Thursday, April 12, 2007

CNY Diocese: Episcopal Church Gets Limited Status in Lawsuit to Seize Syracuse Parish
Thursday, April 12, 2007

Contact: Raymond J. Dague 315-422-2052

The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church (abbreviated DFMS) was told by a New York supreme court judge that it could participate as little more than an observer in the property dispute lawsuit by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York against St. Andrews Church in Syracuse. Supreme Court Justice James P. Murphy in a written decision earlier this week ruled that “DFMS only asserts that St. Andrew’s property is held in trust for the benefit of the Episcopal Church as promulgated by certain Episcopal canons, and as such, the Court finds its legal interest to be insufficient.” The judge allowed DFMS to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit, but “that the permissive intervention of the DFMS should be limited.”

The court ruled that the attorneys for the Diocese must serve as lead trial counsel for both the Diocese and Episcopal Church. The Diocesan lawyers will also have to “submit, coordinate, conduct, and control all discovery, including depositions, on behalf of both” DFMS and the Diocese, and will “supervise and control all motion practice on behalf of both entities.” … “DFMS may also attend any and all discovery proceedings, but DFMS may not individually conduct any discovery without the express permission of the Court, following a showing that the interest of DFMS is somehow different or unique to the Diocese’s interest.”

“This is a win for the parish, but there is still far to go in our defense of the attempt by the diocese to seize our church,” said attorney Raymond Dague who represents the upstate Anglican congregation which split from the Episcopal Church last year and joined itself to the Anglican province of Rwanda. St. Andrews has successfully resisted the attempt by the diocese, and now the Episcopal Church, to take the parish through legal action, both last July and again last September. In September, the judge dismissed the part of the lawsuit where the diocese sued individual members of the parish vestry, and also denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the local church. The lawsuit against the parish and the rector was allowed to continue. It was this lawsuit which the New York City based church corporation sought to join in this intervention attempt.

St. Andrews Church was the first local parish sued by the Episcopal Church since Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori took office in November of 2006. The Episcopal Church has also intervened in the lawsuit by the Diocese of Virginia to seize 11 parishes in northern Virginia, including the historic Falls Church. A similar attempt by the Episcopal Church to intervene and assert claims against three parishes in the Los Angeles Diocese was dismissed by a trial court judge last year. Those cases are now on appeal.

The Syracuse case is apparently the first one in the country where the Episcopal Church was granted only limited rights to participate in the litigation between a Diocese and a local parish.

The parish and the larger church organizations which are suing it are on opposite sides of a controversy over homosexual bishops and the authority of Scripture which has plunged the Episcopal Church into litigation across the country. St. Andrews adheres to the traditional teaching of the church that sex outside of marriage is prohibited by the Bible, while the leaders of the larger church have been outspoken supporters of the actively homosexual bishop of New Hampshire.

PDF: Legal Decision


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