Bp. Lee addresses Virginia Council

During a pastoral address that summarized the mission work of the Diocese of Virginia and illustrated the problems faced when giving doesn’t add up to diocesan needs, Bishop Peter James Lee, noted the following about the the funding of ongoing litigation with breakaway parishes, reiterating statements from the parish about the court case and the Va. Attorney General’s recent intervention in it:

Defending our heritage and securing our future is expensive. We have spent so far nearly two million dollars on litigation costs as a defendant. We are blessed with dedicated and very effective lawyers, a number of whom are either working pro bono or at discounted rates as a gift to the church. Mike Kerr, our chief financial officer, with the authorization of the Executive Board has obtained a line of credit for the legal fees so we are current in paying them. The interest on the line of credit is being paid by endowment income so that no pledge money from churches or individuals is used for legal fees. At the conclusion of this litigation, we expect to pay off the line of credit by selling undeveloped and unconsecrated property, a process that is already under way. No one likes lawsuits but at the same time, our generation has a stewardship responsibility to protect the property of our churches for Episcopalians in the next 400 years.

This case involves Virginia’s historic tradition of religious liberty. Virginia is the home of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, adopted by the General Assembly in 1786. The recent motion of Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell to intervene in the case represents an intrusion by the state into the freedom of the church. The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, as well as other faith communities from across the Commonwealth, oppose this intrusion. Whether the Attorney General will be permitted to intervene is the subject of a hearing today in Fairfax Circuit Court. If the Attorney General’s view of the law prevails, it will mean that the Commonwealth of Virginia gives preference to churches with congregational governance, discriminates against churches that are hierarchical or connectional in their governance and intrudes into the doctrine and discipline of communities of faith. We are involved in a legal case that has serious consequences for religious liberty.

But the hot topic at the annual council was immigration. R-9s, “Working for Just and Humane Immigration Policy,” generated passionate debate over whether the resolution should contain a stipulation that it apply to legal immigrants only, in light of recent legislation proposals that could criminalize humanitarian assistance to undocumented aliens. But the resolution ultimately passed without any changes, resolving that the Council joins the 75th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in adopting the policy principles set forth in Resolution 2006-A017 supporting opportunities for undocumented aliens in response to recognized labor force needs as well as policies that support families and due process for all persons.

The complete text of Bishop Lee’s pastoral address is here.

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