The Episcopal Church prevailed in a decision announced today by the California Supreme Court in cases where the majority of members of three Episcopal congregations voted to leave the Episcopal Church for oversight by bishops in another Anglican province and tried to take the property with them.
These are cases of parishes versus a diocese, whereas ours is a diocese versus the national church, but I would say this case is more helpful to Episcopalians than it is to those who are no longer Episcopalians.
Here are two key excerpts from that decision:
"Applying the neutral principles of law approach, we conclude that the general church, not the local church, owns the property in question."
And this comment on the recent claim of those leaving the Episcopal Church that the Dennis Canon -- which states that property is held in trust for the national church -- was never actually enacted:
"Defendants also suggest that the Episcopal Church did not properly adopt Canon I.7.4 under its own rules. It is a bit late to argue that Canon I.7.4 was not effectively adopted, a quarter of a century later, and, in light of the consistent conclusions of the out-of state cases that that canon is, indeed, part of the Episcopal Church's governing documents, the argument seems dubious at best. But, in any event, this is one of those questions regarding "religious doctrine or polity" (or, as we phrased it in Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 32 Cal.4th at page 541, "religious doctrine and internal church governance") on which we must defer to the greater church's resolution. (Jones v. Wolf, supra, 443 U.S. at p. 602.) Over the years, the Episcopal Church has consistently taken the position that Canon I.7.4 was effectively adopted."
You can read the whole decision here and the Episcopal News Service story here.
Now, off to fantasyland.
Our former diocesan leadership continues to harbor the fantasy that they are the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which name they continue to use even after very publicly leaving the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church is apparently so "tainted" they had to remove their pure selves from it. So why do they want to keep the name? The answer is simple -- they want the name because they want the property. So they continue to promulgate the lie that they are still Episcopalians, continue to illegally occupy property that belongs to the Episcopal Church, and continue to harass Episcopalians.
Here are some excerpts from the latest Ad Clerum issued today from the former bishop's office:
"FR. ZEKE ROGERS HAS RESIGNED his position as an assistant priest at All Saints' Church in Fort Worth, where he has served for the past 11 years. Also resigning are Matt Maples, the parish youth minister, and three members of the vestry over a controversy regarding required loyalty oaths to The Episcopal Church."
Oddly enough, All Saints Episcopal Church wants to make sure it has Episcopalians on its vestry and Episcopal priests on its staff. So it asked vestry members, candidates for the vestry and convention delegates and all its staff members to reaffirm that they will uphold the Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church. The three vestry members declined to do so, as did the youth minister and Zeke Rogers. So they did the honorable thing and resigned.
When you have people openly taking property that is no longer theirs, it makes sense to ask candidates for decision-making jobs where their loyalties lie.
"A CANON 32 EPISCOPAL ORDER has been issued by the Bishop in a controversy between the Rector and Vestry of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Fort Worth. Five vestry members have been removed for numerous violations of the canons of the diocese, including withholding of assessments and loan repayments to the diocese, seeking to remove the rector against his will and without the consent of the Bishop, and attempting to hold vestry meetings without the rector's knowledge or presence. Please pray for a spirit of unity and peace in the parish during this difficult time."
It's hard to know where to start with this piece of fantasy writing.
1. Canon 32 is an illegal canon passed by those intent on leaving the Episcopal Church and taking its property with them.
2. The rector of Christ the King stated very openly after the Nov. 15 diocesan convention that he is no longer an Episcopal priest, so the vestry of Christ the King Episcopal Church fired him. Since they have no bishop -- he having renounced his orders upon leaving the Episcopal Church, there is no bishop with which to consult, nor is there a Standing Committee, since all its members have left the Episcopal Church. Having no rector -- theirs having left the Episcopal Church -- they could not ask permission to have a vestry meeting.
3. The former bishop of Fort Worth announced he was firing those vestry members who are still Episcopalians, even though Jack Iker is no longer in the Episcopal Church and so has no authority to fire anybody.
4. Christ the King is withholding no assessments or loan repayments to the diocese. They are awaiting the reorganization of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, at which time the Episcopal parish of Christ the King will resume its assessments and loan repayments.
And don't you love them asking us all to pray for "a spirit of unity and peace in the parish during this difficult time?" The mendacity takes one's breath away.
