Decision in Quincy: ECUSA Has No Rule Keeping Dioceses from Leaving
We have a decision from the trial court in Quincy: Adams County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Ortbal entered on September 9, 2013 his Findings, Opinion and Order following a bench trial that stretched over three weeks last April and May. The opinion is about as thorough an analysis as we have to date of the “hierarchical” polity of ECUSA when it comes to matters involving its member dioceses. The judge’s key finding is this (pp.12-14):
DOQ [The Anglican Diocese of Quincy] persuasively argues that when examining TEC’s Constitution and Canons from a secular perspective, they are far from clear or evident, as to identifying the highest court or judicatory having authority over the diocese. There is no explicit provision in TEC’s Constitution or Canons specifying the office or body having supremacy or ultimate authority over the acknowledged Ecclesiastical Authority of a Diocese, i.e., a Bishop or a Standing Committee in the absence of the Bishop.
There is no provision in TEC’s Constitution or Canons which require prior approval of a diocesan constitution or its canons. There is no express prohibition against withdrawal of a diocese. In sum, reviewing the governing documents from a secular perspective, there is no explicit or clearly delineated expression of TEC ‘s claim that the General Convention is the ultimate authority or judicatory of the Church.
Based upon this record, the court finds that, despite the general hierarchical structure of TEC, the determination that the General Convention is the highest ecclesiastical authority over the disputed property issue is not readily ascertainable. To reach the conclusion sought by TEC, that the actions of the General Convention and Presiding Bishop must be deferred to as the ultimate adjudicatory of the dispute, would require the court to engage in a searching and impermissible inquiry into the historical and theological analysis of the Church’s polity ...
I will have a fuller analysis of the rest of the opinion up later today. For now, this represents a great legal victory (albeit at the trial level) for those dioceses who are facing lawsuits over their actions to remove themselves from membership in ECUSA. And for that reason, ECUSA will almost certainly appeal the ruling. But as Bishop Iker reminded 815 following the decision in favor of his diocese in Texas, it is never too late for 815 to come to its senses, and stop this endless warfare in which Christians everywhere lose.
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