Diocese retains control over all church property in perpetuity for benefit of members

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RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS

Diocese retains control over all church property in perpetuity for benefit of members

Due to theological differences, membership of St. Aldan’s Anglican Church in Windsor voted to leave Anglican Diocese of Huron. Two churchwardens of St. Aldan’s, commenced action seeking declaration that current members of church were beneficial owners of church property and of charitable foundation established and maintained by St. Aldan’s members. Diocese and its bishop counter-sued two churchwardens and other members (“St. Aldan’s Group”) for declaratory relief relating to same property. Actions heard together. Canon 14 provides that Diocese holds all real property “in trust for the benefit of the Parish or congregation”. St. Aldan’s Group argued that parish is fluid concept that describes people who comprise congregation at any one time but trial judge preferred Diocese’s interpretation, which was that parish is static concept that continues in perpetuity regardless of changes in membership. St. Aldan’s Group’s appeal dismissed. Diocese’s application for leave to cross-appeal subsequent order that, in interests of harmony, each party bear own costs, allowed and appeal allowed in part. “Parish or congregation” must denote static entity that may not be severed from Diocese and not defined by any particular group of members at any particular time. Canon 14 provides that church property cannot be sold, mortgaged or otherwise disposed of without bishop’s prior consent, reinforcing conclusion that bishop, and by extension Diocese, retains control over all church property in perpetuity for benefit of members of Diocese. Similar language found in Anglican Church of Canada Act (Ont.). Canon 18 describes composition of vestry in given congregation as all baptized members of congregation 16 years of age or older who have been regularly worshipping with congregation for at least three months. Aldan Group’s interpretation would mean that any group of worshippers meeting minimum requirements could constitute parish and could, by majority vote, leave Diocese and take church property with them. Clearly, this was not what canons intended. Congregants who contributed money or labour to maintaining church property knew they were doing so for benefit of St. Aldan’s Parish of Diocese of Huron which was not, therefore, unjustly enriched by those contributions. Trial judge correctly held it was breach of trust for officers to use foundation funds to help pay legal bills. Object of foundation was to advance teachings of “parish of St. Aldan’s Anglican Church of Windsor”, not synonymous with current membership of St. Aldan’s church.
Incorporated Synod of the Diocese of Huron v. Delicata (Sep. 4, 2013, Ont. C.A., M. Rosenberg J.A., Paul Rouleau J.A., and Sarah E. Pepall J.A., File No. CA C54245) Decision at 206 A.C.W.S. (3d) 835 was affirmed.  230 A.C.W.S. (3d) 652.

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