On Monday the United States Supreme Court declined to review the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision that the property of Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church was held in trust for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and The Episcopal Church in the United States and that former parishioners of the parish could not take that property with them to another church. This ruling brings the litigation over the property to its final conclusion: the judgment entered in favor of the Parish, the Diocese and The Episcopal Church is now fully enforceable.
Bishop of Connecticut Ian T. Douglas expressed satisfaction with the decision. “This has been a long and difficult process that has taken away from our common witness to the Good News of God in our Savior Jesus Christ. With the decision of The Supreme Court we can now put this matter behind us and once again turn our full attention to the work of proclaiming and making real God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation in all the world.”
In the fall and winter, Bishop Douglas met several times with current leadership of the former parishioners to discuss their options in light of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision. Those discussions concluded with the former parishioners’ decision to seek further review at the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the high-court has refused their petition, Bishop Douglas anticipates working through the options with the group.
The dispute arose when the former ordained and lay leadership of the parish chose to leave The Episcopal Church but refused to relinquish possession of its property. Those individuals, named as defendants in the action, first argued to the Connecticut State Court and later, in an appeal, to the Connecticut Supreme Court that they could choose who would control the parish property and that the property was not subject to the doctrine and polity of The Episcopal Church. As it did in 1993, the Supreme Court last September 2011 rejected that claim, ruling instead that The Episcopal Church has the right to govern itself and that courts should respect and enforce the trust in which church property is held for the Diocese and for the wider Church. While we are all blessed with the right to worship as we choose, the court’s ruling joined the many other states that have also ruled that those who leave The Episcopal Church cannot take property of the Church with them.
The people and worshipping communities of the Diocese of Connecticut look forward to restored unity with our sisters and brothers in Groton as we continue to serve God’s mission of reconciliation and healing.