California secessionists must hand over property
The decision by the Court of Appeals, reported by The Daily Episcopalian, came down just yesterday, and it reverses the decision by the trial court, which in 2005 had concluded that the Diocese had no claim to the properties since the churches themselves held the deeds, and the deeds did not expressly state that the diocese had an interest in the properties.
The decision reaffirms the Episcopal Church's longstanding position that while individuals and even entire congregations may consider themselves no longer Episcopalian, properties and other assets identified as Episcopal may not be alienated, because they are held in trust for the mission of the Episcopal Church.
Many opposed to the Episcopal Church in California and around the country, had hailed the trial decision as a precedent for cases in other states, looking to it as a sign that if other congregations alienated property from the Church, they could do so successfully, or without challenge.
It was doubtful in any event, whether the trial decision could have been a precedent anywhere except possibly in the hearts and minds of disaffected parishioners, since each state has its own statutes and common law decisions governing the rights of religious organizations and California, unlike most otther states, had indicated that possession of the deed was only one, not the controlling, factor.
This factor has now been subsumed into and subordinated under the general principle governing hierarchical churches, so that as in other states, the General Convention through its dioceses, is held to have an implicit trust and interest in, parish properties. The California appellate decision expressly affirms this principle.
The breakaway churches had affiliated with a diocese of Uganda, and with the Anglican Communion Network in the USA, which has at various times claimed to be a sort of "parallel province in waiting," a lobbying and fellowship organization of like-minded churches, and a group formed with the express blessing and urging of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Whatever the breakaway churches in the case intend for their futures, they must now operate under the legal ruling that the properties they inhabit, are not theirs, or Uganda's, but active missions of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
On the Web
The Daily Episcopalian
The Diocese of Los Angeles
A Pastoral Letter from the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, discussing the parishes (in 2004)