Supreme Court Rejects Conn. Episcopal Church Property Case

The Supreme Court has decided to not hear an appeal from a breakaway church in Connecticut regarding its property dispute with The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Seabury Church of Groton attempted to appeal a lower court decision ruling in favor of The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut regarding the property it used. The Rev. Ronald S. Gauss, pastor of the departing congregation, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that he was disappointed by the decision made on Monday.

"We are disappointed by the decision. We have not really had our day in court," said Gauss, whose congregation has been using the property for worship while the appeals were being attempted.

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"We are the only parish that has stayed in our building upon leaving our affiliation with The Episcopal Church, hence the legal battle. Now we will possibly join the other churches that have left their buildings."

Bishop Seabury Anglican Church broke away from the Diocese of Connecticut in 2007 due to the growing liberal theology in the mainline Protestant denomination. They voted to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a missionary district formed by the Church of Nigeria. Other congregations have joined CANA because it is more theologically conservative.

After departing, the Diocese took the church to court over the ownership of the church property. In 2010, a Superior Court judge ruled against Bishop Seabury Anglican. The congregation appealed to the Connecticut State Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in favor of the Diocese in September 2011.

The refusal to hear the case makes Bishop Seabury Anglican one of many congregations across the country which has lost its property to The Episcopal Church in court over the past several months.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Bishop of Connecticut Ian T. Douglas expressed support for the Supreme Court's decision.

"This has been a long and difficult process that has taken away from our common witness to the Good News of God in our Savior Jesus Christ," said Douglas.

"With the decision of The Supreme Court we can now put this matter behind us and once again turn our full attention to the work of proclaiming and making real God's mission of restoration and reconciliation in all the world."

Jeff Walton, Anglican staffer at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told CP that the successful legal disputes by the Episcopal Dioceses is in part because of Title 1.7.4 of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, known by some as the "Dennis Canon."

"Title to these properties was always held by the local congregation. It wasn't until the church's Dennis Canon was enacted in the 1970s that the properties began to be held in trust for the diocese," said Walton.

"Local congregations funded, built and maintained these properties for years, then the national church imposed a policy that all property was held in trust for dioceses. This is the root of the disagreement."

While doubtful that any of the property dispute cases between diocese and departing congregation would ever be heard by the Supreme Court, Walton did believe that challenging the "Dennis Canon" would be a better strategy for congregations.

"I think many of these departing congregations would have had a stronger case if they immediately contested the legality of the Dennis Canon when it was adopted in the 1970s, rather than waiting until they themselves chose to depart," said Walton.

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