The Protestant Episcopal Church In The Diocese Of Va. v. Church, Record No. 090682

Docket Nº090683.
Citation694 S.E.2d 555
Case DateJune 10, 2010
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

694 S.E.2d 555

The PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN the DIOCESE OF VIRGINIA
v.
TRURO CHURCH, et al.
The Episcopal Church
v.
Truro Church, et al.

Record Nos. 090682, 090683.

Supreme Court of Virginia.

June 10, 2010.


694 S.E.2d 556

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

694 S.E.2d 557
George A. Somerville (Bradfute W. Davenport, Jr., Richmond; Mary C. Zinsner, McLean; Joshua D. Heslinga, Richmond; A.E. Dick Howard, Charlottesville; Troutman Sanders, on briefs), for appellant The Protestant Episcopal Church.

Heather H. Anderson (Soyong Cho, Washington, DC; Goodwin Proctor, on briefs), for appellant The Episcopal Church.

Steffen N. Johnson; E. Duncan Getchall, Jr., State Solicitor General (Gordon A. Coffee; Gene C. Schaerr; Andrew C. Nichols; Scott J. Ward; George O. Peterson; Tania M.L. Saylor; Mary A. McReynolds; James A. Johnson; Paul N. Farquharson; Scott H. Phillips; James E. Carr; E. Andrew Burcher; R. Hunter Manson; Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Attorney General; Charles E. James, Jr., Chief Deputy Attorney General; Stephen R. McCullough, Senior Appellate Counsel; William E. Thro, Special Counsel; Winston & Strawn; Gammon & Grange; Sands Anderson Marks & Miller; Semmes, Bowen & Semmes; Carr & Carr; Walsh, Collucci, Lubeley, Emerick & Walsh, on briefs), for appellees.

Amici Curiae: The American Anglican Council; Presbyterian Lay Committee; Association for Church Renewal (Forrest A. Norman III; Kenneth W. Starr, Los Angeles, CA; C. Kevin Marshall; Christopher J. Smith, Washington, DC; Gallagher Sharp; Jones Day, on brief), in support of appellees.

Amici Curiae; Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia; Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia (Mark D. Loftis; Frank K. Friedman, Roanoke; Gordon B. Tayloe, Jr., Virginia Beach: Samuel J. Webster, Norfolk; Woods Rogers; Kellam, Pickrell, Cox & Tayloe; Wilcox & Savage, on briefs), in support of appellants.

Amici Curiae: General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church; Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Gradye Parsons; General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; African Methodist Episcopal Church; The Right Reverend Charlene Kammerer; W. Clark Williams; Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; The Reverend Dr. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr.; Elder Donald F. Bickhart; Virlina District Board-Church of the Brethren, Inc.; Mid-Atlantic II Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Michael McManus; Thomas E. Starnes, Washington, DC; Drinker Biddle & Reath, on briefs), in support of appellants.

Amici Curiae: Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty (Lori H. Windham; Kevin J. Hasson; Eric C. Rassbach; Luke W. Goodrich; Michael W. McConnell, on brief), in support of appellees.

Present: HASSELL, C.J., KOONTZ, KINSER, and MILLETTE, JJ., and LACY, S.J.

OPINION BY Justice LAWRENCE L. KOONTZ, JR.

These appeals arise from a dispute concerning church property between a hierarchical church and one of its dioceses in Virginia and a number of the diocese's constituent congregations. The principal issue we must decide is whether under the specific facts of these cases Code § 57-9(A) authorized the congregations to file petitions in the appropriate circuit courts for entry of orders permitting them to continue to occupy and

694 S.E.2d 558
control real property held in trust for the congregations after voting to disaffiliate from the church and affiliate with another polity.1
BACKGROUND

While the consolidated record in these cases is voluminous, we need recite only those facts necessary to our resolution of the dispositive issue of whether the circuit court correctly ruled that Code § 57-9(A) is applicable to the specific facts in these cases.2 See, e.g., Asplundh Tree Expert Co. v. Pacific Employers Ins. Co., 269 Va. 399, 402, 611 S.E.2d 531, 532 (2005). Because the resolution of these appeals requires us to construe the language of Code § 57-9(A), we will set out that language here so that the relationship of the recited facts to the issues to be resolved will be clear: 3

If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a church or religious society, to which any such congregation whose property is held by trustees is attached, the members of such congregation over 18 years of age may, by a vote of a majority of the whole number, determine to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong. Such determination shall be reported to the circuit court of the county or city, wherein the property held in trust for such congregation or the greater part thereof is; and if the determination be approved by the court, it shall be so entered in the court's civil order book, and shall be conclusive as to the title to and control of any property held in trust for such congregation, and be respected and enforced accordingly in all of the courts of the Commonwealth.
The Ecclesiastical Relationships Among the Parties

We have previously held that Code § 57-9(A) applies to congregations of “hierarchical churches,” that is “churches, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, that are subject to control by super-congregational bodies.” 4 Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). The dispute that resulted in the litigation from which these appeals arise involves a complex interplay between various entities within a faith community that has local, national, and international ties. It is not disputed that the entities involved in this litigation are part of a hierarchical church, although the parties differ on which entities compose that church. In order to better understand the context in which the dispute arose, we will first identify the entities involved and their relationship to one another.

