Episcopal News Service is reporting on yesterday’s ruling in Virginia:
Virginia’s Fairfax Circuit Court ruled August 10 in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia in denying the claims of 11 separated congregations that the court should not consider the Church’s Constitution and Canons in deciding property disputes.
The congregations, in which a majority of members have voted to leave the Episcopal Church but continue to occupy its property, asked the court to dismiss the complaints of the Church and the diocese.
After hearing arguments by all parties, the judge overruled all but one part of the motions. The court dismissed the claims of the diocese for a judgment that the congregations had committed a trespass by holding onto the property. Such claims, the court ruled, should be pleaded separately.
Also on August 10, after hearing arguments on a motion to dismiss all the individual defendant vestry members, clergy, and trustees from the litigation, all of the parties agreed that they — together with the separated congregations — will be bound by whatever ruling the trial court makes regarding ownership of the real and personal property. Their agreement extends to any ruling on appeal.
According to the agreement, if the court rules in favor of the Episcopal Church and the diocese, an orderly transition with respect to all property would ensue. The Church and the diocese reserve the right, however, to seek an accounting of all monies spent by the departed congregations and bring the individual vestry members and clergy back into the litigation for that purpose.