Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Episcopal Church "ups the ante" in litigation

From here:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote for the Wall Street Journal editorial page about how The Episcopal Church had upped the ante in property disputes with departing congregations and clergy. While the church and its dioceses had long been litigating against departing congregations, they added a new feature in recent months: departing congregations who wished to pay for their church property and remain in it also had to disaffiliate from anything Anglican. They couldn’t have a bishop in an alternative polity, they couldn’t contribute financially or otherwise to any alternate Anglican group and they couldn’t call themselves Anglican.
Thus far, four congregations have agreed to the demands. (I believe Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the only reporter who has covered this “disaffiliation” story for mainstream news pages.) Some of the people I spoke with who’d agreed to disaffiliate told me that they were surprised at the end of lengthy negotiations to be presented with the demand and were too weary to fight it. Others told me that they simply wanted to do what it took to stop getting sued. Other congregations refused the demand, as Rodgers has written about. I spoke with a member of a departing congregation, for instance, who said that she and fellow parishioners responded to the demand by cleaning up their sanctuary for the last time, turning over the key, and walking away. The Episcopal Church responded to my piece with “talking points” and a letter from a bishop whose diocese has seen quite a few departing congregations, members and clergy. Following my piece’s publication, I’ve heard from dozens of disaffected or departed Episcopalians who’ve told some pretty amazing stories about how the Episcopal Church has fought any conservative unrest.

Just as my “disaffiliation” story was going to press, though, word came out of South Carolina that The Episcopal Church was investigating the conservative bishop there for “abandonment,” even though he hadn’t left the Episcopal Church.

Snowmageddeon hit Truro Church last year.
NOTE: Same kind of stuff is going on in Virginia where one parish that voted in 2006 to separate from The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia reached a property settlement with the Episcopal bishop only after agreeing to not affiliate with the Anglicans for at least five years (and why five years?) and it's not clear exactly what happens after five years.   It is plain that the Diocese has no use for the property.  What is the fear - that more Virginia parishes will follow?  There is no way that the Diocese can afford all the properties now tied up in litigation.  No way.  All we need is another snow storm to hit northern Virginia and Mayo House will be strapped.  Why not lay down arms now?  Surely there must be a better way.  Even if the Anglicans walk away from the properties - how will the diocese - which has no compulsive assessments - pay the bills?

 Read it all here.

31 comments:

Andy said...

I was considering your post script and have also wondered about the "five year" stipulation.
In some ways, it reminds me of the the old practice of papal interdict where a medieval pope could effectively cut off a parish or diocese from the life of the church.
I hope that it turns out to be a simple test of endurance and that those on the other side of the table would be honest brokers in the end.

swac said...

To be frank. What the Episcopal church does with its property should be of no concern to you.
From your writings, I gather that you are not Episcopalian.
My advice is to put all your energies and talents to good use in the denomination you now belong to and allow Episcopalians to do the same.
Andy, again uses strange analogies and comparisons. The Pope and medieval Bishops. I don't think so. The parishioners are free to meet and mix with whomever they like but the property cannot be transferred for five years. That is my understanding. Am I wrong?

Ed McNeill said...

swac, the condition on sale requires that the congregation not belong to any Anglican Denomination (ACNA, AMiA, etc...) for five years. Of course parishioners may do what they like, but the congregation may not have a bishop visit for five years and may not participate in diocesan activities.

The point that people are making regarding the future use of buildings is that refusing to sell them to departing congregations feels as spiteful as the five year "non compete" clause.

Andy said...

Just the same, Mary your essays this week have been first rate.
For the record swac, I was born and raised Episcopalian (of the Diocese of Pennsylvania). I spent my formative years as an Acolyte at Trinity Coatesville, PA and wore an Episcopal serviceman's cross for 20 years while serving in the USAF. I can only quote President Reagan (in his reflections on the Democratic Party)... I didn't leave the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church left me.

John said...

Andy. I was born and raised in a Catholic family, my sister is still upset with me for leaving the "true faith", when they switched from Latin to, in my case, English. At that time many people left the church claiming that the English translation was not a true reflection of the Latin Mass. I understand change is difficult but sometimes necessary for our spiritual journey to Christ.
I cannot remember the exact years, 2002 through 2005 maybe, the Rector of our Episcopal church would not allow the Bishop's annual visit for Confirmations etc, one had to go to the Cathedral for such rites. We did not flourish at that time and eventually the Parish split. Very traumatic but in hindsight the best outcome for both groups.
The irony is that the "Anglicans" are now upset about something that they did several years ago. Do you remember this- http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/ss/archives/000405.html

Anonymous said...