The Anglican Communion is an international body that consists of 38 “provinces,” which are “regional and national churches that share a common history of their understanding of the Church catholic through the See of Canterbury” in England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Church of England, one of the national churches within the Anglican Communion, and is considered the “chief pastor,” “first

694 S.E.2d 559
among equals in the wider Anglican Communion,” and the “focus of the unity” within the leadership in the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Communion functions through three “instruments of unity”: the decennial Lambeth Conference; the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets every two or three years; and the biennial Primates' Meeting. The Lambeth Conference is the oldest of these institutions, dating from 1867. Participation in the Lambeth Conference is by “invitation only” from the Archbishop of Canterbury, with invitations being directed to individual church bishops and other leaders among the clergy, not to regional or national churches as a unit. Although the Lambeth Conference issues resolutions and reports, these are not binding on the regional and national churches. Rather, the function of the Lambeth Conference and the other international activities of the Anglican Communion are “primarily consultative.” Thus, any action within the Anglican Communion has efficacy within a regional or national church only if the church adopts the resolution or report through its own polity structure for the governance of that church.

The Episcopal Church (“TEC”) is a province of the Anglican Communion and the principal national church following the Anglican tradition within the United States.5 TEC consists of 111 geographical dioceses with over 7000 congregations and over 2 million members. The highest governing body of TEC is the triennial General Convention, which adopts TEC's constitution and canons to which the dioceses must give an “unqualified accession.” Each diocese in turn is governed by a Bishop and Annual Council that adopts the constitution and canons for the diocese. Each congregation within a diocese in turn is bound by the national and diocesan constitutions and canons. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia (“the Diocese”) is one of the dioceses within TEC.6

Priests of TEC are “canonically resident” within a specific diocese and may not function as priests in any other diocese of TEC without the permission of the local bishop. Similarly, a priest ordained by a diocese of TEC may not function as a priest for one of the other regional or national churches that participate in the Anglican Communion without permission from the local authority of that church.

At the 2003 General Convention of TEC, three major points of controversy arose: the Convention's confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson, a homosexual priest, as a bishop of one of the dioceses of TEC; the adoption of a resolution permitting the blessing of same-sex unions; and the rejection of a resolution concerning the “historic formularies of the Christian faith.” Following the 2003 General Convention, Peter James Lee, the bishop of the Diocese, who had supported the confirmation of Robinson as a bishop, received “hundreds of letters” opposing these actions taken by the General Convention. Additionally, several congregations opposed to the actions of the General Convention stopped paying pledges owed to the Diocese and TEC, placing the funds in escrow. As a result, Bishop Lee became concerned that the dissident congregations would “attempt to create a parallel province.”

In response to the discord within the Diocese, in 2004 a “Reconciliation Commission” was formed “to find ways to bring about some peaceful conflict resolution.” Despite this effort, dissent concerning the actions of the 2003 General Convention continued, and in 2005 Bishop Lee created a new commission “to give attention to this rising threat of division in the Diocese.” The following year, the commission promulgated a “Protocol for Departing...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 practice notes
  • Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, Record No. 120919.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 18, 2013
    ...case were related in exacting detail in prior proceedings before this Court. See Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 694 S.E.2d 555 (2010). Therefore, due to the extensive nature of the proceedings below, we will recite only the facts necessary for our resolution of the ......
  • Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Tennessee v. Rector, Wardens, & Vestrymen of St. Andrew's Parish, No. M2010-01474-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • April 25, 2012
    ...control over property when local church disassociates); see also Protestant Episcopal Church in Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, 694 S.E.2d 555, 558 (Va. 2010) (holding Episcopal churches are hierarchical). There is nothing in the language of the relevant documents to indicate that the ......
  • Chapman v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1948-16-4.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • September 26, 2017
    ...should be guided by ‘the context in which [the word or phrase] is used.’ " Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 21, 694 S.E.2d 555, 563 (2010) (alteration in original) (quoting Sansom v. Bd. of Supvrs., 257 Va. 589, 595, 514 S.E.2d 345, 349 (1999) ). "[I]f the language of......
  • Commonwealth v. NC Fin. Solutions of Utah, LLC, Case No. CL-2018-6258
    • United States
    • Virginia Circuit Court of Virginia
    • October 28, 2018
    ...should be guided by the context in which [the word or phrase] is used." Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 21, 694 S.E.2d 555, 563 (2010) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The qualifier phrase bestowing exemption from the VCPA applies only to the listed ......
4 cases
  • Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, Record No. 120919.
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 18, 2013
    ...case were related in exacting detail in prior proceedings before this Court. See Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 694 S.E.2d 555 (2010). Therefore, due to the extensive nature of the proceedings below, we will recite only the facts necessary for our resolution of the ......
  • Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Tennessee v. Rector, Wardens, & Vestrymen of St. Andrew's Parish, No. M2010-01474-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • April 25, 2012
    ...control over property when local church disassociates); see also Protestant Episcopal Church in Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, 694 S.E.2d 555, 558 (Va. 2010) (holding Episcopal churches are hierarchical). There is nothing in the language of the relevant documents to indicate that the ......
  • Chapman v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1948-16-4.
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • September 26, 2017
    ...should be guided by ‘the context in which [the word or phrase] is used.’ " Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 21, 694 S.E.2d 555, 563 (2010) (alteration in original) (quoting Sansom v. Bd. of Supvrs., 257 Va. 589, 595, 514 S.E.2d 345, 349 (1999) ). "[I]f the language of......
  • Commonwealth v. NC Fin. Solutions of Utah, LLC, Case No. CL-2018-6258
    • United States
    • Virginia Circuit Court of Virginia
    • October 28, 2018
    ...should be guided by the context in which [the word or phrase] is used." Protestant Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, 280 Va. 6, 21, 694 S.E.2d 555, 563 (2010) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The qualifier phrase bestowing exemption from the VCPA applies only to the listed ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT