Texas appeals court rules in favor of loyalist parish

In a ruling that could implications for the Diocese of Fort Worth, an appeals court has affirmed a trial courts decision in favor of loyalists at a parish in the Diocese of Northwest Texas. The Court of Appeals in Austin concluded in part:

“Thus, the essence of the dispute before us can be seen as an inherently ecclesiastical question: which parishioners–the loyal Episcopalian minority or the breakaway Anglican majority–represent Good Shepherd, in whose name the disputed property is held? It is not within the jurisdiction of this Court to decide such an issue, which is inextricably linked with matters of church discipline, membership, and faith. Instead, we are bound by the decisions of the highest church judicatories within the Episcopal Church hierarchy to which the matter has been carried.”

The “property is owned by Good Shepherd–not the parishioners who disaffiliated from it.”

The “trial court’s judgment can be affirmed whether we decide this appeal by applying neutral principles of law or by deferring resolution of the determinative question of identity to the proper authorities within the Episcopal Church hierarchy. Under either methodology, giving due deference to the Diocese’s resolution of the ecclesiastical questions bearing on this appeal, we conclude that when the Former Parish Leaders and the other parishioners aligned with them disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church, the church property remained under the authority and control of the Episcopal Church. Accordingly, the vote to disaffiliate was effective only as to those members who sought to withdraw from the Episcopal Church; it did not have the effect of withdrawing Good Shepherd itself from its union with the Episcopal Church, as the Former Parish Leaders presume. Further, having found that the Continuing Parish Leaders are entitled to possession and use of the property, the trial court did not err in declaring that property owned by the local Episcopal parish is held in trust for the Episcopal Church, pursuant to the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons.”

The Diocese of Fort Worth has this press release about the case including links to judgment and opinion.

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