Breakaway Anglicans Ask Court to Dismiss Episcopal Church's Property Suit

A month after calling for dismissal of the state diocese's lawsuit over property rights, breakaway Anglican churches filed their responses to the national church's suit asking the court for its dismissal.

The Diocese of Virginia had filed lawsuit earlier this year to secure the properties of 11 Anglican churches - including two of the largest in the state - which voted to break from the diocese and the Episcopal Church. The national body joined the diocese in the property battle when it filed a complaint in February.

The breakaway churches and all of the individually-named defendants asked the court on Wednesday to dismiss the Episcopal Church's suit, which they have called "un-Christian," for failure to state any claims on which relief could be granted.

In their filed response, the Anglican churches said the national body cannot base any claim to the churches' property on an assertion of trust-based rights. Virginia law does not recognize either expressed or implied denominational trusts in their property, the response noted.

"As we file our responses to The Episcopal Church's lawsuit, it is important to keep in mind that the eleven churches have chosen to remain with the worldwide Anglican Communion, and hold fast to their faith," said Mary McReynolds, chancellor for the Anglican District of Virginia, in a released statement. "While confident in our legal position and despite The Episcopal Church's repeated refusal to stay all litigation, our churches still remain willing to resolve amicably their differences with The Episcopal Church. In the meantime, the churches are moving forward with their mission and will continue to be part of the worldwide Anglican Communion."

After overwhelming votes last December to leave the American church body due to its departure from Anglican tradition and scriptural authority, the churches joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America – a missionary diocese of the Church of Nigeria.

Anglican leaders around the world had recently asked parties in the United States to back away from property litigation, but lawyers for the Episcopal Church said the Anglican Communion "has no legal authority over the affairs of its members."

Stating that there was no basis at that time late February to put the litigation on hold, the attorneys added that suspension of litigation would not be appropriate.

In the complaint, the Episcopal Church argues that Virginia canons say a parish's property is "held by and for the mission of the Church."

Breakaway churches filed papers responding to the Diocese in March and some have also separately reported their December votes to comply with the requirements of Virginia law, which recognizes the right of the congregations to keep their property when separating from a divided denomination or diocese.