Georgia Court rules for The Episcopal Church regarding Christ Church Savannah
On Thursday, October 27, 2009 a trial court in Savannah, Georgia entered a summary judgment holding that, where the clergy and a majority of the parishioners left The Episcopal Church to join another church, The Episcopal Church and its Diocese of Georgia have a trust interest in the parish property. Confirming that the Dennis Canon I.7.4 was validly adopted and imposes a trust interest on the parish property, the court found “that the church property reverts to the control of the Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia for the uses and purposes of the Episcopal Church and that (the Episcopalians) are entitled to immediate possession.”
The plaintiffs are the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia; the defendants are the former rector and vestry members of Christ Church Savannah, one of the oldest churches in the State of Georgia. This case joins scores of others across the nation in which courts have held in favor of The Episcopal Church, confirming its hierarchical status and its long-standing implicit trust interest that was expressly codified in the Dennis Canon in 1979.
The Georgia court affirmed many legal principles asserted by the Episcopal plaintiffs in the pending Fort Worth litigation.
- The court relied in part upon the testimony of Dr. Robert Bruce Mullin, Ph.D., also one of the expert witnesses in the Fort Worth case regarding the polity and history of The Episcopal Church.
- The court characterized as “fatuous” the former leaders’ claim that the parish had effectively limited its loyalty to the Episcopal Church by amending its charter in 2006 to retract the explicit affirmation to Church doctrine, noting, “They cannot amend their way out of an already existing trust, any more than they can amend their way out of a mortgage. . . . [I]t does not sever the strands of the trust that attached to parish property. . . By retracting the explicit affirmation to church doctrine in 2006, the implicit obligation to loyalty still remained.”
- In reviewing the history of the parish, the court noted that “Christ Church got the benefit of its bargain with the National Church for many years. The National Church has the right to insist on its part of the bargain as well.”
- “Diocesan canons are subordinate to the canons of the National Church.”
- The parish’s post-1979 affirmation of the National Church’s discipline constituted a ratification of the Dennis Canon.