Toronto, ON May 25, 2021 – The CCRL welcomes the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) granting St. Mary Cathedral’s appeal, released on Friday, May 21.

The litigation arose after a difficult pastoral decision made by the Archbishop in order to address pastoral concerns and to preserve peace in the St. Mary Cathedral parish.

Archbishop Dimitros Marew of the Ethiopian Orthodox community commented as follows:

“I am happy the litigation has concluded, and hope for healing and peace in our community. We pray for reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in the faith”.

“St. Mary Cathedral resolves religious disputes according to the teaching of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18: within the church, with the pastoral guidance of our clergy. The Court’s decision asserts the freedom to continue following this teaching.”

Lawyer for the Appellants, Philip Horgan, commented: “The state, including Canadian courts, should not become enmeshed in religious, doctrinal, and pastoral disputes. The Supreme Court’s decision clarifies that religious organizations, and similar non-profit or charitable groups, will not be subject to court review, unless underlying legal or contractual rights are involved”.

Justice Malcolm Rowe, for a unanimous court, summed up the appeal as follows:

[49]  In sum, courts can only intervene in the affairs of a voluntary association to vindicate a legal right, such as a right in property or contract. Membership in a voluntary association is not automatically contractual. Even a written constitution does not suffice. Membership is contractual only where the conditions for contract formation are met, including an objective intention to create legal relations. Such an intention is more likely to exist where property or employment are at stake. It is less likely to exist in religious contexts, where individuals may intend for their mutual obligations to be spiritually but not legally binding. A voluntary association will be constituted by a web of contracts among the members only where the conditions for contract formation are met.

[50]  On this record, there is no evidence of an objective intention to enter into legal relations. As the motion judge correctly held, there is therefore no contract, no jurisdiction, and no genuine issue requiring a trial.

For the second time in three years (previously in Wall, 2018), the Supreme Court has recognized that religious disputes should not become the place for secular adjudication in the absence of an underlying legal right, such as a contractual or property interest.  Mere membership in a religious community does not establish such a contractual basis.

The CCRL had intervened in the appeal to argue that disputes which are related to canonical or doctrinal issues were outside the scope of secular courts to adjudicate.  Respect for ecclesiastical process should exclude secular court oversight, recognizing that civil courts are not the appropriate forum to resolve such disputes.

We appeal to any of you not financially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, who may wish to accomplish more almsgiving by sending a donation to the CCRL by clicking here or by mailing a cheque to the CCRL at 2305 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON, M6S 1P1, or by calling the office at (416) 466-8244 or 1-844-722-CCRL.

About the CCRL

Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) ( assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.

To donate to the CCRL, please click here.

For further information:

Christian Domenic Elia, PhD
CCRL Executive Director