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Episcopal Church is rightful owner of properties, court rules

May 10, 2012 |  3:41 pm

Memorial garden at St. David's Anglican Church in North Hollywood

An Orange County Superior Court judge on Thursday ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church in its long-running legal dispute over the rightful ownership of the properties of two congregations that seceded from the church years ago.

Judge Kim Dunning granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the Episcopal Church in its cases against St. David's Anglican Church in North Hollywood and All Saints Anglican Church in Long Beach, declaring the church properties were held in trust for the diocese and national church.

St. David's and All Saints left the six-county Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the national church in 2004 because of differences over biblical interpretations and liberal views on homosexuality and other issues.

After the churches left, the diocese sued to retain its property.

The California Supreme Court in 2009 ruled in favor of the Los Angeles diocese in its battle against St. James in Newport Beach, stating that the property was held in trust for the diocese and national church.

Though deeds showed St. James owned its property, the congregation had agreed to be part of the national church and was bound by its rules, the court said. The Episcopal Church in 1979 adopted a rule making clear that local parishes owned their properties only as long as they remained within the larger church body.

In filing its motion for summary judgment in the cases involving St. David's and All Saints, the Episcopal Church contended that a ruling should be issued based on the 2009 Supreme Court decision, said John Shiner, lead counsel for the diocese.

"I was very pleased with the ruling today," Shiner said. "The court followed the precedent set by the California Supreme Court and other appellate decisions, which we have always felt are relevant to our current disputes."

Father Jose Poch, a priest at St. David's, said he believes the local congregations still have a case.

"The Episcopal Church has never put one penny in this building, not one single penny," he said. "The deed is in our name, the corporation is in our name, the bylaws are in our name."

Poch's congregation "is going to trust the Lord through it all," he said. "We're going to continue preaching the Gospel. We're going to continue being what we've always been, but we're hoping for justice."

Congregants at St. David's have been worried about the fate of the memorial rose garden, where ashes of 17 people are buried.

The court scheduled a conference for next month in which the parties will return to the court and discuss how to proceed with the property issues, Shiner said.


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Photo: The ashes of Bill Coburn's wife, Marian, are buried at St. David's Anglican Church in North Hollywood. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times