Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for U.S. of America and Canada v. Milivojevich, 46670

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation60 Ill.2d 477,328 N.E.2d 268
Docket NumberNo. 46670,46670
Decision Date24 March 1975

Page 268

328 N.E.2d 268
60 Ill.2d 477
OF AMERICAN AND CANADA et al., Appellees,
Dionisije MILIVOJEVICH et al., Appellants.
No. 46670.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
March 24, 1975.
Rehearing Denied May 29, 1975.

[60 Ill.2d 478]

Page 269

John F. Grady, Sullivan & Smith, Ltd., and Snyder, Clarke, Dalziel, Holmquist & Johnson, Waukegan (Leo J. Sullivan, III, Richard J. Smith, Michael K. Noonan, and William A. Holmquist, Waukegan, of counsel), for appellants.

Jenner & Block and Katz, Karacic & Helmin, Chicago, and Hall, Meyer, Fisher, Holmberg, Snook & May, Waukegan (Albert E. Jenner, Jr., Keith F. Bode, Peter A. Flynn, Thomas J. Karacic, Chicago, and Henry D. Fisher, Waukegan, of counsel), for appellees.

[60 Ill.2d 479] KLUCZYNSKI, Justice.

This is a direct appeal granted under Supreme Court Rule 302(b) (50 Ill.2d R. 302(b)) from a judgment of the circuit court of Lake County principally involving a dispute over the control of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada (hereinafter the American-Canadian Diocese or the Diocese) and the property and assets of that Diocese. The parties, as they are presently constituted, are as follows:


Bishop Firmilian Ocokoljich

Bishop Gregory Udicki

Bishop Sava Vukovich

Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada (the religious body in this country)


Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich

Serbian Orthodox Monastery of St. Sava (monastery corporation)

Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada (an Illinois religious corporation)

Plaintiffs sought, in part, to have the trial court find that Bishop Dionisije had been removed as bishop of the Diocese, that the Diocese had been reorganized into three new dioceses, and that the three bishops be granted control of the Diocese and its property. Defendants filed a counterclaim seeking, among other relief, an injunction to prevent the plaintiffs from interfering with the assets of the defendant

Page 270

corporations. The circuit court held, in pertinent part, that Bishop Dionisije had properly been removed as bishop of the American-Canadian Diocese, that the reorganization of the Diocese into three new dioceses was illegal and invalid, and that only Bishop Firmilian as the duly appointed administrator of the Diocese could exercise authority over the Diocese and its property. Both plaintiffs and defendants appeal the trial court decision.

This case was originally filed in 1963 by the present [60 Ill.2d 480] defendants, and the plaintiffs countered by filing a separate complaint. Both parties sought the same relief as was state above. The trial court consolidated the actions and, based upon the pleadings, depositions and affidavits, granted the defendants herein summary judgment and dismissed the complaint of the plaintiffs. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the summary judgment and the order dismissing the complaint, and remanded the cause with directions for a full hearing on the merits. (Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for United States of America and Canada v. Ocokoljich, 72 Ill.App.2d 444, 219 N.E.2d 343, appeal denied, 34 Ill.2d 631.) On remand and over defendants' objection, the trial court allowed the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada, the religious body in this country, to be designated a party plaintiff.

The similarity of certain named parties involved in this appeal requires some clarification prior to any understandable recitation of the facts. In addition to the last-named plaintiff and the last-named defendant as previously set forth, there is the entity which is the subject of this controversy, the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada (the American-Canadian Diocese). The trial court on remand made certain findings of fact as to the existence of these parties, namely, that the Illinois religious corporation is a secular arm of the American-Canadian Diocese, and that the religious body in this country is a religious body duly organized and existing since 1921. The trial court, thus, found that the religious body in this country was synonymous with the American-Canadian Diocese. We conclude, however, that these findings are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, and they are, therefore, set aside. (Turner v. Board of Education, 54 Ill.2d 68, 72--73, 294 N.E.2d 264; Kenny Construction Co. v. Metropolitan Sanitary District, 52 Ill.2d 187, 196, 288 N.E.2d 1.) It is unnecessary at this point to relate the facts which form the basis of our determination,[60 Ill.2d 481] since the factual recitation which follows amply discloses that basis. The American-Canadian Diocese and the Illinois religious corporation (the last-named defendant) are one and the same as of the time of the Diocese's incorporation in May, 1935. If a distinction is to be made between the organizational entity of the Diocese and the individual church members of the Diocese when viewed as a common group, the latter could properly be referred to as a religious body. We do not infer, however, that this latter entity is represented by any of the plaintiffs in this action. The subject of this controversy and a party defendant is the American-Canadian Diocese organized as an Illinois religious corporation.

