FAIRFAX, Va. (August 19, 2008) – The 11 Virginia Anglican congregations sued by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese of Virginia responded to the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruling issued today concerning the Contracts Clause and the assertion by TEC and the Diocese that the 11 Anglican congregations waived their right to invoke the Virginia Division Statute.
Judge Randy Bellows ruled that TEC and the Diocese failed to timely assert their claim that the 11 Anglican congregations contracted around or waived their right to invoke the Division Statute. In addition, the judge ruled that the Division Statute does not violate the contracts clause provisions of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions as applied to these properties. The rulings can be found at http://www.anglicandistrictofvirginia.org. Today’s rulings mean that there are only a small number of issues remaining to be decided at the October trial, and the 11 Anglican congregations are hopeful that they can be resolved quickly.
“We are pleased that Judge Bellows ruled in our favor on these questions. He ruled very clearly that our congregations are able to rely on the Virginia Division Statute in order to keep our church property. We have maintained all along that our churches’ own trustees hold title for the benefit of their congregations. TEC and the Diocese have never owned any of the properties and their names do not appear on deeds to the property. The Virginia Supreme Court has consistently stated that Virginia does not recognize denominational trusts of the sort asserted by TEC and the Diocese,” said Jim Oakes, vice-chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia. All 11 churches are members of ADV.
“Given today’s ruling, we hope and pray that TEC and the Diocese would put away this needless litigation. We have consistently remained open to exploring avenues for amicable discussions, and have been grieved that TEC has chosen to continue to pursue a path of confrontation rather than civil dialogue. This litigation has done nothing to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Oakes continued.
To comply with the requirements of the Virginia Division Statute, Virginia Code §57-9, which recognizes the right of a congregation to keep its property when a majority votes to separate from a divided denomination, the voting churches reported to their local circuit courts their votes to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church and the Diocese and to affiliate with CANA through membership in ADV. In most of these churches, 90% or more of the members voted to leave the denomination due to the clear division within The Episcopal Church, which the Fairfax County Circuit Court confirmed.
The Episcopal Church and the Diocese abruptly broke off settlement negotiations in January 2007 and filed lawsuits against the Virginia churches, their ministers and their vestries. The decision of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese to redefine and reinterpret Scripture caused the 11 Anglican churches to sever their ties.