A Wisconsin judge has ruled that an Episcopal Diocese is the rightful owner of the property of a church that broke away from the denomination.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee against St. Edmund’s Parish after a three year legal battle.
“Christians can legitimately differ about who lawfully should possess these properties,” said Jeff Walton, communications manager for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “Sadly, the Episcopal Church appears more interested in property than people, and more interested in the recovery of property than in reconciliation.”
Milwaukee Diocese Bishop Steven Miller told the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that he was “grateful” for the court’s decision.
“For three years, the members of St. Edmund's Episcopal Church have been denied the use of their rightful church home,” said Miller.
“I am grateful the property will once again be used for its original purpose – the work and witness of the Episcopal Church."
The Right Reverend David C. Anderson, Sr., president and CEO of the theologically conservative American Anglican Council, issued a statement in response to the ruling.
“Our Lord taught us to avoid going to court, because he knew that real justice is hard to come by,” said Anderson, who believed the judge in the case was biased toward the diocese.
“Please pray for the rector and parish of St. Edmund's who are under such biased assault, as we try to turn our minds to things more spiritually grounded.”
For years, churches have been breaking away from the Episcopal Church over the belief that the denomination has become increasingly theologically liberal. A major source of contention came in 2004 when the Episcopal Church ordained openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
As congregations voted to leave the Episcopal Church and form their own denominations, many of them were brought to court by their respective diocese.
“Since 2000, there have been 107 lawsuits brought by The Episcopal Church,” said Robert H. Lundy, communications officer for the American Anglican Council, to The Christian Post
Lundy was unsure on whether or not this decision could affect many of the cases found between the Episcopal Church and other churches that were breaking away.
“Currently we are waiting on the transcript from the Waukesha court house and if we get those, we may have further comments,” said Lundy.
Walton told CP that he did not believe the Wisconsin case would affect pending legal decisions elsewhere in the country.
“Most of these court property rulings, including one that was favorable to a departing congregation in South Carolina, have little weight outside of their own jurisdiction,” said Walton.
“Within those jurisdictions, this could impact future splits in other mainline churches, however.”
In 2008, Saint Edmund’s Anglican Church became the first Wisconsin congregation to leave the Episcopal Church over doctrinal disputes.
According to its website, St. Edmund’s Parish believed “the leadership of the Episcopal Church has become increasing intolerant and abusive toward conservative, biblical moral positions.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee could not be reached for comment.