Diocese of Virginia will appeal


The Diocese of Virginia has responded today to a ruling in a Virginia court that the 19th century Virginia statute governing the distribution of property in the event of a denominational split applies in the case of the CANA churches of northern Virginia.

The ruling, if upheld on appeal, would allow the congregations breaking away from the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church to retain their buildings. One associated endowment would not be retained by the separating congregations.

The Diocese is appealing the decision on the grounds that it violates the constitutional separation between Church and State given that the government is being asked to rule that a denominational split has taken place when a denomination states that not to be the case.

From the diocese’s statement:

In order to pursue those issues and restore constitutional protections for hierarchical churches in Virginia, the Diocese also announced today that Professor A.E. Dick Howard has joined the diocesan legal team to assist in its appeal of this case to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Professor Howard is a professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law and is a renowned constitutional scholar. He served as the executive director of the Commission on Constitutional Revision, which revised the constitution of Virginia. Professor Howard has also served as counsel to the General Assembly of Virginia.

Bishop Lee further stated, “We call on the CANA congregation occupying The Falls Church property to drop their claim on the endowment fund, and thus allow The Falls Church Episcopal to use the endowment for desperately needed outreach in the Falls Church area, in line with the original purpose of the fund.”

“We are grateful to have someone of Professor Howard’s stature and talent on our team,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop coadjutor of Virginia. “There may be no other legal expert in Virginia who is as knowledgeable of the state constitution. We are preparing our appeal now and are confident in our position that this law cannot stand constitutional scrutiny. Together, we will explore every option to ensure that faithful Episcopalians in Virginia are guaranteed the right to worship as they please, without interference from the state.&rdquo

In its statement The Episcopal Church says,

We are not surprised — or discouraged — by the adverse aspects of today’s decision. As we have stated previously, we shall now seek review of this case by the Supreme Court of Virginia and are optimistic that that court will reverse the trial court’s interpretation and application of the Virginia statute and reaffirm Virginia’s historic commitment to religious freedom. In the meantime, the decisions in this case have no relevance for the property litigation brought by dioceses with the support of The Episcopal Church before courts in other states, which, we are pleased to say, have consistently ruled in favor of our positions.

The statements from Anglican District of Virginia and CANA are here and here.

News reports. AP: Conservatives win court case in Va. church dispute | ENS: Court ruling clears way for property-litigation appeal |

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