The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles on Tuesday filed suit against three breakaway Southern California parishes, laying claim to the church buildings and personal property for the diocese and "faithful Episcopalians."
The lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles and Orange County superior courts, were the latest developments in an escalating clash over theology and homosexuality between the diocese and the rebel parishes: All Saints in Long Beach, St. David's in North Hollywood and St. James in Newport Beach.
In a written statement, the three parishes said they were "deeply disappointed" by the lawsuits. They said the church buildings belonged to them and called the diocese's actions a "callous disregard of the religious rights of hundreds of families who overwhelmingly voted their conscience to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles."
The three parishes last month bolted from the 2.3-million-member national Episcopal Church and said they had placed themselves under the jurisdiction of a conservative Anglican bishop in Uganda. They opposed the Episcopal Church's consecration last year of an openly gay priest as Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.
The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of Los Angeles, said in a written statement that he had no choice but to file suit "to preserve these churches as houses of worship for faithful Episcopalians as they have been since their founding.... "
The diocese also said that the national Episcopal Church intended to file a separate lawsuit within several days in support of the six-county Los Angeles diocese.
While the lawsuit was not unexpected, it came just days after Bruno had appointed two assistant bishops to oversee the three parishes and had moved to dissolve their lay governing boards. The diocese said new boards loyal to the bishop would be appointed.
Bruno had earlier ordered the breakaway priests to cease all priestly activities. So far, the priests have ignored the order.