An appeals court has ruled in favor of a small diocese in Illinois that broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences, including the denomination's appointment of openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop.
In a ruling handed down Thursday, the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court sided with the Anglican Diocese of Quincy over the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago.
The ruling upheld a lower court decision that ruled the Quincy Diocese's property and funds to be the possession of the Anglican Church North America, the more theologically conservative group that the diocese presently affiliates with.
A spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago directed The Christian Post to an online statement by Bishop Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee.
"We will respond to this decision in the appropriate legal manner," said Lee, adding that as the "process unfolds, our primary mission will continue to be fulfilling God's vision for the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and its newest deanery in Peoria."
In November 2008, the conservative Diocese of Quincy, with 23 churches under its authority, voted to leave the liberal national denomination over theological differences.
Citing the liberal theological trends of the national Episcopal Church, the diocese eventually joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
It was one of several Episcopal churches and members who decided to leave after the 2003 ordination of the Rev. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, making him the first openly gay bishop in The Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church does not recognize the dismissal of dioceses; when speaking of breakaway dioceses the national church will often refer to a "faction" of leaders who have decided to leave instead.
In its recent press release on the matter, for example, the Chicago Diocese called their counterparts "a breakaway group, now organized as the Anglican Diocese of Quincy."
Five congregations from Quincy opted to remain with The Episcopal Church and proceeded to call themselves the Diocese of Quincy until they became part of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago last September.
Last November, The Episcopal Church and the Chicago Diocese filed suit against Quincy over its property and assets, bringing to court what was once its smallest diocese in the United States.
"Plaintiffs pray that the Court…declare that all property held by the Parishes of the Episcopal Diocese is held for and may only be used for the mission of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese, subject to the Constitutions and canons of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese," read the lawsuit.
Jeff Walton, director of the Anglican Program at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP that "The Episcopal Church should accept the appellate court ruling and move on with its own mission and ministry."
"Even if Episcopalians eventually win on appeal at a higher court, the properties in the diocese are not sought by any viable Episcopal congregations ready to move into them," said Walton.
"The Episcopal Church's effort to freeze bank funds or litigate against departing churches has always been a punitive strategy to deter future defections."