Virginia cases conclude

 

Virginia cases conclude

Author: 

George Conger

A Virginia court has rejected the plea of the state’s Attorney General to revisit his decision granting ownership of the property and assets of seven breakaway congregations.  On 1 March 2012, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows said the ACNA-affiliated congregations must turn over their properties to the Diocese of Virginia by 30 April 2012.
On 22 Feb 2012, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed a brief in support of a motion filed by the congregations asking the court to reconsider its decision ordering all property be turned over to the diocese including funds donated by parishioners.  He argued that donor intent not canon law should govern the disposition of the charitable donations under Virginia law.
Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston stated he hoped last week’s ruling will “mark the end of this lengthy litigation” and allow the diocese to focus its energies “on mission and ministries.”
A spokesman for the breakaway congregations stated that “while our congregations will comply with the final order, we are saddened that the Circuit Court did not accept the motion for partial reconsideration and we continue to believe that, as a matter of religious liberty, it is the right of donors to restrict the use of their own gifts to the church of their choice.”
We “prayerfully considering their legal options,” said Jim Oakes, the spokesman for the breakaway churches.
The logic used by the court and the Episcopal Church was “Heads we win; tails you lose,” canon law scholar Allan Haley observed.
“The first sentence of the Dennis Canon [the church’s property canon] lets them claim all of the parishes’ property because they could not leave the Church, while the second sentence has to be read to mean the opposite of what it says” to allow the court to reach the finding it did.
“The parish can certainly continue to spend its money to keep up the grounds, the buildings and the mortgage, but they are to receive no credit for having done so and having thereby ensured that the property would still be valuable and in good condition when the Diocese took over possession,” Mr. Haley wrote, stating it was “obvious” the court and the Episcopal Church had not “bothered to think through the consequences of their reasoning.”