Thirty-six parishes that left The Episcopal Church in 2012 over theological differences can retain $500 million in physical property according to a ruling by a S.C. circuit court, as reported in The State:
The parishes have been at the center of a dispute between the diocese and The Episcopal Church since Bishop Mark Lawrence broke away from the national church in 2012, taking 36 parishes with him.
They filed a lawsuit in 2013 that affected more than $500 million in physical property including some of the nation’s most historic and renowned church buildings, among them St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s in the heart of downtown Charleston. The 46-page opinion issued by Judge Diane S. Goodstein follows a three-week trial last summer.
The dispute, which is mirrored in other dioceses around the country, centers on interpretation of theology, including the national church’s willingness to approve the ordination of a gay bishop and the approval of a blessing rite for same sex couples.
News Channel 2, an NBC affiliate, reports:
The historic ruling comprehensively resolves the issues surrounding the more than $500 million in property owned by the Diocese and its parishes, which disassociated from the denomination in 2012 after TEC improperly attempted to remove Bishop Mark Lawrence as head of the Diocese.
The judge’s decision found baseless TEC’s claim that it owned the Diocese’s identity and properties. During the trial, the Diocese demonstrated that it existed long before TEC was established – and that it was one of the dioceses that founded the denomination in 1789. It also proved that every diocese is free to associate with a denomination of its choosing.
The Court found that “the Constitution and Canons of TEC have no provisions which state that a member diocese cannot voluntarily withdraw its membership.” The ruling found that had there been such a provision, it would have violated the Diocese’s “constitutionally-protected right” to freedom of association. “With the freedom to associate goes its corollary, the freedom to disassociate,” Judge Goodstein said.
In a separate legal case, the lawsuit vonRosenberg v. Lawrence is under appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. Last year, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg sued Bishop Mark Lawrence for false advertising (for background: The Living Church, March 2013). As the Cafe reported in August 2013, a district court in South Carolina dismissed the lawsuit. The suit was appealed in Virginia, and a ruling is expected in the next 60 to 90 days. More information, including a link to audio from the proceedings, can be found here.
Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett