William & Mary Business Law Review


In recent years, the Episcopal Church in the United States has seen a spate of parishes leaving the Church. Many of these departing parishes have attempted to take property with them as they leave and continue to operate independently or realign themselves with a different denomination. The Episcopal Church maintains that this property is held by the parishes on behalf of the national Church, and has generally been successful in obtaining a return of the property through legal action. In deciding these suits, state courts have skirted carefully around the contours of ecclesiastical questions; many state courts, following the Supreme Court, have adopted a Jones v. Wolf neutral principles of law approach for determining church property questions. Some commentators, after examining the application of the neutral principles approach in the Episcopal Church property-splitting context, have argued that the results reached by the courts are unjust, and have made their own suggestions for how to improve the adjudication process to obtain different results. This Note examines some of these suggestions in the context of the lawsuits surrounding the Diocese of San Joaquin, California, which span over a decade. The suggestions considered here find no place in the San Joaquin litigation, and are simply not applicable in many situations. Even if they were applicable, the suggestions would not improve the neutral principles approach, would create incongruities with other areas of law, would muddle court analysis, and would not create more just results in church property-splitting litigation.