The complete factual background essential for an understanding of this case is not in all respects certain, since the parties are in dispute concerning it, and the trial court entered its findings of fact only as to those facts upon which it based its decision. We will recite the complete factual background as we understand it from the record and the briefs submitted by the parties. However, as to the testimony of the numerous witnesses in the trial court, we will recite only that testimony we deem necessary for a complete determination of the issues on appeal.

In the 1890's, persons of Serbian descent migrated to North America, where they formed completely autonomous religious congregations throughout the United States

Page 271

and Canada. Until 1920 these Serbian Orthodox churches were under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church, the oldest Orthodox church in this hemisphere. The Russian Orthodox Church, however, was burdened with its own requirements and was unable to care for the local Serbian needs. The minutes of early meetings of Serbian priests and people held in 1913 and 1916 indicate a strong desire by these people to have their churches in America under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church with its See in what is now Belgrade, [60 Ill.2d 482] Yugoslavia.

In 1913 a meeting of Serbian priests and people was called for the purpose of organizing the Serbian Orthodox Church in North America. During this meeting a constitution was drafted and accepted. Article 4 of this constitution provided that the Serbian Orthodox Church in the United States was to have its own Church National Representation and Church National Governing Body and that it would govern autonomously in matters of church, school, education and property.

In 1916 a Serbian Priests' Assembly was held and presided over by Bishop Evdokim of the Russian Orthodox Church. Business and problems facing the Serbian churches in America were discussed and resolved. A 'Normal Constitution for the North American Orthodox Diocese' of 1909, apparently a constitution taken from the Russian Orthodox Church, was accepted by the priests' assembly with the necessary revisions to delete the references to the Russian Orthodox Church and refer instead to the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was also decided that several paragraphs would be added to this constitution to describe the duties of the Bishop's Aides. The 32 Serbian Orthodox parishes existing in the United States at the time of this meeting were divided into 4 presbyteries or divisions: Eastern, Middle, First Western, and Second Western. The Bishop's Aides were four Serbian priests elected to accept jurisdiction over the four presbyteries and to act as mediators between the bishop and the people.

In 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church sent Father Mardary Uskokovich (a Serbian educated in Russian Orthodox seminaries) to America with instructions to organize an independent Serbian diocese. Four years later the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church sent a delegation to America to determine the status of the Serbian parishes. Apparently as a result of Father Mardary's efforts and the report of the delegation, the Serbian Orthodox Church recognized that the necessary[60 Ill.2d 483] structure was present in America for establishing a diocese, and designated a Serbian bishop to carry out the formal organization of a diocese. The designated bishop, however, did not become a permanent resident of the United States, and Father Mardary was appointed as Resident Administrator of the Diocese until his election as bishop of the Diocese by the Holy Assembly of Bishops in 1925.

In 1927 Bishop Mardary organized under the laws of Illinois a not-for-profit corporation named the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese Council for the United States and Canada. The purpose of this corporation was to hold title to 30 acres of property in Libertyville, Illinois, which the bishop had purchased in 1924. The charter of this corporation was permitted to lapse, and, shortly before Bishop Mardary's death in 1935, the American-Canadian Diocese was incorporated pursuant to provisions of the Illinois Religious Corporation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 32, pars. 176 through 188) under the name of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada.

Acting under his authority as diocesan bishop, Bishop Mardary called the First Church National Assembly meeting, also known as a Sabor, for September 1, 1927. The invitation to this assembly...

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    ...concluding the proceedings against Dionisije were illegal under Church law (Serbian Eastern Orth. Diocese, etc. v. Milivojevich (1975) 60 Ill.2d 477, 328 N.E.2d 268). The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. ((1975) 423 U.S. 911, 96 S.Ct. 213, 46 L.Ed.2d Before the United States ......
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