Former Russian Orthodox Church Has Control of Its Property, Court Rules

Massachusetts courts uphold congregation’s ownership of church property.

Church Law and Tax 1995-11-01 Recent Developments

Church Property

Key point: A church that is affiliated with a hierarchical denomination may be “congregational” with respect to the ownership of property and under the “neutral principles of law” theory may retain control of its property in the event it disaffiliates from the parent denomination.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a local congregation retained control of its property following its disaffiliation from a parent church. The local church had been affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church but disaffiliated from this organization to join a different faction of the Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church sued the local congregation and sought a court order awarding it control of the congregation’s property. A trial court ruled that the congregation retained ownership of its own property. It found that although the Russian Orthodox Church and local congregation were hierarchical in matters of faith and polity, the congregation was “congregational” in terms of property ownership. It also found that the congregation acted lawfully in amending its bylaws to disassociate itself from the parent church, and that it was the sole owner of its property. The state supreme judicial court upheld this decision. Primate and Bishops v. Russian Orthodox Church, 636 N.E.2d 211 (Mass. 1994).

See Also: Hierarchical Churches

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