(CN) – Conservative Anglican congregations that broke away from the Episcopal Church over the installation of an openly gay bishop lost their battle for church property in the Virginia Supreme Court.
Nine churches that broke off from the Episcopal Church in 2003 sued for a declaratory judgment that a “division has occurred at the international, national, and local levels,” and they are entitled to control their church property.
The Episcopal diocese intervened for a determination of its property rights.
The nine churches had separated from the main branch three years after the 2003 convention in which the Episcopal Church installed an openly gay bishop. The Episcopal Church traces its roots to the Anglican Communion in England.
The circuit court ruled that the breakaway congregations are entitled to file petitions to determine their property rights.
The Episcopal Church appealed, claiming the splinter groups are not entitled to property rights because they have not broken away from the larger Anglican Church.
The Virginia Supreme Court agreed.
“While undoubtedly, there was a theological disagreement between (the dissenting congregations) concerning the actions of the 2003 General Convention … all of these entities continue to admit a strong allegiance to the Anglican Communion,” the justices wrote.
“Accordingly, we conclude that the circuit court erred in its holding that there was a division in the Anglican Communion for purposes of the application of (the state law) in this case,” they added.
The case will return to the lower court, which will consider the Episcopal diocese’s counterclaim for a determination of property rights.