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Church Property Wars: Calif. appeals court favors diocese over local parish

Conservative Episcopalians received some stunning news this week when a California appeals court ruled the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is within its legal rights in retaining ownership of church property.

The defendants, three dissident churches now linked to the Anglican Church in Uganda, expect to decide soon on whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

The worldwide Anglican Communion continues to grapple with the fallout from the consecration of Gene Robinson, an active homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. But increasingly, the civil courts in the US are being drawn into this fight as local, diocesan, and national leaders fight over real estate. It's no small dispute, potentially involving billions in real estate, related assets, and other property.

Of course, national church leaders are overjoyed by the court ruling:

John R. Shiner, Chancellor for the Diocese and its attorney in the litigation, called the ruling a "decisive decision" for the Episcopal Church. Shiner, a partner of Holme Roberts & Owen, LLP, noted, "Yesterday's decision contains the most thorough analysis yet of church property law in California, and should dispel any notion that local congregations of a hierarchical church may leave the larger church and take property with them."

On the conservative side, there are many more cases making their way through the courts. But conservatives, meanwhile, are somewhat encouraged that the Canadian branch of Anglicanism, meeting in General Synod, voted to forbid priests from blessing same-sex unions.

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