(Note: This story has been changed to reflect new information.)
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that the building and charitable trust of St. Aidan’s Church in Windsor, Ont., will remain with the diocese of Huron and not with a breakaway Anglican group.
“Members can come and go in a parish at any time, but the parish itself remains,” said Justice T.D. Little in his ruling Aug. 15. “…The parish could not sever itself from the diocese.”
In 2008, 109 members of St. Aidan’s voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and join the conservative Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) following disagreements over the blessing of same-sex unions.
Judge Little noted that in 1923 it was the diocese that approved an application made by about 110 people to establish St. Aidan’s as a parish. Since then its membership “changed over the years,” said he said in his decision.
The bishop of Huron, Robert Bennett, said the ruling would bring closure to what he called a “difficult” time in the life of the diocese.
“My first reaction was to call the diocese to prayer for both those faith Anglicans who continued as members of St. Aidan’s…and also for those who found they could no longer stay with the diocesan family,” said Bishop Bennett in a statement. “It is now time to move on to that place where the Holy Spirit leads.”
After being barred from the church building by the breakaway group and later, sharing facilities with them, the diocese will now take sole possession of the property, he said.
The trustees of the breakaway congregation have asked their legal counsel to file a Notice of Appeal and seek a motion of stay on Justice Little’s decision.
“While we are extremely disappointed with this decision, we are not surprised given previous decisions in the Canadian courts,” Cheryl Chang, special counsel to ANiC said in a statement. “From our perspective, nothing has changed. The church is the people or the ‘congregation,’ despite the judge’s interpretation of that word and the ANiC congregation of St Aidan’s will continue to worship and carry out their mission and ministry regardless of location.”
In his ruling, Justice Little also stated his agreement with a decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada last June dismissing a request filed by a breakaway Anglican group in the diocese of New Westminster. The group had asked the high court to overturn decisions made by B.C. courts, which awarded church properties to the diocese.