Monday, November 04, 2019

Bankruptcy Court Upholds Order To Sell Church Property

In In re: Sindesmos Hellinikes-Kinotitos of Chicago, (ED IL Bkrpt., Oct. 25, 2019), an Illinois federal bankruptcy court refused to vacate a prior order for the sale of the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in Chicago which was $8.2 million in debt to a bank lender. A group of parishioners sought to have the order vacated, claiming that the local church lacked authority to sell the property because the sale had not been approved by a Parish Assembly vote.  The court said in part:
Here, the parties do not contest that the Debtor is subject to the hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America and is so bound by its Uniform Parish Regulations..... Those Uniform Regulations provide that a
Parish may purchase real and person property, or sell, mortgage, or otherwise encumber its real property . . . upon approval of two-thirds (2/3) of the parishioners in good standing present at a Parish Assembly duly called (with at least ten (10) days prior written notice) for that purpose, provided that approval from the respective Hierarch is received . . . .
The crux of the Concerned Parishioners' argument is, however, that while such approval may have been obtained, as the approval of two-thirds of the parishioners was not, the sale is unauthorized.... According to the Opposing Parties, such procedure is one of convenience for the Hierarch but is not an actual vested right of the parishioners....
[F]or the court to conclude that the church intended to vest in its parishioners a property right sufficient to require service under Bankruptcy Rule 6004(c) and sufficient to create a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the sale, the court must attempt to answer fundamental questions of the church's treatment of its parishioners.
Interpreting that ambiguity and resolving those fundamental questions would require this court to probe into the allocation of power within the church, to attempt to posit the church's intent and polity regarding the rights of its parishioners. That, quite simply, cannot happen.