Interesting that All Saints, Woodbridge, VA moved into their new building and wanted to give their old building back to DioVA a few months before the $1 per year lease was up. DioVA is apparently balking due to the need to begin paying for insurance, security, and other building sustainability costs.
Makes one wonder what DioVA would do if the VA courts grant TEC the titles to the properties under litigation.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

The problem is the story is inaccurate. Only one (not 4) congregation signed an agreement with a disaffiliation clause in Pittsburgh. One other congregation signed an agreement without such a clause. A third has signed an agreement to purchase some of the church furniture and supplies. That congregation moved out of its building a year ago before any offer to negotiate was sent to congregations. There are two other congregations that left their buildings. One sent a letter saying it was voluntarily leaving before the Episcopal diocese made any offer to the congregation. The other cut short negotiations after only 2 weeks.

Anonymous said...

The last comment adds some perspective. I don't see how these "disaffiliation" agreements "up the ante", as the post implies. This has been going on for at least a few months and all instances where this has happened have been consensual. Both sides agreed to it either as part of a settlement of litigation, or as part of a property deal. One of the reason some departing factions have agreed to it in a litigation context is that their legal position is quite weak. Although it is easy to lose sight of in the passions of blog exchanges, we might as well occasionally remind ourselves that it is a radical, unprecedented idea that generally lacks legal support that a person or persons can decide to leave a denomination for another and, by virtue of that decision, lay claim to church property. Whether one likes the disaffiliation condition to these settlements or not, it is a perfectly rational thing to bargain for from the perspective of a Diocese or national church in the fact circumstances that have attended most of the departures. If a group gets the idea that they can agitate internally for departure to CANA, ACNA or any other denomination and, if they get sufficient adherents, keep the buildings, accounts, personal property, a rather attractive business plan for new denomination formation has been created. and a lot of instability injected into an already fractious situation within the Church. Five years doesn't seem like much to me in these circumstances, but it is probably as long as is acceptable in a negotiation context to a departing group. In any event, if people don't want to agree to it as they weigh the totality of their circumstances, they don't have to.

Scout

Scout

Anonymous said...

Why should employees of these disaffialiated congregations be banned from maing donations from their own salaries to ACNA?

Anonymous said...

"...that a person or persons can decide to leave a denomination for another and, by virtue of that decision, lay claim to church property."

So Episcopalians are not Anglicans? CANA is a missionary extension of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. How did the CANA congregations "leave a denomination" (unless TEC considers itself to not be Anglican)?

I understand that even though provinces representing 2/3 of the world's Anglicans recognize ACNA as an Anglican province, the Arch-Ditherer of Canturbury does not, so please spare us that argument.

Our Lady of Perpetual Litigation is winning properties in the same way as a python that kills what she cannot swallow.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Ralph - are you saying that in fact, despite all the heated rhetoric, no one left the Episcopal Church? Or are we splitting hairs over what is a "denomination"? I'm not sure my view is much affected by whether we call ACNA or CANA a different denomination, different church, or anything else. I have no doubt that when people left my Episcopal parish, they intended to leave. My recurring question is: what is there about leaving that gave them the right to evict Episcopal clergy and those of us who chose to stay? I can't find it in the Diocesan canons, the parish by-laws, the TEC canons, or common ethical, moral or legal perceptions. When you leave a church, you leave.

CANA was a confection (at least in its application to the current property disputes) to provide an arguable fit for dissidents leaving the Episcopal Church in Virginia with a peculiar state statute that offered some hope that a big property grab could be pulled off. It didn't work. Once the state Supreme Court pulled that option off the table, CANA ceased to have any reason to exist in Virginia and it has been, as best I can tell put on the road to dismantling in favour of full membership of departing parishioners in ACNA.

Yes, of course Episcopalians are "Anglicans." So where do we go with that? Are you saying that if departing Episcopalians join a mission church (one of dubious canonical and administrative legality) of an overseas province, they get to take property from Episcopalians in the same parish who choose not to leave? Sorry, but I really don't follow you on this.

All litigation is essentially defensive. It would not exist but for property claims by persons leaving the Church. If they didn't want that, they would have done the conservative, traditional, thing and pooled their resources to build new buildings and facilities. No one would have faulted them for that.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Scout,

We could continue exchanging the usual talking points but they're getting rather worn. Courts will decide the property issues (soon I hope).

