Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Law May Be With Episcopalian Breakaways

This could be one more nail in the Episcopal Church's coffin:

Virginia's attorney general is defending the right of 11 conservative Anglican parishes to use the state's Civil War-era "division statute" to leave the Episcopal Church while retaining millions of dollars in assets and property.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell's motion to intervene is a significant setback to the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, which have said secular courts have no place in resolving the property dispute — the largest in the church's history.

Mr. McDonnell, a Roman Catholic who is planning a run for governor in 2009, said state law is on the side of the 11 churches, now with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

CANA's case relies heavily on the state's division statute, known as "57-9" because of the section of the state code in which it falls. The statute says that if the majority of a congregation's members decide to leave the parent denomination, that congregation can retain the church's property. In December 2006 and January 2007, the majority of members in all 11 congregations scattered across several counties voted to leave.

I wrote a paper on the decline of the Episcopal Church last year for my law and economics class last year, emphasizing that denominationally owned property kept congregations from leaving the denomination. (Essentially holding them "hostage" thorugh their property.) If the courts rule on the side of the breakaway churches, my prediction is that many more Episcopalian congregations will soon follow suit.

The case is expected to be appealed no matter how it turns out and will likely be heard by the Virginia Supreme Court.

See my related posts:

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