Property at risk, Canada's rebel Anglicans warned

Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:34pm EST
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Anglican Church of Canada has warned conservative members who split with the Canadian church in protest against the blessing of same-sex unions, that they will lose their church buildings and church funds.

"Individuals who choose to leave the church over contentious issues cannot take property or other assets with them," Archbishop Fred Hiltz wrote his bishops this week, in a letter the church published in a news release on Friday.

Hiltz's remarks come as the Canadian denomination's largest congregation, St. John's Shaughnessy in Vancouver, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to leave and put itself under the authority of conservative Anglican churches in South America.

Other rebel congregations, in Ottawa and elsewhere, are considering similar moves, echoing a battle being fought across the worldwide Anglican Church over homosexuality.

Hiltz's warning shot foreshadowed the sort of court battles being fought in the United States between conservative congregations and the liberal Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Church.

Archbishop Hiltz made it clear in his letter he is prepared to take legal action. "My hope is that no parish will take action that would compel parish or diocesan leaders to resolve property disputes in the civil courts," he wrote.

St. John's Shaughnessy believes it has strong legal arguments to stay in its 75-year-old building -- it was independently incorporated and built with local members' funds -- and it has marshaled a C$1 million ($1 million) fund to fight in court if necessary.

"We would defend the building. We would continue our services. I suppose if we couldn't get into the building, we would hold our services out on the grass or something like that," St. John's Shaughnessy spokeswoman Lesley Bentley said.   Continued...