Skip to comments.Connecticut Six Clarify Status of Civil Litigation [TEC]
Posted on 08/25/2006 6:14:50 PM PDT by sionnsar
The Episcopal parishes and their lay leaders known as the Connecticut Six today expressed dismay over diocesan Bishop Andrew Smith's most recent mischaracterization of their pending federal lawsuit. In a press release discussing the opinion of a federal judge, Bishop Smith suggests that the lawsuit has ended, but this a misrepresentation of facts.
Significantly, the court determined only that the lawsuit lacked federal jurisdiction and pointedly left the parishes and the individual plaintiffs free to pursue state law claims in the Connecticut courts, without prejudice. Furthermore, Bishop Smith failed to acknowledge that his own motion for summary, final judgment was denied by the federal court in the process, thus leaving the basic charges against the bishop and the diocesan defendants unresolved.
The bishop's press statement ignores the appellate rights of the plaintiffs. For example, he fails to note that the federal court's ruling deals with complex constitutional law claims of first impression, involving a serious conflict between the United States Constitution's First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of religion and the doctrine of separation of church and state.
Additionally, the case involves an unusual situation in which it is conceded that Bishop Smith instigated the civil litigation when he unlawfully seized the property of four parishes rather than seeking an appropriate prejudgment remedy in a Connecticut state court, as mandated by the United States Constitution in civil property disputes generally.
The lawsuit charged that Bishop Smith had also seized investment funds from Bishop Seabury Church, Christ Church, and Christ & The Epiphany Church; converting this property to his own use and defying repeated demands by the parish vestries for the release of their assets. These assets of more than $350,000 were eventually returned to the congregations long after the suit was filed.
Accordingly, the Connecticut state courts are also now free to determine whether Bishop Smith and the remaining diocesan defendants will be required to pay triple damages and punitive, as well as compensatory, damages for claimed "violation of Connecticut's prejudgment remedy statutes, trespass, theft, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty," specifically identified by the federal court.
The damages may exceed $1 million. Currently, the bishop continues to withhold the real property and assets of St. John's Parish, a matter of lawfulness that may be pursued in a state court.
The federal court did not specifically address claims of fraud and misrepresentation in connection with the seizure of St. John's Parish on July 13, 2005 and the detention of parish investments - claims now presumably left to the state courts. In this connection, it is alleged that Bishop Smith misrepresented the true ownership of St. John's and the investment assets.
It is also claimed that Bishop Smith knowingly made improper use of canon law by threatening to inhibit and depose priests for "abandonment of the communion of this Church," a threat seemingly designed to impose revisionist theology which is at odds with the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Smith persists in his false claims of "abandonment of the Communion of this Church" in his public statements, while failing to mention that ecclesiastical charges have been pending against him for over a year.
In this connection, the Review Committee of the Episcopal Church and its church attorneys are currently reviewing the factual and canon law basis for the substantial ecclesiastical charges leveled against Bishop Smith by numerous priests and adult communicants, a large number of whom are plaintiffs in the federal case.
The church attorneys began their investigation into these charges in the spring in order that the review committee may hereafter consider the matters "of church law and governance" to which the bishop's statement refers. Notably, the parishes and their lay leaders have never made a claim in the federal court for any specific relief in respect to matters "of church law and governance."
Ecclesiastical issues are now in the hands of the Review Committee of the Episcopal Church and will be determined only by the final outcome of any presentment against Bishop Smith.
The truth of Bishop Smith's repeated claim that he "offered Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO)" to any Connecticut parish and that his alleged use of the canons to threaten inhibition and deposition of priests, as well as his claims respecting abandonment of the communion accord with canon law, will be determined in ecclesiastical proceedings.
Bishop Smith has repeatedly refused to accept the effort of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference to effect reconciliation.
That tribunal has returned the applications of the parishes to the Archbishop of Canterbury, thus leaving the parties to their civil law remedies.
Accordingly, at this point the parishes will carefully consider the federal court's comprehensive opinion before pursuing their state court and federal appellate remedies.
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