Five court cases

Sorry for the long delay between articles… I’ve been terribly busy, I’m afraid. Here are notes on five of the many, many Orthodox court cases I’ve been researching lately. These cases fit broadly into the category of “deference,” where the courts tend to defer to the higher church authorities (bishop, diocese, mother church, etc). The other line of cases are of the “neutral principles of law” variety, and I’ll summarize more of those in the future.

  • Russian Church of Our Lady of Kazan v. Dunkel, 310 N.E. 2d 307 (1974)
    • Which faction is the true parish? Parish organized under the Metropolia. In 1969, a faction tried to transfer the parish to ROCOR. The court found that the parish had been indisputably under the Metropolia from the time of its establishment in 1942 up to the schism in 1969.
    • Regarding whether the Metropolia had been a part of ROCOR, the court said, “The record supports the conclusion that the Metropolia never became merged in the Synod of Bishops and Kazan therefore owed no allegiance to the Synod.”
    • Parish property belongs to the Metropolia faction.
  • Colin v. Iancu, 267 N.W. 2d 438 (1978)
    • Parish was part of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate in America (ROEA) under Bishop Valerian Trifa. Dispute between priest and bishop; bishop removed priest, and in response, a majority of the parish voted to leave the ROEA. Bishop then defrocked priest. Trial court granted property to the ROEA faction.
    • Along the lines of Dunkel, here one faction of the parish sought to leave its original jurisdiction. In such cases, the “faithful minority” (as the court puts it) is entitled to keep the property.
  • Draskovich v. Pasalich, 280 N.E. 2d 69 (1972)
    • Part of the Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich controversy – one faction of the parish favored the Mother Church, the other Bishop Dionisije. Trial court ruled in favor of the Dionisije faction, finding that the Mother Church lacked the legal authority to divide the diocese.
    • The opinion is lengthy, but the appellate court’s conclusion is rather simple: the parish “was organized as a church within the hierarchy of the Mother Church and therefore those who remain loyal to the Mother Church are entitled to control and use of the property in question.”
  • Kendysh v. Holy Spirit Byelorussian Autocephalic Orthodox Church, 850 F.2d 692 (6th Cir., 1988) (unpublished opinion)
    • First of all, the jurisdiction in question (Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) is a tiny, non-canonical body currently headquartered in Brooklyn. Holy Spirit Church was organized in 1971 and was part of the BAOC prior to a 1980 schism.
    • Key issue: can the BAOC’s new constitution/statute invalidate previous bylaws of member parishes?
      • Statute is valid.
      • Parish was part of the BAOC prior to the schism.
      • Therefore, BAOC’s statute governs the parish. According to the statute, in the event of parish liquidation, parish property belongs to BAOC.
    • Court: “As the district court noted, once a local parish submits itself to the authority of a central hierarchical church, provisions in the central church’s constitution override inconsistent provisions in the local church’s articles of association.”
  • All Saints Church v. Kedrovsky, 156 A. 688 (1931)
    • Hartford dispute. Both sides now actually repudiate Kedrovsky. Plaintiff recognizes Metropolitan Platon, defendant recognizes Archbishop Apollinary (ROCOR).
    • Definition of an Orthodox parish under Russian Church law (not sure what exactly): “an association of Orthodox Christians composed of the clergy and laity living in a definite locality and united around a temple, forming part of a diocese, under the canonical administration of the diocesan Bishop and under the guidance of a Rector appointed by the latter.” Stated as elements:
      • Association of Orthodox Christians (clergy and laity)
      • Living in a definite locality
      • Temple (church building)
      • Part of a diocese
      • Under a diocesan bishop
      • Under a rector appointed by the diocesan bishop
    • Court rules in favor of the ROCOR faction, reasoning that Platon’s legitimacy comes from three possible sources:
      • Appointment by Patriarch Tikhon, but the court found that a patriarch can only make a temporary appointment, not a permanent one.
      • Appointment by the ROCOR synod, but in 1927 ROCOR removed Platon from office.
      • Confirmation by the Metropolia at the 1924 All-American Sobor in Detroit. But the court saw this as a negative, but the court saw this as a negative, reasoning that the sobor was “a movement hostile to the continuance of the established organization of the church general.”
    • The court really likes ROCOR, viewing it as the best way to handle a bad situation. The court is unsympathetic to the Metropolia’s desire to be independent of ROCOR.

This article was written by Matthew Namee.

3 thoughts on “Five court cases

  1. Isa, I can’t seem to find this case. I searched both major legal databases (Westlaw and LexisNexis), and neither have the case itself or even the journals to which you linked. I suspect that this was just a local case that didn’t make it to an appellate court and didn’t appear in the state or regional “reporters” (which publish cases). The journals also seem to be small-scale publications that are no longer in print. I’d love to learn more about this case, but I can’t find anything.

  2. Yes, I had the same problem. In IL even parts or whole appellate decisions are not publishable, let alone circuit court decisions. Maybe someone of the PA bar can clue us in.

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