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Texas Supreme Court rules against Episcopal diocese

Texas Supreme Court rules against Episcopal diocese

The Texas Supreme Court failed to uphold the summary judgment of the 141st District Court, Tarrant County, Texas in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, ruling instead in favor of the breakaway group. Bishop Rayford B. High, bishop of Fort Worth responds.

August 30, 2013

The Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High, Jr., bishop of Fort Worth; the Standing Committee, and the Board of Trustees of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth are disappointed by the August 30, 2013 opinion of the Texas Supreme Court that failed to uphold the summary judgment of the 141st District Court, Tarrant County, Texas. That judgment granted the Local Episcopal Parties’ and The Episcopal Church’s Motions for Summary Judgments. The opinion can be seen here and the dissenting opinion can be seen here.

Bishop High has issued a letter to the diocese that can be seen here. When we have more thoroughly reviewed the opinion, the Diocese of Fort Worth may issue further statements. In the meantime we hold all Episcopalians in our prayers as well as former Bishop Iker and his colleagues, and we bid your prayers as we move forward.

Here is Bishop High’s letter to the Diocese:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

On August 30, 2013 the Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion that sent our case back to the lower court for reconsideration. While it is a disappointment not to have a definitive decision, as followers of Jesus Christ, we live in hope.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joins me in acknowledging our disappointment and urging all of us to be gentle with one another during this trying time, with the important goal of continuing our worship of God and our ministries in this community in as uninterrupted a manner as possible.

Now I, other diocesan leaders, and our legal team, including representatives of the Church and its legal team, have to make decisions about our next steps.

For now, we all must don the mantle of patience and forbearance. I ask for your prayers and urge us all to stay focused on the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in the days ahead.

I remain convinced that we are right in our affirmation that we are the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth and that I am its bishop.

But in the wake of this opinion, as always, we remain committed to preaching that gospel as we celebrate the sacraments, care for those in need, and strive for justice and peace. When we began this litigation in 2009, we did so as heir and steward of the legacy of generations of faithful Episcopalians.

Let us move forward together with grace and love, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High, Jr.

Bishop

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

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Paul Powers

All of the justices on the Texas Supreme Court are conservative republicans, including the dissenters. It's really not a question of democrat/republican, left/right, liberal/conservative.

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Chris H.

Actually, I believe at least in California, the fact that TEC is a hierarchical church put a special clause in the law into effect that gives religious groups rights to control their affairs without applying neutral principles.

The rough and dirty definition of neutral principles I was given in my basic business class in college was that in general he who is named on the deed or the one who can prove purchase is the owner, and both sides must agree to ownership changes in trusts(but to always call in a lawyer for the fine print). For example, McDonald's national corp. can't change the bylaws and take ownership of all the franchises buildings, but they could possibly write a contract signed by both parties giving them a portion of the assets if fees weren't paid, etc.

Texas and, I think, South Carolina, don't have the same religious exclusions as California so TEC has to follow the same rules as other businesses. From what I've read, part of the problem in Texas is that both sides would have had to agree/ratify the Dennis Cannon and the Cannon would have had to include a way to break the trust or explicitly say in the trust it was unbreakable when both parties signed it. It doesn't say that,(and did each church have to sign onto the Dennis Cannon?)so they don't think it applies in Texas.

Chris Harwood

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Whit T. Johnstone

I am disappointed but not really surprised. Texas judges are elected, and most Texans base their judicial votes on the endorsements of religious right groups. So the Texas state supreme court will inevitably make the "conservative" ruling in any politically charged case. While this doesn't end the lawsuit, I am not optimistic about the TEC Diocese of Fort Worth's chances.

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tgflux

in Texas we ELECT our supreme court justices... they are NOT appointed. Our supreme court justices ANSWER to the people of the State of TEXAS.

My bad, Joe. I think in my last two state homes, Michigan and California, the governor appts the SC justices, but then they have to be confirmed/re-elected by the voters at some point.

Of course, it's that Texas electorate that elected Dubya/has kept electing Perry, so I think my larger point still stands. As the ACNA schismatics are generally more aligned w/ the (recent/current) Texas electorate's values, it's not surprising that *their* elected SC reflects those values, to the detriment of TEC. (*)

JC Fisher

(*) And, well, the Gospel. But that's just my opinion, obviously!

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Eric Bonetti

Hi Marshall. That's correct...summary judgment would have meant that the case was decided on its face. Thus, we now go to the merits of the case.

I'm going out on a limb here, as I've only glanced at the case. But if nothing else, I would hope that the court treats the matter as one of contract. A parish that wishes to become part of TEC agrees -- or contracts -- to adhere to all of our canons, both now and in the future. Thus, failure to honor the Dennis Canon is both a breach of contract and, I believe, a moral failure.

Additionally, failure to uphold the Dennis Canon does violence to the collective intent of generations of Episcopalians, who have given money, time, material and more, all with the understanding that these items will support The Episcopal Church. To essentially allow a retroactive breach of this agreement based on the whims of the present occupants of a church or diocese is a grave injustice of the very sort our legal system is supposed to prevent.

My cranky, pre-coffee opinion this morning.

With that, have a happy holiday weekend, everyone!

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