However, your response does raise an interesting issue: do you consider members of CANA and or ACNA to be Anglicans?

RalphM

Anonymous said...

I don't work from talking points, Ralph, but, to give you a more direct response than I usually get when I pose questions around here: Sure., ACNA and CANA are Anglican groups. I can't see that this nomenclature is a big deal. To me "Anglican" (or "anglican") reflects close derivation from the history, doctrine, and/or liturgy of the Church of England. I understand CANA to have been a mission undertaking of the Anglican Province of Nigeria (I use the perfect tense to imply that I do not think CANA has any current import now that the Virginia Division Statute is out of the picture). I understand ACNA to be a new denomination that derives its liturgy from the Church of England and from the Episcopal Church in the United States. That's all I need to think that the term "Anglican" has some validity when applied to either of these groups (I draw the line at the Methodists, however). I view ACNA as a new denomination formed in the first decade of the 21st Century by Americans who disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church of the United States. What distinguishes them from Methodists, at least in terms of their being able to wear the Anglican mantle comfortably, is ACNA's close adoption of CofE and Episcopal liturgy.

However, as I said before, I'm not sure where that gets us on the basic question of how departing persons or groups, under the canons of the Episcopal Church (Diocesan or national) or parish by-laws get to defenestrate people who stay with the church. This puzzlement never seems to get addressed squarely. I submit that this question is at the core of the current property disputes.

Scout

RWK said...

I would submit that the question hinges on what the role of the trustee is in law. TEC asserts that the Dennis Canon is binding on the trustees, and in most, but not all cases, the court has accepted this primacy. The trustees believe they are acting within the responsibility and are not bound by the canon.

If the case were as "cut and dried" as both sides had believed it would have been finished a long time ago. Like most court cases, I think each side has some valid claims in law and the different rulings in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and California validate that assessment. The judges need to decide which interpretation of the law will prevail in VA. Regardless of which side prevails, the validity of the claims at the outset of the dispute will remain. The losers would only be "thieves" if they continue to hold onto the property after the decision.

Anonymous said...

RWK - a good effort at a fair comment. I agree with much of it. I don't think the Dennis Canon has the central importance that you ascribe to it. Those who remained in the Episcopal church also point to the governing documents of the parish, diocese, and national church, as well as a course of dealings in which the vestry and clergy of the church pledged their loyalty to the discipline and doctrine of the church. Moreover, there is not unity of views among the trustees. In my parish, two of the three trustees are continuing Episcopalians.

"Thieves" is a strong word. I think "occupiers" is a better, more neutral term. And, at least in the Virginia setting, those who did not leave are excluded from continuing Episcopal worship in the properties, so there is no way they could hold onto the property following an adverse decision.

Scout

RWK said...

I concur about thieves, but it is a word and term that has been used. My goal was to defuse the rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Scout,

Thank you for your generous comments on who is "Anglican".

Regarding the raison d'etre for CANA, there were and are many more churches in CANA than the VA group, and CANA was always intended to be a temporary solution pending the establishment of a permanent home. ACNA now fills that need for many of the CANA churches.

Some departing churches have chosen to retain their affiliations with off-shore bishops only, some have chosen dual "citizenship" with CANA and ACNA, and others have chosen ACNA as their sole identity.

It is true that churches marked time while the Division Statute was litigated, but CANA existed before the suits were filed by TEC, and if memory serves me right, not all departing churches were part of CANA. The predecessor organization to CANA was CONA, which served as a home for ex-pat Nigerians. Whether all CANA congregations will find a spiritual home in ACNA remains to be seen. For now, CANA continues to serve the needds of many dozens of congregations.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

I realize that CANA existed pre-schism, Ralph. My point is that its attraction as a vehicle for departure in Virginia was largely its ability to provide a structure that resembled the "division" and "branch" architecture of the Virginia Division Statute. I don't think that, without that motivation, CANA will long serve any purpose that ACNA cannot serve as well or better. But because ACNA was a new creation at the time of the split, it did not fit the terminology of the Virginia Division Statute. Ironically, the analysis of the Virginia Supreme Court raises the interesting notion that, had the break-away groups affiliated with ACNA originally, they might have fared better in court. I think they thought too hard about how best to take the property.

Scout

Anonymous said...

RalphM - where do you get your info that the diocese is balking at the return of all Saints Dale City?

Anonymous said...

Snow storms are your argument for the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia to give up? "No way" you say.

