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Court rules against Episcopal breakaways

Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Buildings used by three Episcopal parishes that broke away from the mother church in a dispute over a gay bishop should be placed under the control of the Los Angeles diocese, an appeals court ruled.

Relying on church law, the state's 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Monday, "The right of the general church in this case to enforce a trust on the local parish property is clear."

But the three judges on the panel made it clear they were staying out of doctrinal disputes.

"Readers will look in vain in this opinion for any indication of what religious controversy may have prompted the disaffiliation," Judge David G. Sills wrote. "That controversy is irrelevant to this action."

The appeals court reversed lower court rulings in favor of the three conservative parishes - St. James Church in Newport Beach, All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood.

They pulled out of the six-county Los Angeles Diocese and the 2.3-million member national Episcopal Church in 2004, following the ordination of a gay bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire. They announced they were placing themselves under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in Uganda.

The Los Angeles Diocese sued to gain control of the properties, arguing that the parishes held their church buildings in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church and were not entitled to them.

The churches argued the diocese's lawsuit to seek control of the properties interfered with the parishioners' freedom of speech. The trial judge said the churches had demonstrated they were being sued for their disagreement with the church's views concerning the consecration of homosexual clergy and also ruled that the local churches owned the property.

Diocese officials were pleased by the decision.

"Now we can get about the business of healing and about the business of being a church. It's been a long ordeal," said the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the diocese.

Eric Sohlgren, lead lawyer for the three parishes, said the decision ran counter to 30 years of legal precedent in California.

"What the court said here was that if a hierarchical church wants to take control of local church property, all it has to do is pass a rule," he said.

The parishes will decide soon whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court.


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