A Post To the HOBD Listserv About Church Property Litigation – A Church Built On Fear

First of all, the California game is not over yet. We’ll see what the decision ultimately is. However, that will be California, and different states will come up with different decisions based on their laws. What I would say mostly as a lawyer is that if the accession to the Dennis Canon is not filed in the public records with each parish actually assenting to the Dennis Canon trust, it may not be enforceable. We’ve had these discussions before. I know that it certain Dioceses they have checked on these issues and have done something about them. If these issues aren’t addressed, then “if it ain’t on the deed, you may not succeed,” to borrow stylistically from another lawyer who has roots in Louisiana (“if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.”)

You also need to know that stare decisis is not an absolute principle. If it was, most of the civil rights decisions of the U.S. Supremes from the 1950’s and 60’s would not have happened.

I would not accuse people who paid for parish property trying to buck a trust to which they did not assent or may be revocable “stealing.” I would call them litigants. You would call them thieves in order to demonize them. Further, you are absolutely incorrect about the parishes not offering to pay for them. As I understand it, Bishop Lee cut off all negotiations toward such an amicable settlement in favor of the lawsuits.

Does the Episcopal Church have the right to do what it is doing in pressing this litigation? Sure. Is that the best approach to conflict resolution? Nope. I still believe trying to negotiate and resolve these issues is preferable to litigation. That used to happen, but it isn’t anymore, because the Episcopal Church’s strategy at this point is to convince people not to leave the Episcopal Church on the basis that if they leave the Episcopal Church they will lose their buildings. Quite an evangelism strategy for retaining membership in the church. Scare folks into staying by playing on their emotional attachments to buildings they were baptized, confirmed, married and had their relations buried in. A church built on fear.

And Jesus wept.

4 Responses to “A Post To the HOBD Listserv About Church Property Litigation – A Church Built On Fear”


  1. 1 Alan July 17, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Well said, oh good and faithful servant.

  2. 3 robroy July 18, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I visited St. Luke’s in the Mountains on Sunday since I was visiting LA (went to Disneyland). Let me divide this note into two parts, one trying to describe the parish and then relate what is going on legally from info garnered by the church’s attorney who gave a talk after the service.

    The church is located in the foothills above LA. It is a beautiful, rugged mission style church. I especially liked the rearlit Jeruselem cross behind the altar. Fairly small nave with two transepts. Filled to capacity, basically. The 10:30 service was contemporary. I enjoyed the sermon. In particular, he read Sir Francis Drake’s prayer, Disturb us Lord…. At the end of the service, visitors were asked to stand and give their names. People were very gracious and welcoming. I noted a presumed homosexual couple who were very much part of the congregation given the geniality shown at the peace. I asked my college bound daughter what was the difference between this church and ours in Colorado. “The people aren’t 80 years old.” That is what struck me, too. A church with people my age and younger in the majority!

    After the service, the church’s attorney gave a talk. I summarize what I learned: There are three other churches in a different county and then there is St. Luke’s which are being sued. Because of this, there are two trials ongoing. California state law, till now, viewed church property in the same light as any property dispute or “neutral principals”. This is in contrast with other church disputes which the court defers to the canonical laws. Thus, the Denis canon which would be silly in private contract law meant nothing. The case of the three other churches had reached an appellate court (or subcommittee). The ruling of that body threw out, on June 26th, the previous 30 years of court precedent and stated that denomination can make the rules on theology and property, i.e., they would uphold canon law on property issues as well. Because of this ruling (the “Rassmusen” ruling), the local judge (not an appellate judge) in the St. Luke’s case, even though all evidence pointed to him ruling in favor of St. Luke’s, ruled in favor of the Diocese of LA on July 3rd. The lawyer is preparing to request for the California Supreme Court to take up the case (they are not required to, in which case the ruling stands). He was optimistic that the supreme court would indeed take up the case. If it does, a ruling would be expected next summer. He said he thought the local judge didn’t want to overrule 77 pages of judicial reasoning whether or not he agreed or not.

    After being to the church, I will tell you that it would absolutely evil incarnate for the church to fall into the hands of Bruno and company. The lawyer stated that he knew of no case that the TEC won a church through litigation where the church went on to a viable parish.

  3. 4 Kevin July 18, 2007 at 2:25 am

    What I have the right to do and what I ought to do are often two different things. Nice article, thank you!


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