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Pro-gay Episcopal diocese battles estranged parishes to keep property


Anthony Cuesta | Janury 23, 2007

RICHMOND, Virgina — Leaders of the Episcopalian Diocese in Virgina on Thursday said they are done negotiating and plan to take legal action for the return of property held by 11 parishes that broke away because of the church's tolerance of gay clergy and relationships.

According to the Associated Press, Bishop Peter Lee and the executive board of the Diocese of Virginia declared the land and buildings held by the churches "abandoned" and said they mean to go to court to recover or protect diocesan property.

Lee wrote Thursday that he had tried unsuccessfully to find ways to resolve the dispute without taking it to court.

"No longer am I convinced that such an outcome is possible, nor do I believe that such a move at this time is dishonorable," he wrote in a letter to the diocese, reports the AP.

However, the Gospel Herald reports that leaders of breakaway Anglican churches in Virginia urged the Episcopal Diocese and its bishop to cease his divisive language and still try to sit down and negotiate over church property ownership.

"It is still not too late for Bishop Lee and the leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to stand down from making any more threats against faithful Christians who followed the Diocese of Virginia's protocol for departing congregations, and instead to return to the negotiating table," said Tom Wilson, senior Warden of The Falls Church and Chairman of the Anglican District, in a statement.

The diocese and members of the breakaway Truro Church and The Falls Church – the two most prominent and largest of the state's Episcopal parishes – agreed in December to delay legal action over those two parishes' property, estimated to be worth $25 million, for 30 days. That agreement expired Wednesday.

Jim Pierobon, a member of Falls Church and a spokesman for the breakaway churches, said all 11 congregations are prepared for a court battle.

Pierobon told the AP that church members have filed reports with court clerks, informing the state as required by civil law, of the congregations' decisions to leave the church.

Lee wrote Thursday that the diocese is attempting to block such action, since breakaway congregants appear to be believe filing the reports "gives them the right to Episcopal Church property," reports the AP.

While Lee said he tried to avoid going to court, he said he believes going to court at this time is not "dishonorable."

"Rather, I believe as does the leadership of our Diocese and of our Church, that the actions taken to secure our property are consistent with our mission and with our fiduciary and moral obligations to the Church of our ancestors, to the church we serve today, and to the church of those who will follow us," Lee added, reports the Gospel Herald.

The churches have voted since late last year to part ways with The Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion. They have said they will align with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which was established by Nigeria's conservative Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The Episcopal Church has been under pressure since the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop, New Hampshire's V. Gene Robinson. The denomination has adopted a general acceptance of gays. – Issued by Gay Link Content


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