The San Diego Superior Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego on Tuesday, November 10 in a property dispute involving the congregations of two churches that claimed to leave the Episcopal Church, taking church property with them.
The dissenting congregations in the San Diego Diocese were members of St. Anne’s in Oceanside and Holy Trinity in Ocean Beach. In January 2006 and September 2006 respectively, leaders of these congregations renounced their membership in the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves instead with a foreign diocese.
Since then, the breakaway congregations have been engaged in a dispute with the Diocese of San Diego about who is the rightful owner of church property.
Tuesday’s ruling follows recent appellate opinions and confirms the Right Reverend James R. Mathes’ conviction that parish property cannot be taken away from the larger church by departing members.
“While I know this comes as a hard decision for the members of these dissenting congregations, this is also an opportunity for reconciliation and renewal” said Bishop Mathes. “We are eager to welcome these individuals back into the Episcopal Church. There is no need for anyone to change their place of worship. We will celebrate the same service from the same prayer book at the same altar.”
“This decision follows all other major decisions regarding property in a hierarchical church,” added Bishop Mathes. “The Diocese of San Diego is grateful to conclude this necessary but painful season.”
“This decision reaffirms the principle that the property of an Episcopal congregation must be used to further the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church,” said Baker & McKenzie partner, Charles H. Dick, Chancellor of the Diocese and its attorney in the property litigations. “People should be free to leave the Episcopal Church if they wish, but they cannot take the property of the Episcopal Church with them when they depart.”