Saturday, January 31, 2009

Unintended Consequences

One hears a lot from the Fr. Jambor Camp (Jambor Camp) at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth about how the conflict between the EDFW and All Saints is all about the property. On the other hand , those who support the vote of the EDFW to separate from TEC deny that it is all about the property but is about TEC’s abandonment of the faith once delivered to the Saints. I would like to propose that the Jambor Camp may be right -- perhaps it really is all about the property. But it may be for a different reason than they suppose, and their decision may have unintended consequences for them.

Consider that much is made about the "Dennis Canon" and how it declares that all property of TEC parishes is held in trust for TEC and the diocese. Of course, some of us do not believe the Dennis Canon was ever legally enacted, nor could it invalidate the Statue of Frauds requiring such a trust to be in writing and signed by both the trustee and the beneficiary of such a trust. But, let us assume, just for the sake of this discussion, that the Dennis Canon is valid. What does it actually say? Here it is:

Title I.7.4 of the Canons of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America

“All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.”
Now, the Jambor Camp keeps saying it is all about the property, and they are adamant that they are no longer a part of the EDFW to which Bp. Iker belongs but are part of the continuing diocese, which the North Texas Episcopalians are working to reconstitute. They want Bp. Iker to leave them and their property alone. Let us assume for the sake of this discussion that the Jambor Camp is correct when they claim they are part of TEC and the soon-to-be reconstituted diocese. On the agenda for the "Special Convention" of the reconstituted diocese, is a resolution to declare Canon 18.4, among others, to be unenforceable. That means they will no longer be under the protection of Canon 18.4 of the EDFW but will be under the authority of the so-called "Dennis Canon" cited above. Their property will no longer be held in trust for All Saints by the EDFW. Their property will then be held in trust by All Saints for TEC. Notice that Title I.7.4 cited above states that:

“All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located.”
This is quite different from what Canon 18.2 of the Canons of the EDFW which states:

“Real property acquired by the Corporation for the use of a particular Parish, Mission or Diocesan School shall be held by the Corporation in trust for the use and benefit of such Parish, Mission or Diocesan School.”

The Jambor Camp has been saying all along that, while "legal" title may rest in the EDFW, "equitable" title rests with the parish. This, they claim, is how a court will rule, and, therefore, the property of All Saints will belong to All Saints. In that event, and if the Dennis Canon is valid, All Saints will find they are no longer the beneficial owners of their property, as they are under Canon 18.4, but are then the trustee holding "legal" title to the property for TEC, who will then have the "equitable" title to their property. Following this line of reasoning, All Saints could never own their property.

If, on the other hand, All Saints were still under the authority of Canon 18.4 of the EDFW, their property ("equitable" title) would be protected by the EDFW’s trust ("legal" title) from TEC, and would thus defend All Saints’ property from a land grab by TEC. Notice the provision of Canon 18.4 below:

Property held by the Corporation for the use of a Parish, Mission or Diocesan School belongs beneficially to such Parish, Mission or Diocesan School only. No adverse claim to such beneficial interest by the Corporation, by the Diocese, or by The Episcopal Church of the United States of America is acknowledged, but rather is expressly denied.
If All Saints is not under the authority of Canon 18.4, All Saints has no protection from an adverse claim by TEC to their property. In fact, by removing themselves from the protection of Canon 18.4, All Saints will be subject to the Dennis Canon which claims all of All Saints' property as the property of TEC and the Diocese to which All Saints belongs.

Given the Pb’s proclivity for litigation, does the Jambor Camp really believe they would be immune from the Pb’s desire to take their property? Surely a review of recent history demonstrates that TEC has actively sought the property of those parishes that left TEC under the claim that the parish merely held title in trust for TEC under the Dennis Canon.

Now consider the direction that TEC appears to intend to lead All Saints and those parishes who are affiliated with the North Texas Episcopalians. The Pb has proposed Bp. Gulick for Bishop of the reconstituted diocese. This is a man who is far left of the great majority of those remaining in All Saints. He has:
Voted against Lambeth 1.10 which Fr. Jambor says all of All Saints supports.
Voted for the consecration of the homosexual Viki Gene Robinson as Bishop
Voted for same sex blessings and for a service to be added to Book of Occasional Services
Voted to insist on women’s ministries in every diocese
Signed Bishop Spong’s Statement of Koinonia
Signed the “Mea Culpa too” statement in support of Bp. Righter.
Voted to recognize and affirm relationships outside of marriage
How long does the Jambor Camp think it will take their new bishop to impose these on All Saints? If this is the Pb’s first choice for All Saints’s new bishop, how much further from the doctrines of the faithful will be the next bishop she sends them? How long will All Saints desire to remain a member of TEC under these circumstances? If these positions on the issues facing the church are contrary to the vast majority of All Saints' members, as Fr. Jambor has stated, what will All Saints do then? If they decide to leave, TEC will claim their property. If they decide to stay, they will have to endure continual assaults on their beliefs.

It seems to me that All Saints is opening themselves up to tremendous risk. They seem willing to trade the protection of a diocese and a bishop willing to accommodate them about their property for a Pb who has demonstrated a complete disregard for the desires of any parish wishing to own their own property. It appears the Pb’s position is that all of the property belongs to TEC, and none of the property belongs to the parishes or the diocese. So far, parishes have lost their battles with TEC and the TEC dioceses in their litigation over property. That is true everywhere except Virginia, so far. Does All Saints really believe that they can simply stay put and keep their property? The Pb will never allow it. And it would appear that the Jambor Camp has allowed itself to be manipulated by the TEC into a very narrow box and have become victims of unintended consequences.

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