Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tentative ruling in San Joaquin

The Fresno County Superior Court has indicated it is ready to rule in favor of The Episcopal Church in its property dispute with the breakaway congregations of the Diocese of San Joaquin which have aligned with the Diocese of the Southern Cone (Argentina) and taken church property with them. This is a big step along a difficult path, although we can expect more legal wrangling beyond this. Whether this will have an impact on other cases, it is too soon to tell.

It is my hope and prayer that the congregations who broke with The Episcopal Church will now find a way back, that all involved will find a way to reconciliation, and that those who still wish to leave will amicably settle these property disputes as brothers and sisters in Christ so that mission of the Gospel will be advanced.

Here are the pertinent paragraphs from the trial court in Fresno:
The documents are clear. Only the "Bishop" of the Diocese of San Joaquin has the right to the incumbency of the corporation originally entitled "The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin, a Corporation Sole" and given the number C0066488 by the Secretary of State. Moreover, the Episcopal Church has spoken as to who holds the position of Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin — Reverend Lamb. Defendants challenge Lamb's election as Bishop on procedural grounds such as notice and quorum, but this court has no power to rule on the validity of the Episcopal Church's election of its Bishops.

Both the United States Supreme Court and California courts have held that in the case of hierarchical religious entities the civil courts must accept as binding and defer to decisions by religious tribunals with respect to religious doctrine, practice, faith, ecclesiastical rule, discipline, custom, law, membership, polity, clergy credentials and discipline, as well as religious entity governance and administration....

Accordingly since the Episcopal Church has seen fit to recognize Lamb as the new Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, we must do so as well.

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