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IRD: Episcopal Property Ruling a Pyrrhic Victory

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- On January 10, Judge Randy Bellows of the Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in a lawsuit against parishes that have departed the U.S.-based church. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

A majority of members in the seven Anglican churches in 2006-2007 voted to sever their ties to the Episcopal Church and the diocese following disputes over the redefinition and reinterpretation of Scripture. They included some of the diocese's largest and fastest growing churches.

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has drawn from a line of credit to fund litigation, expecting to sell some properties following a favorable court ruling. According to self-reported statistics, the diocese has lost 26 percent of its attendance in the past decade and has ceased planting new churches, despite significant population growth in Virginia.

The 1.9 million-member Episcopal Church is engaged in ongoing litigation against departing parishes and dioceses across the country. Denominational officials maintain that parishes are not free to depart the church and that internal church rules enacted in the 1970s mandate that all local property is held in trust for the diocese and denomination.

IRD Anglican Action Director Jeff Walton commented:

    "Christians can legitimately differ in their conclusions about who lawfully should possess these properties. Over-zealous pursuit of litigation has come at too great a cost, however.

    "Sadly, the declining Episcopal Church appears more interested in property than people, and more interested in the recovery of property than in reconciliation.

    "The litigation process has been enormously costly to the resources of both sides and has damaged the Episcopal Church's witness.

    "The Episcopal Church should take a long look at its harsh, take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with church property -- something that has quickly become one of its hallmarks. The denomination should have allowed the diocese to sit down at the table with the departing congregations and negotiate a fair settlement, as was initially proposed."