Episcopal Diocese wins legal dispute with breakaway church

Dec. 21, 2011

A Waukesha County judge has ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee in a dispute over church property taken by an Elm Grove congregation when it broke away over theological differences in 2008.

The decision, by Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis, means members of St. Edmund's Parish who left the Episcopal Church to align with a new, more theologically conservative Anglican province must relinquish all church property and vacate the building at 14625 Watertown Plank Road.

Milwaukee Bishop Steven Miller lauded the decision and said he will begin working with St. Edmund parishioners pushed out by the split in an effort to help rebuild their congregation.

"For three years, the members of St. Edmund's Episcopal Church have been denied the use of their rightful church home," he said. "I am grateful the property will once again be used for its original purpose - the work and witness of the Episcopal Church."

The Rev. Samuel Scheibler, who was installed as rector of St. Edmund's after the split, and the church's attorney did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Marsha Ohlgart, a former church leader named along with other members in the lawsuit, said she no longer attends the church and declined to comment on the decision.

St. Edmund's was the first congregation in Wisconsin to break away from the Episcopal Church over its positions on homosexuality and other theological issues. Since then others have followed suit.

They are among dozens of parishes and four U.S. dioceses - in Fort Worth, Texas; Pittsburgh; San Joaquin, Calif.; and Quincy, Ill. - that have split from the U.S. Episcopal Church in recent years, aligning themselves with more conservative provinces in North America, Africa and Latin America.

The schism followed decades of debate over the liberal direction of the U.S. church, which consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003 and in 2009 voted to allow the ordination of openly gay clergy.

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