The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has scored its second legal victory this year in a battle with conservative churches that have sought to take their property with them as they break away to affiliate with overseas Anglican leaders.
A California appellate court this week affirmed a lower court ruling that said the property at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in La Crescenta is held in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church.
St. Luke’s broke with the Episcopal Church in 2006 and aligned itself with Anglican leaders in Uganda. St. Luke’s leaders said at the time that the U.S. church had strayed from its “historic faith.”
St. Luke’s had argued that the parish remained the rightful owner of the stately stone church because it held the deed, according to its attorney.
But the 4th District Court of Appeal said on Tuesday that a rule adopted by the national Episcopal Church in 1979 made clear that local parishes owned their properties only as long as they remained within the larger body. The court also said the parish had agreed from its inception to abide by the rules of the diocese and the national church.
The appellate court said it was bound by a California Supreme Court ruling in January that cited the 1979 rule in a separate property dispute between St. James Anglican Church of Newport Beach and the Los Angeles diocese.
The high court said that St. James had forfeited its rights to the property when it decided to switch its affiliation after the national church consecrated a gay bishop in 2003. St. James said it intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bishop of the Los Angeles diocese, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, said he planned to install a new priest at St. Luke’s after the appellate court ruling takes effect in 30 days.
“We’re not attempting to drive anybody out,” Bruno said. “We’re going to offer hospitality to all the people of that congregation. They are going to be welcome.”
St. Luke’s rector, the Rev. Rob Holman, declined to be interviewed. A church attorney said leaders had not yet decided whether to appeal. But in a statement, the church criticized Bruno for waging a costly legal fight for the property.
“The people of St. Luke’s Anglican Church have shed many tears at the thought of being deprived of our house of worship for these past 85 years, a building we have given and maintained for the glory of God and the benefit of all who choose to worship here,” the statement said.