Thursday, July 24, 2014

Church Split Can Be Adjudicated Using Neutral Principles of Law

In Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Mary of the Angels' Parish v. Anglican Church in America, (CA App., July 23, 2014), a California appellate court held that a dispute over who controls an Anglican parish, a majority of whose members favor reunification with the Catholic Church, can be resolved by applying neutral principles of law and without deciding ecclesiastical matters. According to the court:
At one point during the dispute, the ACA took disciplinary action against the Rector, Father Christopher P. Kelley, inhibiting him from performing any ecclesiastical duties, and ordering him to vacate the premises owned by St. Mary’s. The ACA appointed a new Rector, who then removed several members of the elected Vestry and appointed new members.
When Father Kelley refused to vacate the premises, the ACA ... filed a lawsuit against him.... Eventually, three more lawsuits were filed.... All of the lawsuits required resolution of one dispositive question: Who controls St. Mary’s?
....We conclude that the determination of who controls St. Mary’s depends upon the validity of an August 2012 vote by members of the Parish to disaffiliate from the ACA, and that the validity of that amendment can be determined by applying neutral principles of law.