 and General Convention do not have the authority to compel the diocesans to do that.

In Virginia there is no implied trusts. The deeds, it's what's on the deeds. The Bishop has his name on some deeds and those are listed in the Annual Council books - but he does not have his name on most of the parish properties in the Diocese and the laity are very much aware of that. This was clear at Christ Church Alexandria where the wardens had to spend an hour assuring their congregation that they were not turning their own deeds over to the bishop.

Wake up, Laity. This is your church - watch out for this clerical imperialism. This is true for us all, whatever province we find ourselves. It's human nature to stand like Yertle the Turtle and say, "Great king am I!" But there is only one King and we serve him. Isn't that right Bob? Gotta serve somebody.


Tom said...

Sure, Virginia may go differently, but in most States it has not worked out that way. See California and Colorado, just this year. OK, Yertle.

Tom said...

Also, what do you base 57 lawsuits in 3 years on?

DavidH said...

bb wrote: "In Virginia there is no implied trusts. The deeds, it's what's on the deeds."

On the first part, we'll see on the promised appeal. The second part is incorrect. Under CANA's theory of life, all that matters is the elements of 57-9. Under TEC/the Diocese's theory of life, you do the whole neutral principles analysis.

bb also wrote: "The Bishop has his name on some deeds and those are listed in the Annual Council books - but he does not have his name on most of the parish properties in the Diocese"

Might that be because the canons require that properties for a church be held in trust? (Hint: yes)

bb: "This was clear at Christ Church Alexandria where the wardens had to spend an hour assuring their congregation that they were not turning their own deeds over to the bishop."

Congratulations -- you and Julia Duin are capable of causing trouble.

BabyBlue said...

I believe George Conger is referring to the cases that have arisen since General Convention 2003. I can't remember exactly when Jon Bruno sued St. James Newport, but I think that was in 2005. So it appears to be "over the past three or four years" that there's been 57 lawsuits.

I'm guessing that George got his number from the AAC which is tracking these stats, including all the clergy who have been defrocked, laity who have been sued, and bishops who have been deposed. This is not that way we should be handling this problem. The Virginia Protocol was a way to separate while the situation is so toxic and work to find a way to remain in as close a communion as possible, to quote Bishop Lee. It's certainly not the only way we could approach this crisis, but it was a good way. As we know, the Episcopal leadership during the Civil War just chose to mark the southern dioceses "absent" and if anyone had reason to depose and defrock, it would have been the north where southern Episcopal bishops were picking up arms and heading to the battlefields to shoot Yankees dead, which must have included an Episcopalian or two. As it is, all the North (that is The Episcopal Church of today) did was mark them absent.


BabyBlue said...

Also, the reading of the deeds did come up in the trial last year, when it was argued that the bishop did hold property in his name while the majority of the parishes held their property by trustees. The judge asked why didn't the bishop order the transfer of all the parish properties to the bishop and the diocesan lawyers had to admit that it would have caused - I wish I could remember the exact words because they were very accurate - but it would have caused a tremendous upheaval in the Diocese. In Virginia, the bishop's power was limited by design. The changes in the polity of the national church (which the Communion Partners are now rising up to oppose publicly) were not reflected in the diocese until Schori intervened in the Virginia process of Bishop Lee's Protocol for Departing Congregations. Until then, her predecessor Frank Griswold maintained that it was the prerogative of the diocese to handle the conflicts they way they saw fit. When asked about this change, Schori said after she took over, that was then, this is now. Only the Communion Partners are now starting to fight back. Sadly, Bishop Lee is not one of them.


Soapy Sam said...

Let me tell you the direction in which I was thinking. There's no adequate reason for breaking away from TEC unless the ruling circles in TEC consist of (more or less, let's call them) Gentiles. And if it does, it would be nuts to expect TEC to follow the Apostle's advice and not get into lawsuits against believers in front of secular courts. Therefore dioceses and congregations which break away have to expect TEC to try to protect its interests by litigation.

Even if TEC wins most of the cases, it's still OK for the congregations who broke away, provided that they knew what they were doing and were fully agreed that it was necessary. They would be wise, however, to spend their money (from now forward) on creating the facilities they need, and not put too much of it into paying lawyers.

On the other side, I do comprehend that legal costs will be unpopular with those in TEC who are not Gentiles--but I don't know if that's a majority or a minority.

The decision-makers in TEC didn't know in 2003 or until quite recently that their hopes of unity were going to be dealt as many blows as they recently have been. Their expectation was that opposition on the matter of Gene Robinson and on related issues would not lead to so many Anglicans deciding it was impossible to continue to be part of TEC.

Anam Cara said...

I'm not a member at Truro, but I do attend a home group.

I remember during the 40 days of discernment being concerned about the lawsuits. The argument was made that legal fees would be less than trying to replace the property.

Even so, I personally felt that the vote should be to leave TEC and then walk away and begin again.

And I agree with Anon who thinks "future Episcopalians" is an oxymoron. Just be patient and the land/buildings will be for sale. They could have been purchased with money used for legal fees.

Of course, I'm not a member, so I didn't vote. But it is very interesting watching what all is happening. The home group I attend is going on as it always did. Only the name of the church has changed.

Tom said...

Thanks for the response BB, but I don't follow your reference to +Bruno. How does that tell you that 57 lawsuits have been filed, since then?

BabyBlue said...

The Bruno lawsuit was the first one I remember - I remember thinking at the time that it seemed incredible that a bishop would sue lay volunteers on the vestry for voting.

There were churches that had all ready separated from the Episcopal Church or were about to - the Episcopal Church in Kansas City and the Episcopal Church in Plano (and there may have been at least one in Central Florida) and of course, All Saints Dale City was able to do it as the test case for the protocol - they all were able to negotiate and leave for other Anglican provinces. But then, well, everything changed.

There were a bunch of lawsuits in the Diocese of Florida alone, as I remember, as well as more lawsuits in the Diocese of Los Angeles (St. James was just the first one) against parishes that voted to separate.

In Virginia each church that voted to separate was sued individually - not once, but twice! It wasn't CANA that was sued, but each parish individually - twice! Once by the Diocese of Virginia and once by Katharine Jefferts Schori at 815 (they may have been unsure whether Virginia would actually go through with it - anyway, they didn't do it together). How many is that? Eleven churches times two? That's twenty two lawsuits right there (and of course, almost 200 people were sued individually as well in Virginia before the judge rather strongly encouraged TEC to drop it, seeing it for what it really was) - if those had stood who knows what the total would be if we added all the lay volunteers who have been sued by The Episcopal Church - it doesn't look like those are included in the George Conger's total. I think the lay vestry members are still sued in California.

You should have seen the electric board with the daily case schedule at the Fairfax Court House before the Virginia cases were finally consolidated. Even after the consolidation, the board wasn't updated and for days during the trial this long list of lawsuits would scroll down the electronic boards all over the Fairfax County Court House with a sort of "who's who" of Northern Virginia. It was quite a sight.