But we win. That's the important part.
A California judge has ruled that the Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin, and its bishop Jerry Lamb, are the legal owners of the property now held by schismatic bishop John-David Schofield and the 40 parishes that have taken his side and left the [DFMS of the] PECUSA.
We are experts in neither canon nor canon nor civil law, but this accords with our limited understanding of the case. (It is apparently parallel to the provisions governing those Lutheran congregations that were formerly part of the LCA, although the church constitutions are surely quite different.)
Needless to say, this judgment does not end the standoff, even in San Joaquin. The case at hand was only the first, albeit the weightiest, of five brought by the Episcopal diocese against Schofield and his adherents. So there are more cases to judge, and -- as the Modesto Bee gently puts it, Lamb acknowledged that he doesn't expect Schofield or priests in those 40 parishes to give up their properties soon.
No, we expect not. Possession is nine points, and all that..
So even though Schofield lost in court, it is hard to say that Lamb actually won. It's more accurate to say that he and his team have taken the first hill in what will likely be a long and bloody battle. Fratricide usually is.
But we won, and here's why:
Father Anonymous is a frequent reader of GetReligion.org, a website devoted to press coverage of religious affairs -- with a heavy focus on Christianity. It is run by a team of professional journalists who are transparent about their own religious commitments, and interested in the way their colleagues often seem to report the wrong story when religion is concerned. The site is excellent, although the correspondents do occasionally seem to read through a doctrinally conservative lens. And the comments, as opposed to the actual stories, not infrequently devolve into arguments about doctrine, rather than sticking to media criticism. But these are minor complaints, at best.
Anyway. Months and months ago, somebody on GR argued that the press was ignorantly taking sides every time it referred to the group of former Episcopalians who would later become ACNA as "breakaway" parishes, priests or dioceses. After all, argued whoever it was, it is the claim of these fine people that they have not left their church, but that it has left them; and further, that they remain part of the global Anglican family. So how can anyone say they have broken away?
Father A. pointed out, delicately, that they were breaking away, as a legal and institutional matter, from the church body of which they had long been constituent parts, by which their priests were ordained, and which in many cases had provided the money and personnel with which their parishes had been founded. Their position in the Anglican Communion was unclear (and is much less so now, by the way). No; they had left their old church to form a new one. Just ask the IRS, which surely required them to apply for a new recognition of their tax-exempt status. Or the Church Pension Fund.
Needless to say, this argument was not received with much enthusiasm at GR. An initial condescending "explanation" of the doctrinal argument, followed by a polite silence. We were mildly annoyed.
No more, however. Thanks to Fresno County Superior Court Judge Adolfo Corona, our cause has been vindicated. The law agrees with us -- they have broken away from the institution of which they had formerly been part, and, as a matter of law, lost claim to their title. We're right, the GR commenters were wrong. So there!