Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tentative Ruling By California Judge Goes Against Break-Away Episcopal Diocese

In Fresno, California, a Superior court judge has issued a tentative ruling in Diocese of San Joaquin v. Schofield, (Super. Ct., May 4, 2009) [scroll to pg. 48]. He proposed granting summary judgment rejecting the validity of amendments to the articles of incorporation of the corporation sole, The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin. Those amendments purported to eliminate the requirement that any new bishop be approved by Episcopal church bodies and ordained by 3 Episcopal bishops. The diocese attempted to implement the amendment to facilitate its break off from the Episcopal Church and its affiliation with the more conservative Province of the Southern Cone. Holding that state courts must defer to the highest ecclesiastical authority of an hierarchical church on questions of religious doctrine, the court concluded that civil courts must recognize Bishop Jerry Lamb who was installed by the Episcopal Church as the Bishop of San Joaquin after Bishop John-David Schofield broke way. It similarly held that the amendment to change the name of the corporation to The Anglican Bishop of San Joaquin was ultra vires and void.

According to yesterday's Religious Intelligence, the court held a hearing on May 5 for the parties to respond to the tentative ruling. In the hearing, attorneys for the break-away diocese argued that summary judgment is improper because there is a factual dispute about whether the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical." They also claim that the church failed to give proper notice of the meeting at which Lamb was elected as the continuing bishop. The Episcopal Church responded that the court lacks authority to review its internal procedures. Virtue Online also reports on the court's tentative ruling.