Court rules against dissident Anglicans in Vancouver, Abbotsford

More than 1,200 Anglicans who oppose same-sex blessings are expected to have to vacate their church buildings soon

Dissident conservative Anglicans in Vancouver and Abbotsford have no right to hold onto four church properties valued at more than $20 million, the B.C. Appeal Court ruled today.

Dissident conservative Anglicans in Vancouver and Abbotsford have no right to hold onto four church properties valued at more than $20 million, the B.C. Appeal Court ruled today.

Photograph by: .., Handout

VANCOUVER – Dissident conservative Anglicans in Vancouver and Abbotsford have no right to hold on to four church properties valued at more than $20 million, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled Monday.

As a result of the decision, more than 1,200 Anglicans who oppose same-sex blessings and reject the authority of Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham are expected to have to vacate their church buildings soon.

Dismissing the main argument of a costly appeal by the conservative Anglican congregations, Justice Mary Newbury wrote that the dissidents “cannot in my respectful decision remove themselves from their diocesan structures and retain the right to use properties that are held for purposes of Anglican ministry in Canada.”

The unanimous ruling by three appeal court judges represents the legal culmination of a culture war that exploded in the Vancouver-area diocese in the mid-1990s, when a theological disagreement arose over whether to bless homosexual unions and how to interpret the Bible.

The case could still be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Calling it a “difficult” decision that cost her “much anxious reflection,” Justice Newbury said those who leave the Anglican Church of Canada over a “doctrinal” dispute can’t expect to take church property with them, even if they still consider themselves more “orthodox” adherents of the worldwide Anglican communion than their theological foes.

St. John’s Shaughnessy Church, which is at the corner of Granville Street and Nanton Avenue in Vancouver’s most expensive neighbourhood, is the most noted congregation affected by Monday’s ruling. It is one of the largest Anglican congregations in Canada.

The other conservative parishes that co-launched the failed appeal of last year’s decision by Justice Stephen Kelleher are St. Matthew’s Church in Abbotsford and two ethnic Chinese congregations in Vancouver: St. Matthias and St. Luke Church on West 49th Avenue, and Good Shepherd Church on East 19th.

“Obviously, we are deeply disappointed by this decision, which is currently being reviewed by our legal counsel,” said Cheryl Chang, a lawyer representing the four churches and their breakaway umbrella organization, the Anglican Network in Canada.

“We are awaiting their advice before any discussion about an appeal can take place,” Chang said. “The congregations have always said that if they are forced to choose between their buildings and their faith, they will choose their faith.”

Steve Schuh, president of Integrity Vancouver, a group that supports gay and lesbian Anglicans, said the B.C. Court of Appeal decision signals the end of “a long road” of pain-filled confrontation between people who consider themselves Christians.

“While this legal issue has been being dealt with in the courts, the rest of us have moved on,” Schuh said, maintaining that the majority of Anglican parishes in B.C. and Canada now fully accept homosexuals.

Since 2002, Anglican congregations in the Vancouver area have been formally permitted to perform rites of union — not marriage — for same-sex couples. Anglican priests who continue to oppose them are free to opt out through a “conscience clause.”

The Vancouver-area dispute has been one of the flashpoints of a global showdown among the world’s 70 million Anglicans, which has seen arch-conservative Anglican bishops in Africa providing support to North American Anglicans who can’t stomach the rites.

Schuh — who attended St. John’s Shaughnessy until leaving two years ago for Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral — said “evangelical Anglicans” in B.C. who fight against same-sex blessings are failing to keep up even with evangelicals in the U.S., many of whom have started to openly welcome gays and lesbians.

Anglicans are one of many Christian groups struggling with homosexuality. Some North American liberal Christian denominations, such as the United Church of Canada, have been ordaining homosexual clergy and sanctifying same-sex unions for almost two decades.

A brief statement posted Monday on the website of the Vancouver-area Anglican Diocese of New Westminster said: “The leadership of the diocese is satisfied with the decision and a statement will be available Tuesday.” Asked if diocesan officials will require the dissident Anglicans to leave the church buildings soon, spokesman Randy Murray said Monday, “We will need to talk about it tomorrow” when the bishop gathers with his key officials.

Lawyer George Macintosh, representing the diocese, said the B.C. Court of Appeal’s ruling confirms that the Anglican diocese and the bishop lawfully retain control of the four church properties.

Macintosh praised the bishop for his efforts to dialogue with Anglicans who opposed homosexual unions, even while the four congregations launched a legal challenge.

“Bishop Ingham has worked for years to accommodate both sides in the difficult issue of blessing same sex unions, and stresses that all parishioners are welcome,” MacIntosh said.

Even though the coalition of conservative Anglicans lost in court on the major issue of the four properties, a group of ethnic Chinese Anglicans who have already left Good Shepherd Church recorded one small victory in the appeal court decision.

The judges ruled that a $2.2-million donation to Good Shepherd congregation by Daphne Chun could go to the departed ethnic Chinese Anglicans, who have signed up with the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada.

The Anglican Network in Canada says it has 39 parishes, with more than 3,500 members in church on an average Sunday. The ANIC is affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, a larger body of conservatives.

The Anglican Church of Canada claims 800,000 registered members, although regular Sunday attendance is considerably lower.

dtodd@vancouversun.com

Read Douglas Todd’s blog at www.vancouversun.com/thesearch

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