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Breakaway Newport Beach church loses asset case

January 5, 2009 | 10:44 am

The California Supreme Court decided unanimously today that churches that break away from a national denomination may not take the church assets with them.

In a ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin, the state high court said the property of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach is owned by the national church, not the congregation.

The congregation left the U.S. church after it ordained a gay man as a bishop in 2003. “When it disaffiliated from the general church, the local church did not have the right to take the church property with it,” Chin wrote for the court.

St. James was one of about 100 Episcopal parishes that broke off relations with the national church after the gay bishop’s ordination. Disputes over the real estate landed in courts across the country.

The California ruling is in line with most other state courts that have decided similar church property fights. The ruling is expected to reach beyond the Episcopal Church and affect other denominations facing rebellious congregations.

--Maura Dolan