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SC: Circuit court rules in favor of breakaway diocese; bishop’s lawsuit ruling appealed

SC: Circuit court rules in favor of breakaway diocese; bishop’s lawsuit ruling appealed

Update 2/4 10:49 AM: The loyal diocese has posted a statement and the ruling (PDF).


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.

Bishop Lawrence
Bishop Lawrence

Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett


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Dan Ennis

In 2006, while waiting for consents from TEC at large, Mark Lawrence was asked, “In what ways will you work to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church?”

After a digression about the appropriateness of the question, Lawrence answered:

“With that said, back to your question. I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.”

I’m glad that Bill Clintonian doubletalk is preserved online — it served as a dog whistle to the conservatives in the Diocese of South Carolina that they would not have to be in communion with Gene Robinson for much longer, but it allowed the institutionalist bishops of TEC to cast a collegial vote in favor of consecration.

Soon after the consecration came the quitclaims issued to the parishes, the reversal of the Diocese’s position on the All Saints case, and Lawrence’s order that homosexuals be barred from serving as chalice bearers (and other “positions of leadership” such as vestry). He did a good job preparing for the split, and when the split came he held most of the cards.

Not much more to do but learn from our mistakes and get back to the mission.

Nick Porter

I thought it was a clever answer to be honest, all of them really, and I’m an Episcopalian.

Whit Johnstone

Clever, yes, in that he carefully avoided either giving an unqualified promise to remain in the Episcopal Church or clearly state his intention to leave. But it’s fundamentally a weasel’s answer. That said, I will say that I think Bishop Lowrance temporized because he had not made up his mind to leave or stay at the time he was consecrated, not because he was determined to leave. If he was determined to leave, he could have done so before he was inhibited.

James Scott

I think you mean to say “Now in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.”

Jerald Liko

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” 1 Cor. 6:7 (NIV).

Someone probably mentioned that already, but I figured I’d second it. There’s no win or lose here – only a profound, mutual need for repentance and reconciliation.

Robert Martin

It can’t be pointed out too often.

Truth be told, it is difficult to see why TEC pursued the Diocese of SC after our bishops and dioceses virtually ignored repeated warnings about Bishop Lawrence that many in South Carolina and elsewhere voiced when he was on the ballot and again when elected. (Many of these people are now in the Episcopal diocese of SC.) This was another failure of leadership in our Church that has now been compounded by years of lawsuits. If you are intent on performing your fiduciary duty, then remove the tinder before the fire is set, rather than wait until the conflagaration is roaring.

This seems to be common sense and competence to me, but then again, I’m not a bishop, so I may be missing the finer points.

Dave Thomas

+Lawrence’s actions were plain and simple theft, and no amount of reality twisting by his followers can change that fact. Just because a lower court judge in SC condones it does not make it morally right, or necessarily legal.

However, I do wonder where the real Episcopal Church draws the line on legal spending. We will eventually win in court (once the case gets out of South Carolina), but what will be the cost of that victory? It would have been better if both parties had sat down at the beginning and worked out an amicable deal to split the assets. It would have saved money for both sides. Of course, that would have meant +Lawrence would have had to make an effort, and (from what I hear) his “advisors” would have put a stop to that pretty fast. The plans for what has happened were in place before +Lawrence was elected; he was just the man to carry it through to fruition.

James Scott

I am highly skeptical that an amicable agreement would have been possible, since Bishop Lawrence was in the middle of reasoned negotiation with New York when the disciplinary committee found against him in 2012, after failing to inform him that the charge had been certified. Furthermore, it had been Bishop Lawrence’s official intention that the DSC remain “intact and in TEC.” Arguing that it was Bishop Lawrence’s goal to lead the DSC out of TEC is mere speculative projection and a seeming attempt to divine the contents of others’ hearts, when God is the only one who can do that. Stating that the DSC left over socio-doctrinal issues, such as the sacramental marriage of same-sex couples and communication of unbatized persons is further misinformation, since the condition for disassociation in the committee resolution to secede refers to potential actions taken by TEC against the Diocese or its Bishop. While it is naive to ignore social issues completely, they were not, and continue not to be the substantive cause for the Diocese’s secession.

William Wheeler

Well David, several high court judges in other states says it is legal. In fact, the Supreme Court in Illinois denied TEC’s petition. The likelihood of the scotus hearing an appeal is slim and none.
Neutral principles also apply in South Carolina so it doesn’t look good for TEC there either.

Richard van der Bouwijn

…and my parents wonder why, at seventeen, I’ve left Christianity behind me…

Philip Snyder

The first apology (reasoned defense) of Christianity to the pagan world was simply: “See how they love each other.” Today, TEC’s apology is “See how they sue each other.”

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