A lawyer for the Diocese of New Westminster, and a lawyer for members of four parishes who are suing the diocese in order to take parish properties out of the diocese, both outlined their arguments in BC Supreme Court on Monday, May 11, before Judge Stephen Kelleher.
At stake are the properties used by four diocesan parishes St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, and three Vancouver parishes—St. John’s Shaughnessy, Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias & St. Luke.
Those suing the Diocese claim to have left and joined the Anglican Network in Canada and come under the jurisdiction of an Anglican Church in South America, the Province of the Southern Cone—a move the Diocese does not recognize as legal.
Clergy at the four parishes have relinquished their licenses from Bishop Michael Ingham and left the Anglican Church of Canada. The bishop has asked that they (but not the parish congregations) leave the parish properties so new clergy can take over.
To date the dissident clergy have refused. Instead last fall some of the clergy joined with past or present leaders of those congregations to sue the Diocese and ask for a judgment that would grant them the right to stay.
In court, Geoff Cowper, Q.C., speaking for those suing the diocese, said his clients will try to prove that they hold the properties in question under “religious purpose trusts” for the benefit of the congregation. The purpose of those trusts, they will argue, is to maintain “historic, orthodox Anglican doctrine and practice.”
Since the Diocesan Synod has asked for, and the bishop agreed to, same sex blessings, the Plaintiffs say they can only uphold their trusts by leaving the Diocese, and taking the properties with them.
George Macintosh, Q.C., counsel for the Diocese, said in answer that the Diocese is a well-governed structure, and despite the name, parish trustees don’t manage trusts. Rather, parishes, as part of the Anglican Church of Canada, are governed in a sophisticated, hierarchical way by bishops and synods, as set out by canon law, church statutes, and bylaws.
While individuals may leave the Anglican Church, as integral parts of the Diocese parish corporations cannot leave, nor can parish property be taken from, the Diocese, Macintosh will contend.
Three weeks have been set aside for a trial before Mr. Justice Kelleher, beginning on May 25. Cowper said he expects many people from the four parishes to attend, and asked that a large courtroom be provided.
By agreement, most of the chief evidence was provided to the court in over fifty affidavits. Junior lawyers for the two law firms involved brought in several large boxes of papers for Judge Kelleher to read over the next two weeks.
The extensive materials will enable the complicated case to be concluded in three weeks or less, the lawyers told the court. Cowper said he intends to call eight people for live testimony before the judge, which—along with the Diocese’s cross-examinations—will take about a week. He said then that the Diocese would have a week for witnesses, and the two lawyers could take a week for argument.
For the Diocese, Macintosh said he didn’t expect he would need as much time. He did not announce which witnesses he might ask to come before the judge, but said he would produce a list later in the week.
In another courtroom, the two sides earlier met with the BC Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Donald Brenner, and agreed to engage in a mediated effort to avoid the trial on Thursday and Friday, May 14 and 15. Statutory mediation had been requested by the Network people.
Cowper told the Chief Justice, who will handle the mediation himself, that an offer will be made to the Diocese, but gave no details as to what it will be.
Under BC law, a mediation effort in such a case as this is required if either side asks for it. The mediation is confidential, not to be made public, and is “without prejudice”—the trial judge learns only whether it has succeeded (in which case the trial does not take place), or has failed.