Los Angeles Diocese Issues Statement on Four Parishes

Episcopal News Service. May 26, 1977 [77194]

Los Angeles, Calif. -- A spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has issued the following statement with regard to four breakaway parishes and five inhibited priests who have recently been in the news:

"Reports in the secular press and most recently The Living Church regarding four "break-away" parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles have added to the confusion regarding this situation. Reports circulated throughout the United States by a national wire service have stated that the five priests of these parishes inhibited by Bishop Robert C. Rusack in January and February have been reinstated.

"These five priests have not been reinstated, nor have they sought to be. On the contrary, they have publicly reaffirmed their renunciation of the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church and have joined with two other parishes from Nevada and Colorado in the formation of a separate diocese which has no status within the Episcopal Church. (See DPS release #77173, dated May 19.)

"In January and February the parishes of St. Mary and the Angels, Hollywood; St. Matthias, Sun Valley; Our Saviour, Los Angeles; and Holy Apostles, Glendale, voted to sever relationships with the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church, and to amend their articles of incorporation to eliminate all reference to either the Diocese or the Episcopal Church. They did not, however, inform the Bishop or the Standing Committee of these actions; rather, the Chancellor of the Diocese learned of them from the California Secretary of State, where the articles of incorporation are filed. The Bishop, on advice of the Standing Committee, then inhibited the priests. He also sent a pastoral letter to each of the congregations notifying them that parish property "has been and remains irrevocably dedicated to the Protestant Episcopal Church under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop, for use only by members of the Church in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Church and the Diocese."

While recognizing the rights of individual members to withdraw from the Church or abandon its ministry, Canon law and tradition dictate that Church property is not in the hands of any given temporary group of parishioners, but that it is dedicated to the continuing ministry of the Episcopal Church.

"The Bishop gave the parishes several days in which to rescind their actions, but the parishes and their clergy ultimately refused to acknowledge the authority of the Bishop, the Diocese, and the Episcopal Church.

"The Bishop and the Diocese filed suit against these parishes to prevent their disposing of any parish property and to regain the property for a continuing congregation within the communion of the Episcopal Church. On April 1st a hearing in this matter was held in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The four parishes unsuccessfully argued that these cases involve ecclesiastical disputes over which the court has no jurisdiction; that facts sufficient to establish a trust in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese had not been pleaded; that the Diocese could not properly bring actions of this nature; and that the California Attorney General and the Episcopal Church should be part of the law suit. Judge Charles H. Vogel overruled all these conditions, but sustained that the defendents' claim that the Bishop should not be a party to the lawsuit. Since the Judge found that the Diocese is a proper party to prosecute these actions, his ruling with respect to the Bishop will have no effect on the future course of litigation.

"After the Judge's decision on these matters, the defendants offered to stipulate to an injunction, terms of which were worked out by attorneys for both sides, prohibiting the parishes from selling, transferring, exchanging or encumbering any real property or unique items of personal property; using endowment funds to finance activities of any new church organizations; making gifts of parish property different in kind or amount from gifts made in the normal course of parish operations during 1975 and 1976; and requiring them to use current operating income to pay current operating expenses before using any of the parish funds to pay such expenses.

"The cases are expected to come to trial within 9 to 12 months." The Diocese also made the following comment about the recently formed Diocese of the Holy Trinity:

"Bishop Rusack and the Diocesan Standing Committee asked Bishop Chambers not to visit or function in the Diocese of Los Angeles. However, Bishop Rusack has pointed out that the House of Bishops must determine what if any action to take against Bishop Chambers in that he did preside at the formation of the new Diocese of the Holy Trinity in Los Angeles."