In a property lawsuit between the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and one of its secessionist groups, evidently the secessionists are claiming that the Dennis Canon — which provides that all parish property is held in trust for the diocese and the national church (see Canon I.7.4-5) — was never duly adopted by General Convention, and therefore isn't controlling. In opposing a motion for summary judgment by the diocese, the secessionists have filed an affidavit by someone who examined the church archives and did not find proof positive one way or another. Some commentators are saying that as a result, the court cannot render summary judgment in favor of the diocese because there are disputed issues of fact that must be tried.
In deciding the Dennis-Canon issue, there's a Gordian-knot approach that the court could easily use to rule summarily in favor of the diocese without a trial:
• There can be no dispute that for years, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons, acting pursuant to Canon I.1.2(n)(3)(iv), has at least implicitly approved inclusion of the Dennis Canon, putatively adopted in 1979, in successive triennial official publications of TEC's constitution and canons.
• Since that time, various GCs have approved many other amendments to the church's constitution and canons; perhaps most notable for our purpose, because of its controversial nature, was the 1994 amendment prohibiting discrimination in ordination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.
Why do these facts matter? Because, even when the canons were amended in ways that surely triggered talk of possible secession and property disputes, at no time did any GC deputy or group of deputies ever propose overruling the standing commission (so far as I know, without researching the question) to make it clear that the Dennis Canon was not 'the law' in the Episcopal Church.
Here's an analogy from secular cases: Suppose that: • certain language in a federal statute were susceptible to different interpretations; • for years, the courts have adopted a particular interpretation of the statutory language; and • during that time, Congress has otherwise amended the statute, but has never changed the particular language in question.
In cases like that, the courts will very often reason thusly: If Congress had disapproved of the interpretation adopted by the courts, presumably it would have overruled that interpretation legislatively, while they were enacting other amendments to the statute. Congress has not done so; it follows, therefore, that Congress has implicitly approved the courts' interpretation.
Thus the analogy: Successive General Conventions have amended the constitution and canons in many respects, but have never amended the canons to repudiate the official publication of the Dennis Canon as part of the constitution and canons. This suggests that the Dennis Canon is indeed part of 'the law' of the Episcopal Church.