Thinking about the property disputes

At the Café we’ve kept a lookout for thoughtful pieces on the recent court decision in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles and its larger significance. Here’s what we’ve found thus far.

Tobias Haller writes:

Even a casual reading of the court’s decision shows that the earlier decision was a major departure — and an erroneous one — from many times more decades of precedents; moreover, precedents recognized throughout the US, based on a decision of the Supreme Court concerning implied and explicit trusts. The earlier California decision was an anomalous departure from the principal of stare decisis, as the Court of Appeals makes clear, and it led to an uneven and confusing application of law.

Moreover, much as folks like to demean the Dennis Canon, it is the law of the church; moreover, it was created in response to the request of the Supreme Court to render implied trusts (on the basis of which such cases had been decided up until then as sufficient) explicit. In short, there was no change in practice with the introduction of the Dennis Canon, merely a spelling out of what was already implied by both uniform practice and the already long-existing canons on alienation, to which I referred above. (Parishes cannot alienate, that is abuse, church property without the permission of the bishop and standing committee — clear evidence of the hierarchical nature of such decision-making processes concerning property.)

That’s just a taste. Read all that Tobias has to say here.

Another of our reliable sources, Father Jake, provides a great roundup of analysis. Included is this quotation of Richard Zevnik, a lawyer familiar with the case and the ruling:

Procedurally, the disaffected congregations have 30 days to petition for rehearing in the Court of Appeal. Given the standards applicable to granting rehearing and the depth of analysis of the Court of Appeal’s decision, there is little likelihood rehearing would be granted if a petition were filed. When the 30 days expires, the congregations then have 10 days to petition for review in the CA Supreme Court. Such a petition is reasonably likely. Review by CA Supreme Court is discretionary. It is also relatively unlikely given the procedural posture of the case.

The Court of Appeal’s decision essentially has tied the trial court’s hands, and an eventual judgment in favor of the Diocese and TEC is essentially inevitable.

Episcopal Life Online:

John R. Shiner, chancellor for the diocese and its attorney in the litigation, called the ruling a “decisive decision” for the Episcopal Church. Shiner, a partner of Holme Roberts & Owen, LLP, noted, “Yesterday’s decision contains the most thorough analysis yet of church property law in California, and should dispel any notion that local congregations of a hierarchical church may leave the larger church and take property with them.”

Days prior to the ruling, Jan Nunley had written:

There’s no problem, of course, as long as you abide by these agreed-upon rules of civil society, or if you don’t like them, lawfully try to get them changed. But if you fail to get others to agree with you and then try to create “facts on the ground” by changing the locks on the clubhouse…you really shouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the members take exception to your actions.

Over at Standing Firm they’re doing a headcount: 5 Roman Catholics and 2 Episcopalians.

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