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.
(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
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