No way, indeed.

Anonymous said...

There is a smell of desperation to that argument. And having left five years ago, how do you, BabyBlue, know what the Diocese can and can't do?

It seems that the congregations who have left have suffered significant loss of membership in a number of circumstances. The Diocese has not.

Anonymous said...

At a very low-threshold minimum, "laying down arms", would certainly involve either vacating the seized premises or, alternatively, allowing displaced Episcopalians to use the premises for worship presided over by the Diocese of Virginia and Episcopalian clergy. It's not clear whether that's what BB is suggesting, but I think it would be a welcome development that would recognize that the legal issues are very much up in the air at the moment.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

If you are new to the cafe then you may not know that I am still a card-carrying Episcopalian - I am an Episcopalian member of an ACNA parish. No one has to cease being an Episcopalian to be a member of an ACNA parish. In fact, Diocese of Virginia parishes and ACNA parishes to this day send Letters of Transfer to each other - surprised?

bb

Anonymous said...

Another loss.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11299/1184950-53.stm

Anonymous said...

To be an Episcopalian, one must belong to an Episcopal Church. What parish do you belong to?

BabyBlue said...

Actually, Anon, this is what the Episcopal Church canons say about who is a communicant:

Title I, Canon 17, Sec. 2 (a) All members of this Church who have received Holy Communion in this Church at least three times during the preceding year are to be considered communicants of this Church.

This is why there are two numbers that TEC looks at, the membership and the average Sunday attendance. In fact, you can be a "member" of a local Episcopal parish without being an Episcopalian (TEC counts baptized members of local parishes in the dioceses) but to be a communicant, that is one who is confirmed/received into The Episcopal Church this is what the canons officially specify.

bb

Anonymous said...

And you voted to leave your denomination? That act would seem to negate your membership.

What a laughable argument you make.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I think BB is saying that she did not leave the Episcopal Church and remains a member. I'm not sure I follow the significance of this, but I have no reason to quibble with her about it. I'm glad she remains active in the Church.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

I am an Episcopal member of an ACNA parish - I haven't been reconfirmed, now have I? I don't think so. In fact, my parish has both Anglican and Episcopalian communicants (those who were confirmed/received by Episcopal, CANA, Church of England etc.) bishops. As for the baptized membership in addition to Episcopalians and Anglicans, it also has amongst its parish membership people from Protestant denominations as well as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. But when we say communicants those are people who have been confirmed/received by Episcopal and Anglican bishops.

In fact, the rector and associate rector are actually priests in the Church of England (and they haven't "left the denomination" to serve at Truro) and continue to be priests in good standing in their home dioceses in London, now licensed by our bishop to serve at Truro. Why do you supposed the Archbishop of Canterbury permits priests in good standing in the Church of England to serve at Truro?

In December 2006 my parish voted to separate from the Diocese of Virginia but remain in the Anglican Communion (and NOT leave the denomination). Rather we joined another branch in the Anglican Communion, a branch that apparently is now recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he would authorize two priests in good standing to serve at an ACNA parish.

And yes I think as this thread illustrates that The Episcopal Church is plenty mad about it. Some good news that was made public this weekend is that conversations have been underway between the leadership of Truro and the bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. We may be "separated" but we are exploring ways to, with God's help, share ministry, which was Bishop Lee's vision when this whole process started, that we might remain"in as close a communion as possible."

And that is still - even at this late hour - the prayer of my heart.

bb

Anonymous said...

That's all a bit confusing to me, BB, at least the part about whether you are or are not an Episcopalian after you voted to depart the Diocese and began worship in a CANA church. But I'll defer to your views (as I must) on where your ties are.

Nonetheless, I think you are engaged in a bit of wishful thinking if you extrapolate from the fact that you have British priests to the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion.

Scout

Anonymous said...

The thing that disturbs me as an Episcopalian is the policy of discriminating against schismatic churches in the disposition of the property. Seems vindictive. I asked the office of the Presiding Bishop about the policy, and they confirmed it:

"I have offered two norms for property decisions: that they represent a reasonable approximation of fair market value; and that we should not be in the business of supporting groups which seek to displace or destroy The Episcopal Church. Both principles are meant to support our engagement in God’s mission, with the understanding that we have a fiduciary responsibility to use the legacy of the Church for the purposes for which it was given. When there is a desire to sell a redundant church property to a Methodist congregation or a Jewish synagogue or for a purely secular use, I see no difficulty if the fiduciary responsibilities are met."