- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A judge has ruled that the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles cannot confiscate the property of a congregation that has broken with the diocese and national denomination to protest consecration of a homosexual bishop.

Orange County Superior Court Judge David C. Velasquez dismissed a lawsuit Monday brought by the diocese against the dissident St. James Church in Newport Beach, saying the parish’s actions were protected by freedom of speech.

The significant ruling means St. James retains legal possession of its buildings, other property and financial records. Attorney Lawrence Ebner said the diocese hasn’t decided whether to appeal.

The ruling comes at a point when Episcopal congregations in other states have been leaving the denomination over the homosexual issue or are considering doing so.

Two other California Episcopal parishes — All Saints’ Church in Long Beach and St. David’s Church in North Hollywood — are also challenging lawsuits the diocese filed against them. Those cases will be heard next month.

Members of the three parishes voted last summer to leave the Episcopal Church after the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire who lives with a partner. They placed themselves under jurisdiction of the conservative Anglican Church in Uganda. The diocese then sued to retain the churches’ properties.

Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno was among the majority of U.S. Episcopal bishops who voted to endorse Bishop Robinson’s election.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“It is a great relief to the loyal members of our church to see this lawsuit dismissed and know that the sanctuary and grounds where we gather every Sunday will remain a safe harbor for us,” the Rev. Praveen Bunyan said in a prepared statement. “The church will continue its ministry as it has since it was founded.”

Last year, a unanimous state appeals court ruling granted property rights to St. Luke’s Community Church, which had quit the United Methodist Church because it took no action to discipline clergy who conducted a union service for a same-sex couple. The California Supreme Court declined the denomination’s bid for a review of that ruling.

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