Good Shepherd Rosemont PA Summary Judgment hearing part 2

This is just an update for the dozen-or-so people who had Google searched for some feedback on this, which I had blogged about before the hearing.

I didn’t go to it because I didn’t want to drive to Norristown. I imagine that David Virtue over at Virtue Online will be the first to have something up, if anything even appears this week. [Update: Here it is! As if you didn’t find it already . . . ]

A summary judgment ruling is rarely handed down the same day as argument. Remember, as I said the other day, summary judgment means that no material facts are in dispute (both sides are in agreement as to material facts), and the judge is “simply” deciding the question of law in the matter.

If Judge Ott is good, he wouldn’t rule for summary judgment one way or the other, because I think there are material facts about how the Episcopal Church is governed, where the Diocese and the Rosemonters would rightly, and vehemently, disagree. The Diocese of Pennsylvania is basically doing a property grab without sufficient justification. It’s just one more incident in a decades-long rewriting of basic rules of the denomination by the folks at the Church House in Society Hill.

Because the Pennsylvania judges, in Philadelphia and Pittshurgh, and mostly Roman Catholic ones, have been complicit in this, all the denominations with “hierarchical polity” are having their governing structures put at risk for out-of-control bishops. Even the Mennonites and Amish, who are clearly congregational but call their elected elder the “Bishop”. I don’t think the Roman Catholics are intentionally shoving their religion down everyone’s throats. It is like I had said in an earlier post, more dopery than popery. They just don’t realize that one governing structure does not fit all denominations that have “bishops”.

The thing that people who have not done litigation don’t realize how stressful the process is. Even more, that many of the people we trust to make decisions in the process clearly don’t give a whit about getting any of the law right. They really just want to dispose of the case. That’s not a blanket indictment of every judge, but a good many. There’s just a lot of chance in it, because the expensive law firms throw monkey wrenches at each step of the way (they are fundamentally screwing up American common law), and the bench is not drawing a line.

The Curmudgeon had an interesting take on a ruling in another parish, by the name of Good Shepherd, but in Texas. There, the state is garbling “deference to hierarchy” and another analysis called “neutral principles of law”. So if this topic interests you, go read him. (I think in real life he is California attorney A.S. Haley.)

The point is, if you are looking for good news for the Good Shepherd, you wouldn’t get it this week. Thanks for reading.

[More update: As I suspected, Mary Kohart must have been arguing the motion from every different direction. Virtue Online poster “Hunter” offered this interesting tidbit:

The most dramatic and surprising moment came relatively late in the oral arguments when Mary Kohart made it absolutely clear that, contrary to what originally was asked for concerning the real and personal property of Good Shepherd, all the Diocese of Pennsylvania now wanted was the removal of Moyer and the vestry. Period.

Judge Ott questioned her, repeated what she had said, and Kohart readily reaffirmed the only thing asked for was the removal of Moyer and the vestry. It was absolutely clear…a two year old child could have understood what was said.

If the Diocese and Standing Committee were going to win on summary judgment, this is all I think they could get. The undisputed material facts would be that Reverend Moyer doesn’t have the Pennsylvania license (because Bishop Bennison non-canonically yanked it from him in the early 2000’s), and the Vestry has continued to employ Moyer (arguably, because they feel that the license to preach was non-canonically yanked.)

There is actually guidance to resolve both of those issues–canons which Judge Ott is allowed to take as bylaws or neutral principles, and state statutory law.

The trouble is, that Pennsylvania has been going in the opposite direction of what written rules the protestant denominations have, and instead imposing this “super deference” to whatever a local bishop wants to do.

It’s interesting that the lawyer for Good Shepherd is asking that the national church make a statement about their role in the matter. If the national church says “no involvement”, it hollows out the argument it makes elsewhere in Pennsylvania (with the Pittsburgh litigation) that it does have a role. If the nationals try to get involved, they will have to reassert the primacy of national canons, which the local Diocese have been acting against for some time now.

“Hunter” makes it clear that he/she is disappointed in whatever the Rosemont attorney is doing. But to me, these are the dividends of an investment of going this way and that, rather than sticking to one clear argument for the get-go.

David Moyer lost his preaching license because the Diocese went against canons; now the Diocese is in court arguing local canons, but somewhat afraid to have the national church weigh in about local canons.

The relevance of the Dennis Canon gets thrown in, (this is the one that the national church threw in to say that property that it claims for the denomination must be found to be held in trust for the national church), even though all the state documents connected with Rosemont already make it clear that the property is in trust for the Episcopal Church.

I also wonder what Kohart has been saying for its impact on lingering St. Clement’s matters, where she was arguing something 180 degrees different on the phone last summer . . . ]