Breaking News: California Court of Appeals Reverses Decision on CA Churches

Please note: Cafe patrons should remember that Real Estate Law is State/Commonwealth law. The ruling issued on this case stems from a unique California State Statute. One again, we also remind cafe patrons that TEC is not hierarchical – the Presiding Bishop is not an Archbishop. The Presiding Bishop does not choose or appoint lower bishops. There are no cardinals or archbishops in The Episcopal Church – and for reason, for if there was, we dare say we’d never would have had an Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. As it is, the Baptists got much of the early Anglican Churches, including the Anglican Church in my family’s hometown, Buckingham Court House, Virginia, because they couldn’t sign on to the idea of bishops. The Anglican Church in Virginia for the first two hundred years had no bishop in the Commonwealth, and much of the clergy was grafted in from Protestant immigrant clergy – the few who were homegrown clergy were sent back to the Bishop of London to do the ordination. But no bishop set foot in the Anglican Churches in Virginia for 200 years, and so to suddenly re-introduce powerful bishops after spending so many years trying to get rid of the British oppressive systems, well, in Virginia that just wasn’t going to happen any time soon. As it was, when the Episcopalians finally got organized, it took a while to find someone to be bishop, but that person also remained rector of his church – a tradition that continued through the 19th century.

It is no accident that Bishop Lee uses the term “foreign prelates” in his press releases. TEC is not Roman Catholic, no matter how much it likes to style itself “Catholic Lite.” Bishop Lee is using the distinct Virginia protestant bias that goes far, far back (the State of Maryland was created for a reason) in the most ironic way, now that TEC is suddenly fashioning itself a hierarchical church (Frank Griswold never referred to himself even as a primate – that’s Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Title of Choice on her official correspondence and now we see why). We are historically evangelicals in Virginia, once in theology, but still in polity (the one thing progressives and conservatives could agree on was to deny the bishop the right to tax the local churches – again, he depends on the laity to fund his projects, not the other way around). The dioceses in the State of California do have an Anglo-Catholic heritage, but such is not the case in the Diocese of Virginia. Even in the canons of the Diocese of Virginia, the bishop can not remove a Vestry and appoint his own vicar (though Bishop Lee, through his chancellor, tried to get that type of power at the last Diocesan Council and was resoundly stopped – by a coalition of the conservative remnant and the progressives!). So much for hierarchy!

We also note that the attorney who wrote the briefing for The Episcopal Church, Heather Anderson, is also representing The Episcopal Church in its lawsuit against the Virginia Churches. We only wonder how the Diocese of Virginia leadership now feels about being catergorized a “hiearchical” church by Ms. Anderson. So much for the laity!

Bishop Meade and Bishop Moore, what would you say of what is becoming of your beloved church?

SANTA ANA, Calif. – June 26, 2007 – A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, today reversed the Orange County Superior Court’s prior ruling that three former Episcopal churches which disaffiliated from the national denomination in 2004 did not forfeit their property. This division of the appellate court broke with nearly thirty years of California church property law, and instead ruled that hierarchical church denominations can take over local church property by simply passing an internal rule – even if the local church is separately incorporated, bought and maintained the property.

In August 2004, St. James Church in Newport Beach, All Saints’ Church in Long Beach, and St. David’s Church in North Hollywood, disassociated from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the national Episcopal Church (TEC) because of theological differences, which drew international attention because of similar issues facing the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The appellate court’s ruling returns the lawsuits brought by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and TEC against the three local churches to The Honorable David Velasquez of Orange County Superior Court. Still at issue is whether the Episcopal Church validly passed an internal rule claiming to hold local church property in trust for itself, and whether that rule applied to the three local churches. St. James, All Saints’ and St. David’s, as the property owners, never agreed to relinquish their property to the Episcopal Church upon ending their affiliation. St. James, All Saints’ and St. David’s have maintained all along that they have the right to use and possess the property they have owned and maintained for decades.

Legal spokesperson, Eric C. Sohlgren, said, “This decision puts one division of the appellate court in direct conflict with other California court of appeal decisions that for almost thirty years have rejected the idea that a court must automatically defer to a church denomination in church property disputes. Under this ruling, any big church which calls itself hierarchical could try to confiscate the property of a local congregation simply by passing an internal rule. That idea offends basic principles of fairness and property ownership. St. James, All Saints’ and St. David’s are seriously evaluating an appeal to the California Supreme Court.”

Read the rest here at T19.