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Distinction Between Temporal and Spiritual Bodies

In its 1940 decision in Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church v. Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mary the Protectress, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the important distinction between the temporal and spiritual aspects of religious organizations and ruled that, while courts can intervene in temporal matters, they cannot do so in spiritual matters.

1. Facts

Reverend Mayewsky was a priest of what the appeal courts found was an unincorporated spiritual body known as The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada (the spiritual body), not of the federal corporation, The Ukrainian Greek Orthodox of Canada (the corporation), which was incorporated by Special Act of Parliament. The spiritual body was organized in 1923 and operated in Winnipeg. The federal corporation was incorporated in 1929.

In 1937, the corporation purported to expel Mayewsky from the priesthood for alleged insubordination and forbade him from further officiating as a priest of the corporation or in the Winnipeg cathedral. However, a majority of the congregation (of the spiritual body) refused to recognize the expulsion and Mayewsky continued to officiate at the cathedral. At trial, the corporation obtained an injunction against Mayewsky. The injunction was set aside by the Manitoba Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the expulsion did not prevent Reverend Mayewsky from continuing to perform as a priest for the spiritual body.

2. Rulings

Taking into account the history of the temporal and spiritual organizations and the scope of the Special Act incorporating the federal corporation, the justices of the Supreme Court all came to the same conclusion: the unincorporated spiritual body was separate from, and had never been absorbed into, the corporation, and the corporation's affairs were limited to holding church property and did not extend to spiritual matters. The congregation could have, by resolution, opted to become part of the corporation but no such resolution had ever been passed.

Moreover, the lands owned by the congregation remained owned by its trustees under provincial law. Parliament did not have the constitutional jurisdiction to legislate the transfer of church property to a federal corporation and had not purported to do so in the Special Act of incorporation in this case.

In effect, the unincorporated church continued to exist side-by-side with the corporation and the latter was endowed with authority over temporal matters only.

Accordingly, the expulsion of Reverend Mayewsky from the corporation was meaningless since he was not a priest or member of the corporation. The spiritual body of which he officiated had not expelled him.

3. Key Observations

This case turns on its specific facts. The justices of the Supreme Court carefully sifted through the confusing evidence in which the affairs of the corporation and the congregation were intertwined. Nevertheless, the spiritual church was distinct from the temporal church and the spiritual and temporal rights of the spiritual church had not been submerged in the federal corporation.

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