Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Episcopal Church wins San Diego property case

The California Supreme Court has backed the Episcopal Church and a local diocese against a breakaway San Diego congregation in a closely watched church property case. On March 11, the Court dismissed the petition for appeal of St John’s Fallbrook, upholding the appellate court’s ruling in the case of New v. Kroeger that a vestry may not vote to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and continue to control over the church property.

“This is a very important decision in favour of the Episcopal Church,” the chancellor of the Diocese of San Diego, Charles Dick, said in a prepared statement as “it vindicates our position that the actions of the dissident congregation were extralegal and in excess of their legal authority.” On Oct 21, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment by a San Diego County trial court, which held that California law permitted a vestry to amend parish bylaws in order to quit the Episcopal Church. Using the “neutral principles” approach, which looks only to the property deeds and legal charters, the trial court permitted St John’s Fallbrook to amend its bylaws to remove its accession to the canons of the Episcopal Church.

However, the appeals court held that a parish vestry was not empowered to make this decision as the diocesan canons and national church canons had been incorporated into the parish bylaws. As the parish’s articles of incorporation stated it would continue "perpetually" as a part of the Episcopal Church, a vote by the vestry to leave would be ultra vires. The appeals court accepted the lower court’s use of “neutral principles,” but then said the trial court had erred in not looking at diocesan canons for guidance.

Following a parish vote to quit the Episcopal Church, the Bishop of San Diego, the Rt Rev James Mathes, replaced the vestry, appointing a new board loyal to the diocese. The trial court held this action would not divest the breakaway vestry of control of parish property, but the appellate court decision reversed this ruling, and vested control with the loyalists.

More here -


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