UPDATE: The Final Order is here.
Virginia Anglicans remain prayerful and are reviewing legal path forward
The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are reviewing today’s final orders by the Fairfax County Circuit Court on issues including transferring real and personal property. At the same time they are prayerfully considering their legal options.
“While our congregations will comply with the final order, we are saddened that the Circuit Court did not accept the motion for partial reconsideration and we continue to believe that, as a matter of religious liberty, it is the right of donors to restrict the use of their own gifts to the church of their choice,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven congregations.
Earlier this month, the congregations filed a motion for partial reconsideration with the Fairfax County Circuit Court asking that the court reconsider the portion of its January ruling stating that certain personal property, including monetary gifts, given to the congregations prior to January 31, 2007, belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
The Virginia Attorney General also filed a brief with the Fairfax County Circuit Court in support of the defendant congregations’ motion for partial reconsideration.
“We remain grateful to our own legal team’s steadfastness and commitment to defending our congregations throughout this lengthy litigation process. Further, we are thankful for the support from the Virginia Attorney General who was present in this case to represent the public interest in enforcing the wishes of charitable donors in Virginia,” concluded Oakes.
The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “Our congregations are blessed by the confidence that God will always provide a home for His followers. We have always known that a church is not just its buildings, but its people and the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed and lived. We look forward to God leading us in the days ahead.”
The Circuit Court heard the church property case last spring after the Virginia Supreme Court remanded it in June 2010. Last month, the Circuit Court ruled against the congregations, after they previously had succeeded in their efforts on the Circuit Court level to defend the property that they bought and paid for.
The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America.
UPDATE: Here is the Diocese of Virginia's statement:
March 1, 2012
Today, the Fairfax Circuit Court entered a final order in favor of the Diocese of Virginia in its effort to recover Episcopal property for the mission of the Episcopal Church. The Court also denied the CANA congregations' recent motion for partial reconsideration of the court's original ruling of January 10.
"We hope that this will mark the end of this lengthy litigation," said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. "By closing this chapter, both the Diocese and the CANA congregations have the freedom to focus our energies on the mission and ministries of our respective congregations, and even what we might be able to do together for people and a world in need of the Gospel's work," Johnston added. "For the Diocese, we even now are undertaking an initiative known as Dayspring, an integrated effort to discern and implement a comprehensive vision for our congregations and properties affected by this litigation. We look forward to sharing more news as Dayspring continues to take shape."
Under the final order, the CANA congregations must convey to the Diocese of Virginia all real and personal property by April 30, 2012. The real property includes seven church buildings and a significant number of other parcels. The personal property includes both tangible items, such as chalices, prayer books and crosses, and intangibles, including the funds on hand. The ruling allows the CANA congregations to retain some restricted funds over which they have no discretion and that do not benefit the local congregation, the Diocese or the Episcopal Church. The court has set March 30 as the deadline for the parties to determine the disposition of those funds. Where the parties do not agree, the court will make a judicial determination.
"Today marks a major milestone in this effort," said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese. "We respect fully the CANA congregations' right to pursue an appeal, and we are in discussions with them as they face significant issues of discernment and transition in their path forward."