Diocese of Virginia prevails in court

The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled this morning in favor of the Diocese of Virginia in the property dispute between the diocese and CANA. In its ruling the court reversed and remanded the case.

The case had centered on CANA’s use of a Virginia law hastily passed in the interregnum between the defeat of the Confederacy and the imposition of Reconstruction. The case now returns to the lower court. If CANA persues its claims the trial would likely center around the same issues as in other “Neutral Principles” states. The Episcopal Church has routinely won such cases.

When a case is decided by a trial court, the losing party may appeal the case to an appellate court. If the appellate court finds that the trial court made a mistake, as a matter of law, then the judgment may be reversed meaning that the court is invalidating the trial court’s decision. It is then remanded, meaning sent back to the trial court, so that a judgment in the losing party’s favor will be recorded. [answers.com]

Details to follow. See updates.

Irrespective of the outcome, The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, Bishop of Virginia, had invited members of the continuing congregations whose property is occupied by CANA congregations to join together on Saturday, June 12 for a time of prayer, information sharing and a discussion of next steps. More details here.

Update 1. The opinion. The court ruled the key statute relied upon by the lower court does not apply:

However, for purposes of our analysis in these appeals, we need not decide whether the Anglican Communion is a church or religious society as contemplated by Code § 57-9(A) because the evidence in the record does not establish that there has been a “division” in the Anglican Communion. While undoubtedly there was theological disagreement between TEC and the Diocese and CANA, the ADV, the dissenting congregations and the Church of Nigeria concerning the actions of the 2003 General Convention of TEC, all of these entities continue to admit a strong allegiance to the Anglican Communion. Accordingly, we conclude that the circuit court erred in its holding that there was a division in the Anglican Communion for purposes of the application of Code § 57-9(A) in these cases.

In summary, we conclude that the evidence does not establish that there was a division in the Anglican Communion for purposes of the application of Code § 57-9(A). We further conclude that a proper construction of Code § 57-9(A) requires a petitioning congregation to establish both that there has been a division within the church or religious society to which it is attached and that subsequent to that division the congregation seeks to affiliate with a branch derived from that same church or religious society. While the branch joined may operate as a separate polity from the branch to which the congregation formerly was attached, the statute requires that each branch proceed from the same polity, and not merely a shared tradition of faith. The record in these cases shows that the CANA Congregations satisfied the first of these requirements in that there was a division within TEC and the Diocese, but not the second, as CANA clearly is not a branch of either TEC or the Diocese. Accordingly, we hold that the circuit court erred in ruling that the CANA Congregations’ petitions were properly before the court under Code § 57-9(A).

There is no ruling on the constitutionality of 57-9:

fn 11 – Because we have concluded that the CANA Congregations have not satisfied the requirements for petitioning the circuit court for relief under Code § 57-9(A), we need not address TEC’s and the Diocese’s assignments of error challenging the court’s finding that the statute was not violative of the First Amendment and Due Process.

Update 2. Statement from the Diocese is here. Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese: “In light of this decision and its clear implications, I hope the leadership of CANA will now provide access for the continuing Episcopal congregations to worship as Episcopalians at their home churches during this interim period.”

Update 3. Washington Post report (behind the news curve at this juncture) [Up to speed now – see Update 12 below]

Update 4. The bottom line in a nutshellFrom the comments, a view that the ruling is a big victory for the diocese.

I’m told that in order to prevail [on the neutral principles jurisprudence of Virginia law], CANA must demonstrate that the Diocese has neither a contractual interest, a proprietary interest nor a trust interest in the property. CANA may choose to challenge the validity of the Dennis Canon and argue that the property of Truro, the Falls Church and others is not held in trust for the wider church, but even if they prevail in that argument—which they shouldn’t—it probably won’t be enough to swing a verdict in their favor. The existing case law in Virginia overwhelmingly favors the position of hierarchical churches in these cases. That includes the case of an Episcopal Church in the southern part of the state that attempted to breakaway over the ordination of women. That case was heard before General Convention adopted the Dennis Canon, but the Episcopal Church still won.

Update 5. Richmond Times Dispatch

Update 6. ENS Bulletin

Update 7. ADV statement here. Jim Oakes, chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia: “We are sorry The Episcopal Church has chosen to go its own way. Their choice to be a prodigal church does not give them the right to take our houses of worship with them.”

Update 8. Christianity Today blog post here.

Update 9. Falls Church Episcopal press release here. The Rev. Michael Pipkin, Priest-in-Charge: “We pray that the leadership of CANA will now provide us access to worship in our historic home during this interim period, and as we move forward in resolving whatever issues remain….”

Update 10. Mark Silk: CANA too clever by half.

Silk takes the too cleverness in one direction. Another direction is that by affiliating themselves at the outset with the Church of Nigeria, CANA created facts that the court says invalidated the use of 57-9. They affiliated with a branch that did not come out of The Episcopal Church. The court says a branch need not come out of an orderly conciliatory process with the mother church, but the new branch must proceed from The Episcopal Church. CANA attached itself to a branch proceeding from the Church of Nigeria. For the purposes of the remand those are givens that cannot at this point be changed.

CANA in Virginia said in its press release today (see update 7),

The Anglican District of Virginia (www.anglicandistrictofvirginia.org) is an association of Anglican congregations in Virginia. Its members are in full communion with constituent members of the Anglican Communion through its affiliation with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a missionary branch of the Church of Nigeria and other Anglican Archbishops. ADV members are a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, a community of 77 million people. [screenshot of ADV press release]

A thread has begun in the comments concerning how today’s story connects with another big story of the week. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office, acting at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury, has issued dis-invitations to members of The Episcopal Church serving on ecumenical committees of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury explained that he took the action because The Episcopal Church had “formally” violated the moratorium against consecrating gay bishops. The ABC said any province which had “formally” violated any of the three moratoria would be punished as well. Questions have been raised about why provinces engaged in boundary crossing did not receive dis-invites. In a press conference at the Canadian General Synod the Secretary General’s explanation was, “I simply do not know whether Nigeria or Rwanda have formally through their Synod or through a resolution in their House of Bishops have decided [to break the moratorium regarding cross-border interventions].”

Update 11. Press release from the amici of the Diocese here.

In the bigger picture, the court’s ruling is not good news for hierarchical denominations. The court said under 57-9 you cannot attach yourself to just any branch. The branch must have proceeded from the mother church, but the court did not rule out division by schism. Does that mean a single parish could leave and declare the denomination and itself one of the branches? The court would have to rule to be sure, but it did not explicitly rule that out in this opinion. (There’s no contradiction in the prior sentence with the statement in the opinion that “Indeed, it is clear that a majority vote by one or more congregations to separate from a hierarchical church under Code § 57-9(A) would not alone be sufficient to establish the fact of a division.”) The ADV, however, is stuck with the facts it created — at the time of the property dispute began it attached itself to a branch, to the Church of Nigeria. Again, that’s why this is a win for the diocese in this specific case — that branch did not meet the criteria of branch in the opinion of the court.

Update 12. More extensive media reports are arriving, listed below:

Associated Press – Includes a local CBS news video.

Washington Post – Va. high court rules against Anglican breakaway churches, but dispute isn’t over

Washington Post – Political implications to Episcopal Church court ruling

Washington Post – Could battling Anglicans wind up in the same buildings?

Update 13. Full ENS report here.

Update 14. RNS

Update 15 Statement by John Yates, Rector of The Falls Church CANA: “God has called us to a walk of faith and obedience through Jesus Christ.”


Several editors of The Lead contributed to the compilation and production of this post.

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