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ST. SAVA HOME v. RT. REV. CHRISTOPHER (02/05/88)

decided: February 5, 1988.

ST. SAVA HOME, A PENNSYLVANIA NONPROFIT CORPORATION, APPELLANT
v.
RT. REV. CHRISTOPHER, BISHOP OF SERBIAN ORTHODOX DIOCESE OF EASTERN AMERICA AND CANADA, ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County in the case of St. Sava Home, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation, Springboro, Pennsylvania v. Rt. Rev. Christopher, Bishop of Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America and Canada, Rev. Nedeljko Grgurevich, Rev. Janko Rajlich, Rev. Stevan Stepanov, Rev. Bogdan Zjalich, V. Rev. Dusan Klipa, Hieromonk Nikodim (Pribojan), Sam Milanovich, Svetozar Vranes, Nikola Njegovan, Sam Vignovich, William Zatezalo, Dragoslav Radosavljevich and Mitchell Zunich, No. Equity 1980-5.

COUNSEL

Bernard R. Roetzel and Louis J. Stack, for appellant.

Thomas J. Karacic, Katz, Karacic & Helmin, for appellees.

Eugene R. Wedoff, with him, Albert E. Jenner, Jr., Robert L. Graham, Jenner & Block, for appellees.

Irving O. Murphy, MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, for appellees.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judge Colins, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins.

Author: Colins

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 270]

We here address a dispute between a local church congregation and its parent denomination concerning the right to possession of certain church property in Shadeland, Pennsylvania. The local congregation, incorporated as St. Sava Home (appellant), consists of adherents of Dionisije Milivojevich (Dionisije), former Bishop of the Eastern American-Canadian Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church who was removed from that position by direction of the Church Hierarchy in 1963. Appellees are parish members of the parent Diocese and their Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Christopher, duly-appointed successor of Dionisije. By separate orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County, appellees, respectively, were (1) awarded ownership of the

[ 113 Pa. Commw. Page 271]

    subject church property consisting of some 19 acres and a partially-completed church building and (2) resolved of any obligation to reimburse appellant the value of such property. Appellant now solely contests the trial court's denial of its claim for entitlement to compensation.

Factual History

The instant case is a facet of exceedingly protracted litigation initiated by Dionisije in the courts of Illinois and ultimately resolved against his interest by the United States Supreme Court in Serbian Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696 (1975). Limited as we are by appellant's argument to the issue of restitution, we leave elaboration of the factual underpinnings and ecclesiastical polity dispositive of Dionisije's action to Supreme Court Justice Brennan in Milivojevich wherein such matters are comprehensively examined. We will recite only those facts necessary to an understanding of the instant dispute, utilizing an extensive stipulation of facts filed by the parties in the trial court.

In 1922, the Serbian Orthodox Church (Mother Church), whose Patriarchate is in Belgrade, Yugloslavia, formed a religious organization in North America known as the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for the United States of America and Canada (the Diocese). The Diocese was incorporated in Illinois in 1935 and, since that time, has held title to various real properties, including about 1400 acres at Shadeland in Crawford County. As we have indicated, the Church ...


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