The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Decision in Diocese of Central New York v. Church of the Good Shepherd

As I promised yesterday, I was on the lookout for the official posting of the decision granting the Diocese possession of the parish and its assets. It's remarkably short (nine pages in total), and at the risk of seeming pleased with myself, went almost exactly along the lines I sketched out here. As I predicted, it relied heavily on the recent decision of the state Court of Appeals in Episcopal Diocese of Rochester v. Harnish.

As I had suggested would take place, the court rejected CGS's contention that the Dennis Canon was not effectively enacted based on the constitutional impediment to judicial scrutiny of ecclesiastical polity:
In any event, even without Harnish as a controlling precedent, this Court is prohibited from reviewing whether The Episcopal Church properly enacted the Dennis Canon in 1979. It is well settled that this or any court cannot intervene in purely ecclesiastical or religious concerns such as religious governance or polity. Suffice it to say that if Good Shepherd has an objection to the validity of the Dennis Canon, the remedy is not with the courts, but rather with the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.
Id. at 6 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

So other than burnishing my crystal ball, is there any reason for my pointing this out? Yes; this result was eminently predictable. A string of intermediate appellate court decisions from 1999 to Harnish itself had applied the rule of Jones v. Wolf to disputes within the Episcopal Church to uphold and apply the Dennis Canon. Those cases stem from the Court of Appeals' adoption of Jones in 1984. In other words, under a quarter of a century of unbroken precedent from the state's highest court and intermediate appellate courts, the result was as preordained as a Calvinist's view of destiny. The Will to Believe, misdirected, can lead to the assumption of terrible risks.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the link. An interesting decision.

On a related note, I just yesterday did some research, and found that in spite of the editorial error in not listing D-24 (Amendments to Canon I.6 and II.7, commonly and jointly called the Dennis Canon) in the Concurrent Actions section of the 1979 Journal of General Convention, the concurrent actions in both Houses, and the relevant messages back and forth, do appear in the minutes of each of the Houses in the Journal. The "Concurrent Actions" section of the Journal does not constitute the official minutes, but only a handy collection, and (supposedly) a repetition gathering together the actions in each house on a given resolution in a single place. The formal minutes themselves do indeed show adoption in the House of Bishops and concurrence in the House of Deputies. How the action came to be omitted from the "Concurrent Actions" section is something I'll address at greater length at my blog (some day!). Suffice it to say it is clearly an editorial error, with a somewhat simple explanation. Subsequent editions of the Journal of GC discontinued this (repetitious, wasteful, and when in error, confusing) practice of having a separate section of the Journal, and instead introduced the use of boldface for the final adopted text of resolutions, and an index pointing to the action trail in both houses. There were still errors with the indexing in subsequent years, but such errors do not invalidate the acts themselves, or we'd all be in trouble!

Anglocat said...

Thanks for the comment, Tobias--very interested to hear the explanation of the editorial discrepancies. (Can't wait for the "extended dance remix!")

Many thanks for visiting, and for the dialogue you're fostering over at your blog.