The latest ruling in the five-year-old legal fight over whether Sonora's Historic Red Church at Snell and Washington Streets and St. Michael and All Angels in East Sonora belong to the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church went in the Anglicans' favor.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton on Wednesday rejected a summary motion by the Episcopal Diocese. According to his ruling: "... plaintiffs bore the burden to present evidence establishing every element necessary to show defendants' conduct in retaining the property owned by the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin as of December 7, 2007, was unlawful as a matter of law. They have not done so."
That means the legal hassle will continue unless a settlement is reached.
"I'm not positive what that means," said the Very Rev. James Stout, interim priest at St. James Anglican Church (The Red Church) and St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church.
St. James lost its priest when the Rev. Wolfgang Krismanits and his wife, LaDonn, were killed in a three-vehicle accident near Hollister on Nov. 27. The Rev. Jerry Roberts retired earlier from St. Michael and All Angels because of poor health.
Stout is also the priest at Ascension Anglican Church in nearby Copperopolis, where he has been for about 16 years.
He said everything remains up in the air about who owns the former Episcopal churches. "I have a meeting with the Bishop and others on Tuesday, and I hope to find out more there about what our next move is."
At issue is whether Bishop John-David Schofield, who was then Bishop of the Episcopal Church San Joaquin Diocese, had a right to transfer property when he pulled the diocese out of the Episcopal Church in December 2007 with a majority of the parishioners and re-aligned with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone.
Most Mother Lode Episcopal clergy joined him in the move, which was in response to growing liberalism in the Episcopal church, including the ordaining of women and gays.
Some former members of the Episcopal churches in Tuolumne County started attending the new St. Mary's Episcopal congregation formed in 2008 at the Tuolumne County Senior Center. Some went to churches in other counties, and others just stopped attending, said the Rev. Stan Coppel of St. Mary's.
In late 2011, the St. Mary's Episcopal congregation leased a building on Smoke Street behind Rocca Park in Jamestown and remodeled it to provide a more church-like setting for services.