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Canadian court rules dissident churches must abandon property

December 1, 2010

Toronto

An appeals’ court has ruled in favor of a Canadian Anglican diocese in a parish property dispute with those opposed to same-gender blessings.

In a unanimous decision released on Nov. 15, British Columbia Court of Appeal Justice Mary Newbury, writing on behalf of herself and two fellow judges, dismissed an appeal by four breakaway parishes against a 2009 lower court ruling.

Justice Newbury said that the dissident clergy of the four parishes in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster cannot “remove themselves from their bishop’s oversight and the diocesan structure and retain the right to use properties that are held for purposes of Anglican ministry in Canada.”

The diocese has begun to replace the clergy of the four Vancouver-area churches, whose properties are worth an estimated 20 million Canadian dollars (US$19.6 million). One of the churches, St John’s Shaughnessy, is widely considered one of Canada’s wealthiest parishes.

Clergy and trustees of the four churches, which split from the Anglican Church of Canada over issues of same-gender blessings and the interpretation of the Bible, had asked the court to give them control over the properties.

Those who have left have joined a breakaway group called the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), which they say is the true “orthodox” Anglican church. They walked away from their diocese after it voted in 2002 to authorize a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples.

Still, the dissidents gained one victory, when the British Columbia court also dismissed an appeal by the diocese against a 2009 court decision granting that a 2.2 million Canadian dollar (US$2.1 million) bequest from a former parishioner of one of the churches be held in trust for the “building needs of the ANiC congregation.”

The court decision on property rights could set a precedent for similar cases across the country. Six out of 30 Anglican dioceses in Canada, where same-sex marriages are legal, currently permit or have guidelines for the blessings of same-gender relationships.

“Obviously, we are deeply disappointed by this decision, which is currently being reviewed by our legal counsel,” said ANiC legal advisor Cheryl Chang in a statement on the network’s Web site. “We are awaiting their advice before any discussion about an appeal can take place. The congregations have always said that if they are forced to choose between their buildings and their faith, they will choose their faith.”

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