Monday, 9 June 2008

Episcopal churches spending millions on suing and being sued

I've been covering the Episcopal Church since 1986 and have taken a special interest in the largest property dispute in the denomination's history.

Ever since the openly gay Canon V. Gene Robinson was elected Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, conservatives have been fleeing. Many have tried to take their property with them, including 11 congregations in northern Virginia. These 11 are being sued by the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

The conservatives, now gathered under the banner of the Anglican Diocese of Virginia (ADV) say the diocese reneged in late 2006 on secret negotiations that allowed the departing 11 to buy their way out of the diocese. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori admitted in a taped deposition last fall before Fairfax Circuit Judge Randy I. Bellows that she forced the diocese to sue instead of negotiate.

The big question is how much money both sides are spending on this debacle. Today, the Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church, the largest of the 11 congregations at 2,500 members, will ask congregants for a "one-time special sacrificial gift" - his words - to make up for a $300,000 shortfall in contributions.

The church recently slashed its $6 million budget by 5.4 percent.

Judge Bellows' decision to allow some 250 years worth of records to be reviewed for the case "puts a burden on us we had hoped to avoid," he wrote. "The costs of defending our church are great."

The ADV folks say they have raised and spent $2.1 million; $1.3 million of which has come from the Falls Church, $1 million from Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, $400,000 from Church of the Apostles in Fairfax and the rest from the remaining eight churches. Read more
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