UPDATED: The Falls Church responds:
“Although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith. Regardless of today’s ruling, we are confident that God is in control, and that He will continue to guide our path,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven Anglican congregations.
The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’”
At the National Review, Michael Potemra says the ruling is a big win that comes at a high price. He adds:
[Breakaway groups] believe the true church must not allow some of the opinions expressed in U.S. Episcopalianism, so conscience demands that they leave their father’s house; but I think I’m not alone in believing that these man-made divisions are evanescent, and that we will meet again.
Also, an email sent on behalf of Truro Church with today’s date suggests congregations use caution in their communications about how to frame the decision.
…any messages that are distributed to members be reviewed by each congregation’s legal counsel in advance since the wording could impact appeal possibilities.
The memo stresses churches consider basic facts:
Judge Bellows found against our churches and in favor of The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in the lawsuits that TEC and the Diocese filed against our churches.
Judge Bellows’ opinion directs that the real property (the land and buildings) of the churches and the personal property of the churches acquired before January 31 or February 1, 2007 (depending upon the congregation) are to be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
Judge Bellows’ opinion indicates that a proposed final order reflecting these rulings is to be submitted to the Court within 45 days
Statement from the Diocese of Virginia:
Tonight, the Fairfax Circuit Court issued its ruling in favor of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in litigation seeking to recover Episcopal church property. “Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.
The court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese.
“We hope that this ruling will lead to our congregations returning to worship in their church homes in the near future, while finding a way to support the CANA congregations as they plan their transition,” said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff.
Bishop Johnston added, “While we are grateful for the decision in our favor, we remain mindful of the toll this litigation has taken on all parties involved, and we continue to pray for all affected by the litigation.”
The ruling can be found here: http://www.thediocese.net/Customer-Content/WWW/CMS/files/property_ruling_1102012.pdf
This is the case involving two of the flagship breakaway churches, Truro and The Falls Church, each of which was led by a key figure in the anti-gay faction that broke away from The Episcopal Church after the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.
Judge Randy Bellows, who issued this ruling, originally ruled in favor of the breakaway congregations in a ruling he released in June 2008, but the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in June 2010 that the statue on which he based his opinion was not applicable.
Judge Bellows wrote:
When this Court considers the applicable statutes, deeds, the Constitution and Canons of TEC and the Diocese, and the course of dealings between the parties, and applies “neutral principles of law” as established by United States and Virginia Supreme Court precedent, it is clear – indeed, to this Court, it is overwhelmingly evident – that TEC and the Diocese have contractual and proprietary interests in the real and personal property of each of these seven churches. ….
The CANA Congregations suggest that a ruling for the denomination would be to defer to the hierarchy “with a vengeance.” This Court disagrees. Rather, the finding here that TEC and the Diocese have a contractual and proprietary interest in the property of these Episcopal churches is no more than a recognition that, while the CANA Congregations had an absolute right to depart from TEC and the Diocese, they had no right to take these seven Episcopal churches with them.
UPDATE: The Washington Post:
The 113-page ruling was handed down Tuesday by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows. It was not immediately clear whether the seven congregations would appeal. They are part of a movement called the Anglican Church in North America, and all believe that they — not the Episcopal Church — represent true Anglicanism on the continent.
If they decide not to appeal, the seven congregations would have to vacate their churches, including some of the largest and most prominent in the region. Among them are The Falls Church and Truro Church in Northern Virginia, where thousands of people worship.