U.S. Anglican Churches Call for Property Lawsuit Dismissal

Breakaway Anglican churches sued by the Diocese of Virginia filed their official response on Monday over disputes on property rights.

Ten of the 11 churches involved in the lawsuit asked the court to dismiss the Diocese's suits for failure to state any claims on which relief could be granted.

"The individual defendants sued by the Diocese serve as officers, directors or trustees without compensation and thus are immune altogether from suit by Virginia statute or cannot be properly sued as a matter of Virginia corporation law," stated the churches in the Anglican District of Virginia in their response.

The churches, which broke from the Episcopal Church in overwhelming votes in December, argued that Virginia law does not recognize denominational trusts in their property and thus the Diocese cannot base claim to church property on an assertion of trust-based rights. Based on that claim, since the Diocese does not own the church properties, its claims of conversion, trespass, alienation or accounting "must fail," the response stated.

Suits were filed in January against 11 congregations that left the denomination over differences in theological views. They formed a conservative Anglican body - Convocation of Anglicans in North America - remaining in communion with the global Anglican churches.

In the lawsuit, the Diocese asks the court to declare it the legal owner of the property and to restrain further use and occupancy of the property by the separated congregations. Since departure in December, the congregations have continued to hold worship services on the church properties.

The sued parties suffered another blow when the Episcopal Church filed complaints in February to take control of the multi-million dollar properties.

Despite a recent call by Anglican archbishops worldwide in a communiqué to back away from property litigation, the Episcopal Church said it would be "premature" to withdraw from court action. Last week, the breakaway churches renewed their requests to halt litigation in accordance to the Anglican Primates' communiqué, but no response has been made by the Diocese, according to the Anglican District churches.

"As the churches file their responses to the lawsuits it is very important to remember that they have chosen to stay with the worldwide Anglican Communion, and be steadfast in their faith," said Mary McReynolds, chancellor for the Anglican District of Virginia. "While we are confident in our legal position, it is an unfortunate distraction from the good work these churches are trying to undertake as servants of Christ. These churches are moving forward and will continue to be part of the worldwide Anglican Communion."