(Photo: Western Anglicans)
A California judge has ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church in a years long legal battle over the property of a couple breakaway congregations.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning granted the motion made by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles against St. David's Anglican Church of North Hollywood and All Saints Anglican Church of Long Beach over the church property.
"After nearly eight years, we appreciate the Court's conclusion confirming the church properties of All Saints and St. David's belong to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the diocese in a statement.
Fr. Jose Poch, senior pastor and rector at St. David's Anglican, which left The Episcopal Church in August 2004 and has an average weekly attendance of 130, told The Christian Post that theological differences were the root cause of their departure.
"We felt that they were going away from the Bible, from the teachings of Christ, and we tried for many, many years to see if we could change things from inside," said Poch.
"Meeting with the bishops, coming to convention and arguing our point. And it eventually got to the point where we just … felt that we had no other recourse but to separate ourselves."
The judge met with the two sides to hear motions on "summary judgment" at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, but both parties were told to return to court at 8:30 a.m. the following morning.
The decision could have a wider effect. Bishop Bill Thompson of the Diocese of Western Anglicans, a conservative Anglican denomination that the breakaway congregations joined, told CP nearly all congregations in his diocese were former Episcopal congregations.
"Of the 25 congregations that are part of the Diocese of Western Anglicans, the number of them that have been in the Episcopal Church is close to 100 percent," said Thompson.
Thousands of conservative Anglicans have left The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – over the past several years. The Episcopal Church heightened controversy when it consecrated openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.
Over the past few months across the country, breakaway congregations have lost suits against The Episcopal Church over the issue of church property.
In December 2011, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia won a case for ownership of the historic Christ's Church in Savannah after the building was vacated in 2007. In that same month, the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee won a three-year legal battle against St. Edmund's Parish, the first congregation in Wisconsin to leave The Episcopal Church because of theological differences.
In January 2012, a judge ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia against seven breakaway congregations. Church property involved in that case included churches that had been first established by George Washington in the eighteenth century.
According to a press release by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, this is the third time in which their diocese has won a property dispute with a breakaway church.