"PLANS ARE UNDER WAY for a new diocese to be formed at a special meeting scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7, at Trinity Church in Fort Worth. The organizers are those who opposed the vote of our Diocesan Convention by an 80% margin to withdraw from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Six of our 56 congregations have indicated that they wish to remain in TEC."
There is no NEW diocese being formed. The EXISTING Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is reorganizing. The action taken at the diocesan convention was illegal. There is no canonical way for a diocese to unilaterally leave the Episcopal Church. People can leave, and indeed, our bishop and all members of the Standing Committee and many clergy and lay people have done so. But all parishes of the diocese are still in the Episcopal Church, even though the buildings may be being used illegally by people who are no longer Episcopalians.
Here's the bottom line.
You can't leave the Episcopal Church and then claim to still be part of it. And you can't claim property that does not belong to you and then whine if the rightful owners go to court to get their property back.
While we wish him well in his new venture, Jack Iker is no longer the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. He has no authority AT ALL over any Episcopalians, our property, our money, or our clergy.
Katie, as long as Jack is allowed to occupy dio. offices he will continue to believe he is the bishop of Ft. Worth. I predict that the end of his rule will not be pretty.
And I thought we here in San Joaquin were living in an altered universe! It is interesting to see how the thugs morph step by step into that which they think will get them where they want to go.
Like Pittsburgh and San Joaquin, you need a bishop. Sad it is taking so long. The folks in Pgh have taken Duncan's plans seriously all along so they were and are very well prepared. I suspect the CA decision will cause more than 27 Pgh parishes to change their minds as our laws are apparently similar. My prayers continue for Ft Worth specifically. What ugliness you have had to endure! Sad that Iker et al seem to miss the message of the Gospels completely.
It is San Joaquin all over again.
There is thought, by the "other side", that there is breathing room for the dioceses leaving given the court's language.
I don't buy it, personally, because in the case of a diocese vacant, the national church and locals do what they must to replace the lost episcopacy. But that is sure not how the other side sees it.
The other issue is whether or not the Dennis Canon specifically speaks to a diocese or whether that is implied or what.
I don't have the answers to any of this, but have been reading legal thoughts from the opposition. Of course, they also had many similar thoughts on the CA case (though in one case, they thought the court would rule in TEC's favor, but surely NEVER suggested in the majority!) and apparently, they don't get that the court is NOT interested in ruling on the Dennis Canon. Some suggest the NY case would bring it up for ruling, while others say definitely not.
All I personally can say is that, 1) I have really great feelings about all of this in terms of resolving in our favor 2) The CA case WILL have legs, but we may not recognize them until they slip on (and maybe throw?)3) We ain't seen nothin' yet and 4) I am REALLY sorry you are having to go through this.
WHY they cannot leave gracefully is beyond me. No one wishes them ill, at least that I see, but just wish they would make peace with their differences and move on.
Sadly, moving on peacefully is not in the cards.
I will be celebrating in FTW on Feb.2. It is will be such a delight!
If I can pull it off, I am going to try to be an observer at the dio reorganization on the 7th. Who knows? Maybe you can go home again
An excellent update; thanks! I'm going to link to it.
I have heard from others that TX law is not as cut & dried as in other states. The Metropolitan Community Churches chose not to risk money on that bet when the Cathedral of Hope chose to leave the UFMCC with all the property, despite a clause identical to the Dennis Canon in their Int'l Bylaws.
But I would think that the same churches that filed on with TEC in CA would also have the same interests to sign on in a case in TX. They have the same interests to preserve their hierarchical polity in the entire US. And if necessary, fellow that case to the US Supreme Court to establish precedent in TX for the future.
One thing very apparent in the CA decision is that a US court is not going to wade into a controversy regarding religious doctrine or polity, they are going to only decide the issue of who owns the property. In CA the high court deferred to the national church regarding church polity. If the nat'l church says the Dennis Canon is kosher, it is kosher. If the nat'l church says a bishop is deposed, the bishop is deposed.
The TX court should see the same thing that the CA high court saw; these TX parishes and this TX diocese, from their inception, "promised to be bound
by the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church." Some of these parishes predate their current diocese and throughout their entire history have promised to be bound by the C&Cs. And those C&Cs state that the property is held in trust for the ministry and mission of the general church. So when these parishes "disaffiliated from the
Episcopal Church, the local church property reverted to the general church."
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