Kaitaia priest Canon Dennis Urquhart and 33 supporters have lost their long-running legal battle with the Anglican Church hierarchy over who should control almost $500,000 of church funds.
A decision delivered last week by Justice Sarah Katz after a hearing in the High Court at Auckland in July gave control of the cash to three men recognised by the Church hierarchy as the lawful vestry of the Parengarenga-Ahipara-Peria Anglican Maori Pastorate.
The trio - the Rev. Eru Wright, the Rev. Frank Harrison and Bardia Matiu - were second claimants at the hearing and the Te Hui Amorangi ki Te Tai Tokerau Trust Board was third claimant.
The first claimant, Canon Urquhart and his supporters, asked the court to order the ASB Bank to release money the late Eva Matthews left to the pastorate in 1995 which, with interest and other funds, has since increased to more than $490,000.
Canon Urquhart, appointed parish priest of the pastorate in in the early 1970s, was stripped of his licence to officiate as a priest after falling out with the Rt Rev Te Kitohi Pikaahu, who was appointed Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau in 2002.
The bishop ordered a change of signatories to the pastorate account, but Canon Urquhart and his supporters elected their own vestry to assume control of the account.
Canon Urquhart refused to give up his signatory rights, claiming the money belonged to the church vestry, not the Hui Amorangi trust.
Despite being sacked he continued to take services at 19 Far North churches and is supported by most of the parishioners in the pastorate, while a new vicar appointed to replace him holds services at only three churches.
Justice Katz said that, despite their assertions to the contrary, Canon Urquhart and his supporters were a "breakaway" group from the Anglican Church and Canon Urquhart no longer held a licence to provide services under the auspices of the Church.
Although the first claimants were no doubt well-intentioned people, they were not the duly elected vestry of the pastorate in terms of the parish statute, she said. "They accordingly have no claim to the ASB account in the name of the pastorate."
The judge called for submissions on costs to be awarded to the second claimants.
Canon Urquhart yesterday said some of his supporters had been "a bit gobsmacked" by the court ruling and were worried they might face substantial costs. He described the court decision as "weird" and said: "The Almighty will have to sort it out on the day of judgment."