Spring 2008, Vol. 11, No. 1

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From the Editor:

Sally Gets Religion

God and Mammon on the Web

Off with their Head Scarves

Playing Godless

Letter to the Editor


Letter to the Editor                         

To the editor:

Next time you get someone to cover the Episcopal imbroglio, get a better person than Mr. Kirkpatrick who obviously hasn’t a clue and whose sympathies toward the Episcopal Church are quite evident. As much as he loves to quote the Washington Post, they have written almost nothing on this whole issue. It had been going on for several years before the Post woke up to it in late 2006. He found two of maybe a handful of articles they’ve done on this. I’ve written 10 times more pieces, plus covered the Virginia case like a blanket. Too bad your writer never bothered to notice that. Fitzpatrick’s characterization of my Virginia trial coverage (in the one mention I got) was totally wrong. The trial was on the division statute; in fact the Virginia attorney general intervened just on that matter alone not too long ago. 

Also, Philip Jenkins never testified in the case so you might want to run a correction on that one. And it was 11 parishes that voted, not 15. 

Julia Duin

Washington Times

 (see original article by Frank Kirkpatrick here)  

Frank Kirkpatrick responds:

Ms. Duin is, of course, absolutely right that only 11 parishes are involved in the legal case currently being heard by Judge Randy Bellows. I should have made that explicitly clear. I had mentioned 15 churches leaving the Diocese (which is also correct) but should have noted that only 11 of them are involved in the case.

As for Philip Jenkins, I did not refer to him as a physical witness on the stand but said that the defense would “rely on the testimony” of Jenkins. By that I meant that his arguments about the nature of the Anglican Communion would help the defense make its case, as I believe they did. I actually discovered his importance to the case in Ms. Duin’s own story of November 12, 2007. “Testimony” was probably an infelicitous term to use because it could be confused with being a physical witness at the trial itself.

But I think the heart of our disagreement is over the standing Virginia property law will have in the disposition of the case. Here I am relying on Tina Eshleman’s November 13 story in which she summarizes Judge Bellows’ framing of the case as “whether there has been a division within the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, whether the Anglican Communion meets the law’s definition of a church or a religious society, and whether there is a division in the Anglican Communion and whether the departing churches were attached to the Anglican Communion.”

If the answers to his questions are in the negative, then appeal to property law in Virginia will be moot. According to Bellows’ own reading of the case, I would argue that there has not been a division within the Episcopal Church, since the departing parishes have abandoned the Episcopal Church and are not claiming its mantle or name for themselves. And by leaving the Episcopal Church they are surrendering the property they held in trust for the Church (as made clear in the Dennis canon).

The Anglican Communion is not a church by its own self-understanding. It is a communion, or if you will, a federation of autonomous regional churches but does not itself have the status of a church. Third, there is no ecclesiastical division in the Anglican Communion (because it is not a church that can be divided) even though there are divided opinions among its members over various things.

Finally, the departing parishes have not “joined” the Anglican Communion except by becoming members of other dioceses or regional churches which are members of the Communion. CANA, with which the departing churches are now affiliated, is not a church and does not, as such, belong to the Communion. Individual churches do not belong to the Communion. To become a member of the Communion they would have to recognized by it as constituting a regional church. This is not, of course, impossible, but I suspect highly unlikely.

It follows that if the judge decides that there has been no division within the Episcopal Church, nor within the Anglican Communion (which is not a church), then the issue will be decided by deference to the hierarchical principle that awards the property to the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Section 57-9 of the Code of Virginia would not, in that case, apply, because it pertains only when there is a division of a church, which I argue, is not the case here.

The intervention of the Attorney General occurred after my piece went to press.

I do think it’s constitutionally messy when the state gets involved in matters that properly belong to the Church and its self-governance.

Editor’s note: Since these letters were written, Judge Bellows has ruled that the breakaway churches’ votes to leave the Episcopal church do constitute a division in the Episcopal diocese under Virginia law. The judge has not yet made a ruling on the law’s constitutionality and has yet to hear evidence on whether the votes to disaffiliate were conducted properly.


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