Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New v. Kroeger (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 21, 2008)

The Episcopal Church has had a lot of defections recently as a result of its decision to ordain an openly gay bishop (just like, several decades ago, they had a lot of defections when they decided to ordain women). As a result, there have been several fights in secular courtrooms about who "owns" the property of a particular defecting church. Including a case from down here in Fallbrook (in San Diego county) involving St. John's Episcopal Church.

Justice Nares writes an outstanding opinion here, and gets it exactly right (reversing the trial court, Judge Stern). When I started reading the case, I was concerned that the civil courts might potentially overstep their boundaries by intervening in a doctrinal religious dispute. But halfway through the opinion, Justice Nares totally persuaded me that not only was intervention permissible, but that a civil court was also required to defer to the decision of a heirarchical church regarding these matters. And that, for this reason and others, the higher-ups in the Episcopal Church were indeed entitled to keep control of the religious corporation here notwithstanding the efforts of the defectors (and contrary judgment by the trial court).

So good job, Justice Nares. This was not an easy case. At all. But, in my mind, at least, you got it exactly right.