Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Feb. 22 jumped into a church property dispute that is roiling some of the oldest congregations in the state. The case involves seven churches that have left The Episcopal Church over its break with historic Christian doctrines and practices. In January, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows ruled that the Diocese of Virginia, not the local bodies, owns the property of the seven churches and gave the congregations until April 30 to vacate the buildings. The ruling also indicates that all local church funds and other items at the churches belong to the diocese.
But Cuccinelli filed a brief with the court noting that since 2003 most members of the seven churches had specified on their checks that they wanted their donations only to go to the local congregations. The churches and Cuccinelli argue that the local bodies should be able to keep those funds, which amount to several million dollars, and other items given specifically to the local churches. "There are statutory and common law duties to guarantee that charitable funds are spent for the purposes for which they were intended," Caroline Gibson, spokesperson for the Virginia Attorney General's office, said. "Therefore, we felt an obligation to appear and encourage the court to take donor intent into analysis when deciding how to disburse the contributions." Two of the churches involved in the case-The Falls Church and Truro Church in Northern Virginia-date back to the 18th century.