Friday, November 27, 2009

Canadian Court Says Property of Break-Away Anglican Parishes Belongs To Diocese

In Bentley v. Anglican Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster, (BC Sup. Ct., Nov. 25, 2009), the British Columbia Supreme Court (the Canadian province's superior trial court) issued a lengthy opinion in a dispute over ownership of the property of four parishes that broke away from the Anglican Church of Canada and affiliated with the more conservative Anglican Network in Canada. The split came over the Diocese's decision to accept a rite to bless same-sex unions. The court held that ownership of parish properties remain with the Diocese. Under the Act to Incorporate the General Synod of the Church of England in Canada, parishes can dispose of property only with the consent of the Executive Committee and Bishop. Using the property for purposes related to ANiC amounts to improperly taking them outside the jurisdiction of the Diocese. The court also rejected the parishes' argument that the property was held in trust for ministry consistent with historic, orthodox Anglican doctrine and practice. It held that only departure from core tenets or fundamental doctrine can breach a religious purpose trust. The blessing of same-sex unions does not engage core or fundamental doctrine.

The court went on to hold that the Bishop lacked authority to replace parish trustees. However trustees elected by each break-away parish must carry out their duties in accordance with the rules of the Anglican Church in Canada-- something that the elected trustees are unlikely to want to do. Finally the court held that $2.2 million from the bequest of a former member to the building fund of one of the parishes involved should, consistent with the donor's intent, go to the building needs of the parish now affiliated with ANiC. Applying the cy pres doctrine, the court said that the donor intended the funds to benefit the parish that serves the Chinese community in British Columbia. Yesterday's Anglican Journal reported on the decision.