(From the Anglican parish of Grace and Saint Stephen’s Church).
(Colorado Springs, Colorado) Judge Larry E. Schwartz of the El Paso County District Court issued a decision today that the property dispute between Grace Church and St. Stephen’s and the Episcopal Bishop and Diocese of Colorado cannot be resolved by summary judgment and must go to trial court. Yet, significantly and critical to Grace Church and St. Stephen’s legal argument for ownership of the property in question, Judge Swartz concluded that the parish is a valid, non-profit corporation recognized by the State of Colorado since 1973.
Judge Schwartz’s decision was in response to a hearing held on May 2, 2008 at the El Paso County Courthouse in which 18 members of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s requested that personal lawsuits brought against them by the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado be dismissed.
In May of 2007 Grace Church and St. Stephen’s voted to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) in a congregational election. Of the 370 votes cast, an overwhelming 342, or 93%, voted for Grace Church and St. Stephen’s, one of the oldest Episcopal Churches in Colorado, to leave the Episcopal Church over its departure from traditional Christian beliefs and practice.
Since that time the Episcopal Bishop and Diocese of Colorado have sued the corporation of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s, 18 individual members and lay-leaders of the congregation, and an affiliated elementary school, St. Stephen’s Classical School, for the 17 million dollar historic landmark church building in downtown Colorado Springs.
In today’s decision Judge Schwartz wrote that “over six volumes of affidavits, correspondence and documents have been filed over the last year in support of various issues that will ultimately need to be addressed.” As a consequence, “Neither party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under summary judgment analysis”¦.Material facts ”¦ are clearly in dispute.”
In response to Judge Schwartz’s decision, Jon Wroblewski, senior warden of Grace Church as St. Stephen’s, said, “We are grateful for the careful and deliberate seriousness with which Judge Swartz has considered our case. Furthermore, we are pleased that the judge recognized the fact that the parish’s 1973 corporation has been doing business as a legal entity unchallenged by the Episcopal Church for 35 years, that our corporation is recognized by the Secretary of State, that this property case is very different from previous cases involving church property disputes, and that neutral principles of law prevail over and against sectarian arguments about ecclesiastical hierarchy. Sadly, I think that this case is proving to be an embarrassment to Christian witness in this community and beyond. The vicious actions of the Bishop and Diocese of Colorado to attack a congregation’s right of self-determination, to personally sue 18 upstanding members of a community in their capacity as volunteer non-profit directors, and to sue an elementary school are unconscionable. Surely there is a better way for Christian people to behave in the public eye. We hold out hope, however forlorn, that the Bishop will repent and come to some reasonable mediated settlement; but if not, justice must prevail.”