From the news blog of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina:
The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) have petitioned the 1st Circuit Court of Common Pleas to execute the state Supreme Court’s decision and return church properties to the Episcopal Church.
The petition, filed Monday in Dorchester County, also asks the court to appoint a Special Master to oversee an “orderly and expeditious resolution” of the issues.
In August 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that property currently being controlled by a breakaway group under Bishop Mark Lawrence actually is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, TECSC. The decision affects all diocesan property of the Diocese of South Carolina, including Camp St. Christopher, as well as the property of 28 parishes.
In a separate but related case, TECSC also filed in the U.S. District Court in Charleston today, asking the court to resolve trademark and false-advertising issues involving the identity of the diocese.
TECSC’s ultimate goal in both courts is to bring a final resolution to five years of legal disputes over church property and identity, and begin the work necessary to heal and reunify the diocese.
The petition asks the court to enforce the SC Supreme Court order by:
• Ordering the Board of Trustees of TECSC to be installed as the trustees of the breakaway organization which has continued to operate as the “Diocese of South Carolina.” TECSC is referred to in court documents as “the Associated Diocese,” meaning as part of The Episcopal Church, it is the legal successor to the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” the historic name under which the diocese was chartered by the state Legislature in 1880.
• Transferring ownership of the property of the 28 affected parishes from the individual parish corporations to TECSC and TEC. The Episcopal Church and TECSC could then form new parish corporations and transfer the deeds to them, allowing them to hold the property in trust while operating as Episcopal churches in accordance with the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church and TECSC.
Transferring the titles of the parishes would be consistent with an order issued in April by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in a separate federal lawsuit. The judge suggested that enforcing the state Supreme Court’s ruling on property matters could be resolved by having TEC take control of the properties through the state court.
• Appointing a Special Master with experience in complex property matters to oversee the orderly transfer of all the real and personal property, and resolve any disputes that might arise during the transition. The petition requests that the parties be allowed to propose names for the court to consider.
In U.S. District Court, TECSC filed its complaint against Mark Lawrence, the breakaway organization and some 54 parishes who are affiliated with him. The initial lawsuit, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, was filed in 2013 by then-Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg. The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III was added as a plaintiff after he became bishop, and both The Episcopal Church and TECSC joined the case as plaintiffs earlier this year.
The TECSC complaint asks the federal court to declare that the defendants have engaged in false advertising and trademark infringement under the federal Lanham Act, as well as state law. These actions have led to confusion in the public about which group is affiliated with The Episcopal Church.
After the 2012 split, the breakaway group continued to use the official diocesan seal and names including “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” “The Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.” The complaint asks the court to declare that TECSC and its Bishop are entitled to the seal and marks of the diocese.
The complaint also asks the court to issue an injunction preventing the breakaway group and parishes from using names, advertising or promotions that give a false or misleading representation that they are associated with The Episcopal Church or TECSC.