ROCHESTER: State high court rules against breakaway Episcopalians

December 24, 2008

The New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has ruled that the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester owns property that All Saints Anglican Church in Irondequoit attempted to claim.


The ruling affirmed lower court decisions in favor of the diocese. The Episcopal Church filed a friend of the court brief in the appeal.

The diocesan convention in November 2005 dissolved All Saints parish. The action came after four years of conversation between the leaders of All Saints' and the leaders of the diocese. All Saints had refused to pay its diocesan apportionment since the 2003 General Convention consented to the election and consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop for New Hampshire.

The convention also said that All Saints' real property and tangible and intangible assets were to be transferred to the trustees of the diocese. All Saints, however, maintained that it held legal title to the real and personal property.

The Rev. David Harnish, the All Saints rector, later claimed that the parish was under the authority of Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi.

Justice Theodore Jones Jr., writing October 23 for a unanimous court, ruled that the canons of the Episcopal Church include language making it clear that parish property is held in trust for the wider church. All Saints had claimed that it was not bound by the language, the so-called Dennis Canon, because it was adopted after All Saints was incorporated as an Episcopal mission in 1927 and after it became a parish in the diocese in 1947.

The court said it was unlikely that any of the parties to those documents intended to give the parish veto power over future changes in the canons. The court also found it significant that All Saints never objected to the applicability of the Dennis Canon (Canon 1.7.4) in the more than 20 years since it was enacted by General Convention.

Diocesan attorney Thomas Smith told Newsday October 23 that the diocese had sold the All Saints building and was holding about $450,000 in proceeds pending the outcome of the case. "The proceeds of the sale will be used for the mission of the diocese, of the parishes," he told the newspaper.

All Saints Anglican Church now worships in the chapel of Reformation Lutheran Church in Rochester.

This was the second appellate court ruling in a week that favored Episcopal Church contentions about the actions of groups of people who chose to leave their parishes. A California appeals court ruled October 21 that leaders of a San Diego Episcopal church did not have the authority to change parish bylaws and articles of incorporation after voting to realign with the Church of Uganda. Although former vestry members of St. John's Church in Fallbrook, California, in the Diocese of San Diego resigned from the Episcopal Church in July 2006 over doctrinal issues, they refused to relinquish the parish's property or assets.

Instead, the vestry members voted to change the parish's name and to amend the parish corporation's bylaws and articles of incorporation -- actions deemed beyond the scope of their authority, according to the Fourth District Court of Appeals decision.