In the case of All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. The Protestant Episcopal Church, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled today against the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina. The court said that All Saints Parish is free to separate from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina and join with the Church of Rwanda and the Anglican Mission in America.
No comments yet from either the Diocese or the Episcopal Church, both of whom, we are sure are weighing the implications for their own immediate futures. When official reaction comes in, we will update.
The previous Bishop of South Carolina, Edward Salmon wrote to the diocese in 2003 after the All Saints vestry voted to remove the parish from the Episcopal Church:
When a vestry of a parish in the diocese votes to take action to leave the church, they cannot then hold an office as a vestry of the church from which they have voted to depart. After prayerful consideration and consultation with the Chancellor of the diocese, I then proceeded to exercise my canonical responsibility as Bishop. This is a matter of deep regret about which I felt I had no choice.
The ruling is here.
The state Supreme Court overturned a lower court that had ruled in favor of a "minority" vestry and officers who remained loyal to the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church.
In making their decision, the Court completely set aside any principle of "deference" to a denomination's polity and followed only a "neutral principles of law" approach and thus avoiding the role of polity or the ramifications of a parish's past adherence to the Constitution and Canons of both the Diocese and the Episcopal Church. The court looked only at the trust and property issues involved.
It is with the Pearson rule in mind that we now turn to the two issues before us in this appeal. We remain mindful of the First Amendment and its protections of religious liberty. Nonetheless, adjudication of this matter does not require us to wade into the waters of religious law, doctrine, or polity. We find that the Diocese and ECUSA organized their affairs with All Saints Parish in a manner that makes the complete resolution of the questions presented achievable through the application of neutral principles of property, trust, and corporate law.
Specifically, the Court held that in this case, the Dennis Canon has no force because of a 1903 quit-claim deed between the Diocese and the Parish written to clear up "doubt over the status of the congregation’s incorporation, the Diocese directed it to re-incorporate as “All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, Inc.”
The ruling concludes:
[I.C, II. first para, Conclusion] ...we hold that neither the 2000 Notice nor the Dennis Canon has any legal effect on title to the All Saints congregation’s property. A trust “may be created by either declaration of trust or by transfer of property….” Dreher v. Dreher, 370 S.C. 75, 80, 634 S.E.2d 646, 648 (2006). It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another. The Diocese did not, at the time it recorded the 2000 Notice, have any interest in the congregation’s property. Therefore, the recordation of the 2000 Notice could not have created a trust over the property.
For the aforementioned reasons, we hold that title to the property at issue is held by All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, Inc., the Dennis Canons had no legal effect on the title to the congregation’s property, and the 2000 Notice should be removed from the Georgetown County records.
Turning to the 2005 Action, we find that the trial court applied the deference approach, determined that the congregation was part of a hierarchical organization, and deferred to the Diocese’s ecclesiastical authority’s determination that members of the minority vestry were the true officers of All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, Inc. We disagree....
For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the trial court’s decision with respect to both the 2000 Action and the 2005 Action.
Read the whole ruling here.