Forget the "Twelve Drummers Drumming" ... here in L.A. on this 12th Day of Christmas we got "Seven Justices Concurring" that the church property in dispute in Newport Beach, North Hollywood and Long Beach belongs not to the individual Episcopalians who have left The Episcopal Church for greener doctrinal pastures but to the Diocese of Los Angeles.
One -- Justice Joyce Kennard -- concurred on the "who owns the property" issue while dissenting on the "neutral principles of law" approach of the majority, but a unanimous decision on the property question was more than I think anybody had hoped for. (And a GREAT way to end the 12 Days of Christmas and start the New Year!)
The Diocese of Los Angeles has now issued a statement and there's a press conference happening "as we speak."
From the Diocesan Press Advisory:
In a landmark ruling that could have national implications, the California Supreme Court on January 5 upheld an earlier court decision that buildings and property do not belong to three dissident congregations but to the Diocese of Los Angeles and the general Episcopal Church.
Associate Justice Ming W. Chin, writing the opinion concurred to by all justices, said the diocese held the property and buildings in trust for individual congregations. The case involved St. James Church in Newport Beach, St. David's Church in North Hollywood, and All Saints Church in Long Beach, where a majority of members realigned themselves with the Anglican Province of Uganda after The Episcopal Church (TEC) ordained an openly gay bishop. Members of the congregation had amended their articles of incorporation and attempted to retain the property.
Chin acknowledged that while the court cannot decide church doctrinal matters, it could decide property disputes, using a "neutral principles of law" approach. In rendering its decision the court examined property deeds, local church articles of incorporation, the general church's constitution, canons and rules, and relevant statutes and concluded "that the general church, not the local church, owns the property in question.
"Although the deeds to the property have long been in the name of the local church, that church agreed from the beginning of its existence to be part of the greater church and to be bound by its governing documents," Chin wrote.
"These governing documents make clear that church property is held in trust for the general church and may be controlled by the local church only so long as that local church remains a part of the general church. When it disaffiliated from the general church, the local church did not have the right to take the church property with it."
From the bishop's statement:
"The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is overjoyed with the conclusive opinion of the California Supreme Court.
"We have prevailed in all areas of law addressed in this case.
"We look forward to the possibility of reconciiation with these congregations, and we assure that this Diocese and the people of The Episcopal Church that we will continue mission and ministry in the areas of these congregations.
"The mission of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles continues, as our prayer book states, 'to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.' We will continue to seek this reconciliation with fellow Christians in the communities of Long Beach, Newport Beach, and North Hollywood, as well as La Crescenta, where Episcopal church properties continue as part of the Diocese of Los Angeles in accordance with the Court's opinion announced today.
"We acknowledge that this opinion establishes a precedent. We further note the pastoral concerns at this time within The Episcopal Church, which continues in its mission of service, especially in providing food, shelter, medicine, and pastoral care to those in greatest need locally and globally, respecting the dignity of every human being."
From "the other side":
Eric Sohlgren, of the Irvine-based Payne and Fears firm, who represented the congregations, did not return telephone calls Monday.
Stay tuned for further developments!
LA Times story: Rebellious churches must leave assets behind
AP: CA Court sides with Episcopals over property (Someone give them a call about their headline choice, please!)
Central Valley Busniess Times: State Supreme Court deals blow to Anglicans (Ummm ... excuse me ... WE'RE the Anglicans, here, folks!)