“The right of the general church to enforce a trust on the local parish property is clear.”

From the Los Angeles Times:

In August 2004, the dissident parishes pulled out of the six-county Los Angeles Diocese and the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, citing differences over biblical interpretation, including what they described as the diocese’s too-lenient views on homosexuality. Instead, they placed themselves under the jurisdiction of a conservative Anglican bishop in Uganda.

The Los Angeles Diocese sued, arguing that the parishes held their church buildings in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church and thus were not entitled to the property. An Orange County trial judge, in separate decisions, had ruled in favor of the parishes.

The legal battle has been both a tug-of-war over real property and a local reflection of tensions at the heart of a deepening rift within the Episcopal Church, and between that church and much of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church is the American branch of Anglicanism, but for years has been at odds with much of the communion over the U.S. church’s more liberal views on homosexuality and other issues.

In Monday’s ruling, however, presiding Justice David G. Sills, who wrote for the panel, made clear that it had confined its decision to the property dispute and not the broader controversy.

“Readers will look in vain in this opinion for any indication of what religious controversy may have prompted the disaffiliation,” Sills wrote. ” … That controversy is irrelevant to this action.”

Sills later concluded, “The right of the general church in this case to enforce a trust on the local parish property is clear.”

Bishop Bruno’s reaction hinted at the possibility of reconciliation:

Bruno and diocesan attorney John R. Shiner have argued that the issue was not free speech or even theological differences, but who had rightful claim to the property. “While individuals are always free to leave the Episcopal Church and worship however they please, they do not have the right to take parish property with them,” Bruno said.

But Bruno also said he would welcome back “with open arms” any dissident church members — or their rectors — who chose to return. “We want to move forward with these as Episcopal churches,” he said. “I don’t want to be punitive with them. I want to be loving and go forward.”

The diocese has issued a press release.

The Lead’s initial coverage of the decision, including links to the 77-page decision, can be found here.

Dissident Episcopalians had thought the California courts followed rules of church divisions that were particularly favorable to their cause. Comment at conservative Episcopal blogsites has been heavy and mixed. One commenter at Stand Firm stated:

I am/was a member of one of the churches still being sued in L.A. I just joined in January. After speaking with some vestry members, I come to find out that these folks had really no idea what they were getting themselves into. I am not a lawyer but am a law school grad from here in LA and I was astonished at the lack of true counsel.

His entire comment can be read here.

More coverage:

  • Appeals court rebuffs Newport Beach parish – A rebel parish that broke with its parent church in a clash over doctrine and homosexuality has no rights to its waterfront …
  • Church may forfeit land – In a stunning reversal of a lower court decision, an appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Long Beach church may have to forfeit …
  • Church ordered to forfeit property – Panel rules the Episcopal Diocese of LA has the right to claim St. James’ property as a result of its split from the diocese. By Michael Miller St. James …
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