Democrat and Chronicle:
ALBANY — Lawyers for an Anglican church in Irondequoit and for the Episcopal diocese of Rochester differed before the state’s highest court Tuesday on whether an agreement made between the two parties carries the force of law in New York.
Nineteen years ago, All Saints Church signed a document that placed all of its property in trust for the diocese and the national church. The church has since separated from the national church because it disagreed with the ordination of a gay bishop.
Eugene VanVoorhis, a lawyer for All Saints, said the church doesn’t want to turn its property over to the diocese. “Ecclesiastical documents are not property documents,” he said in an argument before the state Court of Appeals.
But the lawyer for the diocese, Thomas Smith, pointed to a 1979 document signed by the church that said all of its property was held in trust for the diocese and the national church.
The property was “always in trust for the benefit of the national church,” he told the judges.
The two sides are in court because of a dispute that began when the Episcopal Church of the USA allowed the ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
All Saints refused to pay $16,000 it owed the diocese in protest and has continued to use the building even though it was ousted from the diocese in November 2005.
In December 2005, All Saints notified the diocese that it had been placed under the ecclesiastical authority of Archbishop Henry Orombi of the Anglican church of Uganda, and changed its name to All Saints Anglican Church in January 2006.
The diocese filed a lawsuit to get the property, located at 759 Winona Blvd. A trial judge and a mid-level appeals court sided with the diocese, saying that it was “entitled to the real and personal property at issue in the case that is currently held in trust by All Saints … for the benefit of the diocese and National Church.” But VanVoorhis told the judges Tuesday that the parishioners bore all of the expenses of building and maintaining the church and therefore should be permitted to retain ownership.
A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected late next month.