NEWPORT BEACH (AP) — An Orange County congregation that broke from the Episcopal Church when the national group ordained a gay bishop can continue a seven-year fight to keep the parish’s beachfront property, the California Supreme Court ruled.

By a 6-1 vote, the court on Thursday sent the case involving St. James Anglican Church back to a lower court for trial. The court said in 2009 that the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles held the property rights but noted that its decision was not intended to be final.

“Further proceedings are still necessary to finally decide the dispute,” the court said in its ruling.

“St. James has been vindicated,” Eric Sohlgren, an attorney for the church, said in a statement. “The California Supreme Court has soundly rejected the idea that its prior decision required the people of St. James to move off the property they built and paid for over many decades.”

The Rev. Richard Crocker, the church’s senior pastor, said he was grateful for the ruling.

“We are looking forward to having our day in court,” he said.

St. James officials had signed an agreement to let go of the property if they broke away from the national church, said John Shiner, an attorney for the diocese.

The new ruling didn’t change the record the Supreme Court used in making its 2009 decision “which concluded that we win,” Shiner said.

“It was simply a procedural ruling” to give the church its day in court, he said. “It had nothing to do with the thorough analysis that the court did on the facts. … It (the court) didn’t change any of its conclusions.”

St. James was among dozens of theologically conservative parishes and four dioceses nationwide that voted to split from the national church in 2004 after the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

The case had wound its way through several courts. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear St. James’s appeal in 2009.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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