Breakaway Anglicans told to return property

March 5, 2012

A Virginia judge has ordered seven congregations that broke from the
Episcopal Church to return all property to the local diocese—from
valuable land to sacred chalices—by April 30. The Diocese of Virginia
had wanted the properties returned by March 30, a week before Easter.
But Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows agreed to give the
breakaway congregations more time. In a closely watched case that
reached the Virginia Supreme Court, Bellows ruled in January that
congregations have the right to leave the Diocese of Virginia, but not
to take church property with them.

The conservative congregations
must return an estimated $40 million worth of property, including
several large, historic churches, according to the Washington Post.
They must also return chalices, prayer books, crosses and some of the
money they had on hand before they left the Episcopal Church.

"We hope that this will mark the end of this lengthy litigation," said Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston.

Frustrated
with the Episcopal Church's liberal theology, which includes
consecrating gay and lesbian priests as bishops, the congregations voted
to leave the denomination in 2006 and 2007. They are now part of the
rival Anglican Church in North America.

Jim Oakes, a spokesman for
the breakaway congregations, said they are "prayerfully considering
their legal options." Oakes said they are particularly upset at
Bellows's order to turn over donations given to the congregations before
they left the Episcopal Church.  —RNS