Ever since the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church went down to defeat almost a year ago in their efforts to retain the historic properties of several departing congregations, they’ve been threatening to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.
It’s not a given that the appellate court will take a case. The court has to be convinced that the petitioners may have a point in their argument that the lower court may have erred. A hearing was slated for Oct. 21 for the diocese to explain why its arguments should be heard. But on Wednesday, the Supreme Court notified the diocese it will hear the appeal, rendering the writ panel hearing unnecessary.
“We are pleased that the Court has agreed to hear this important case regarding the ability of the Episcopal Church and other hierarchical churches to organize themselves according to their beliefs without unwarranted governmental interference,” said Henry Burt, secretary of the diocese. “We welcome this next step to bringing exiled Episcopalians closer to returning to their church homes.”
It was last Dec. 19 that Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows issued his fourth — and last — ruling on behalf of 11 conservative Episcopal churches that left the denomination almost three years ago, taking millions of dollars of property with them. Those who left have major disagreements with the denomination over issues of biblical authority and gay clergy. This past summer, the Episcopal Church voted to allow more gay bishops and essentially paved the way for liturgies for same-sex unions.
The huge multiproperty lawsuit is the largest in Episcopal Church history. No word yet as to when the arguments will be heard before the appeals court in Richmond.
— Julia Duin, religion editor