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UPDATED: Supreme Court of the United States denies CANA congregation’s petition for appeal

UPDATED: Supreme Court of the United States denies CANA congregation’s petition for appeal

Added 12:02 PM

A Letter from the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia

Dear Diocesan Family,

Today is an important day for our Diocese. We finally can say, with great thankfulness, that the Diocese of Virginia no longer is involved in property litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the Falls Church CANA’s petition. That means The Falls Church Episcopal is free to continue to worship and grow in its home church buildings.

Although today marks an official and much anticipated end to the litigation, it also marks a beginning. We will now be able to focus fully our attentions on the many truly exciting ministries all over our Diocese. I pray that those in the CANA congregations will join us in turning this fresh page.

It is most appropriate that this decision comes at this time, following January’s Annual Council, where we gathered under the theme, “Awake, My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve.” In the spirit of renewal I have felt all over the Diocese, I invite you to join me and your brothers and sisters in 182 congregations as we explore new ways to awake our collective souls; as we take a fresh look at our shared ministries; as we stretch every nerve, beyond our comfort zones; and as we breathe new life into the mission we do together in the name of Jesus Christ.

Our Dayspring team already has been making great headway in identifying sources of renewed energy and vision involving those properties that have been returned to us as a result of the litigation. I have no doubt that this spirit of renewal will be enhanced by today’s decision. Please join us on this missional journey that will stretch and inspire us as we find new ways to connect our faith community to the needs of the world.

On this special day, I would like to recognize the clergy and lay leaders of The Falls Church Episcopal, a congregation that has continued to grow in love throughout this prolonged legal process. As always, our prayers remain with all of those affected by the litigation – brothers and sisters who now have the precious opportunity for a new beginning.


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

Bishop of Virginia


Statement from the Diocese of Virginia added, 11:26 AM

Supreme Court of the United States Denies CANA Congregation’s Petition for Appeal


Today, over seven years after congregations of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America entered into litigation with the Diocese of Virginia, the Supreme Court of the United States ended the final lawsuit by denying The Falls Church CANA’s petition for certiorari. The decision, in effect, affirms the Supreme Court of Virginia’s ruling in favor of the Diocese in June 2013. The CANA congregation had filed a petition on Oct. 9, 2013, appealing the state court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We are most gratified by the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia. “We look forward to the possibilities that the months ahead will bring, and continue to keep those affected by the litigation in our prayers.”

“Although it breaks my heart to think of where all that money and energy could have gone, today’s news is uplifting for our congregation,” said the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of The Falls Church Episcopal. “My hope and prayer is that all sides can now continue to grow their communities of worship, ministries and outreach in our church homes.”


Original post below:

This morning the Supreme Court of the United States ended the seven years long litigation of the Falls Church Anglican with the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church when it denied the cert petition of the CANA congregation. The Court has previously denied similar petitions in Georgia, California and Connecticut.

The continuing congregation, the Falls Church Episcopal moved into the facility in 2012 after the state trial court ruled on remand in favor of the diocese.

The Falls Church Anglican was the only CANA congregation to appeal to the Court.

The CANA parishes contended a congregation could vote to leave the diocese and take the property. The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church contended people were free to leave the church, but the property belonged to the diocese recognized by The Episcopal Church.

This morning’s Supreme Court order list is here.

The Washington Post posted this story at 9:44 AM. Excerpts:

The justices gave no reason for declining to review the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court that the 3,000-member congregation, which voted in 2006 to leave the Episcopal Church, did not have the right to keep the sprawling property known as the Falls Church.

The Falls Church property is one of the country’s largest Episcopal churches and is a landmark in downtown Falls Church.

Previous coverage from The Lead (April 18, 2013): Virginia Supreme Court rules in favor of Diocese


Added 3/11/2014:

Michelle Boorstein’s report in the Washington Post

Statement from the vestry of Falls Church Anglican


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David O'Rourke

Yes, I was referring to cases in Virginia. I was wondering if any of the other legal cases where CANA groups that tried to gain possession of properties were still active.

Frank Stevens, Jr.

Mr. O’Rourke, if you mean the other church property disputes “IN VIRGINIA,” there are no more cases outstanding between the Episcopal Church and CANA. All of the other cases were ended (or withdrawn) after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Diocese; only The Falls Church chose to appeal to the Supreme Court and that effort ended with yesterday’s denial of certiorari.

I cannot speak to property disputes elsewhere, but I know of no successful efforts by a congregation to withdraw from a hierarchical church, while retaining possession of property previously belonging to that church. If I were CANA (which I am decidedly not), I would move immediately to terminate any other “church property” cases, and stop wasting my parishioners’ money on huge legal fees.

Paul Powers

The same U.S. Supreme Court that declined to review the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision against one local congregation that tried to withdraw from a national church also declined to review a Louisiana appellate court decision in favor of a local congregation in New Orleans that withdrew from the PCUSA. The lesson is that Court sees church property disputes as a matter of state law, not federal law, so the Court will review a state-court decision only if it finds a serious potential violation of the federal constitution. The last time that happened was in 1977.

Chris H.

David, no this isn’t the end. This one church appealed to the state supreme court but there are still other lawsuits continuing in different parts of the country. It will be a relief to many when it’s all over, but I do wonder if 815 is ever going to tell us how much this really cost. The number the other side bandies about as their guess,$40 million+, is horrendous.

Chris Harwood

David O'Rourke

I guess I have not been paying attention. Have all the other legal disputes over the other properties been resolved?

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