Updated Thursday evening
ENS has this report by Mary Frances Schjonberg South Carolina Supreme Court issues ruling in church property case.
In a complex ruling Aug. 2 the South Carolina Supreme Court said that most but not all the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina congregations whose leaders left the Episcopal Church could not continue to hold on to the church property.
The justices said 29 of the congregations specifically agreed to abide by the “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4), which states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church. That agreement means they cannot retain church property. However, they said that eight congregations had not agreed to the canon and thus could keep those properties…
The full text of the ruling is here.
The ACNA-affiliated diocese reported the decision this way: South Carolina Supreme Court Releases Divided Opinion on Diocese of South Carolina and its Historic Property
…In a complicated ruling consisting of five separate opinions, the S.C. Supreme Court today ruled that parishes which had “acceded” to the national church’s ‘Dennis canon’ are subject to a trust interest on their property by the denomination. Eight congregations that had not so acceded were judged to have full rights to retain their property.
The dissenting justices expressed concern regarding the long term implications of this decision. Former Chief Justice Jean Toal stated that the court should have relied on “over three hundred years of settled trust and property law… I believe the effect of the majority’s decision is to strip a title owner of its property…” on the basis of actions that do not create a trust interest under South Carolina law. In concurring with Justice Toal, Justice Kittredge observed of other church properties where there is affiliation with a national organization, based on this ruling, “if you think your property ownership is secure, think again.”
This current litigation became necessary when TEC attempted to wrongly remove Bishop Lawrence, and the Diocese, in response, elected to disassociate from TEC. At that time a small group, of TEC loyalists who had been preparing for this attempted removal began an intentional campaign of using the Diocesan Seal and other service marks of the Diocese. They began to function as if they were the Diocese of South Carolina. To maintain its identity required that the Diocese defend that identity…
The bishop of the TEC-affiliated Diocese of South Carolina issued this pastoral letter:
Dear Friends in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
Please join me in giving thanks to God for the gift of grace given to us through the August 2 ruling of the State Supreme Court that was generally in our favor. I acknowledge the difficult work of the court justices in coming to this decision.
Many of you have worked faithfully and diligently in preparation for this day and have remained steadfast as disciples of Jesus through your many sacrifices. For every one of you I give thanks, as well as to many throughout the wider Episcopal Church who have remained in solidarity with us.
We will continue to study the decision as we prepare for the journey awaiting us, and we enter it knowing that God’s Spirit is with us and in us as the Body of Christ. I am aware that coming to this day has been painful for many, and some you of lost much along the way. In that same vein, please be aware that this decision is painful in a different way for others. I ask that you be measured in your response without undue celebration in the midst of your own gratefulness.
I call upon all of you to be in prayer for all the people of this diocese, including those in congregations who chose to align with the breakaway group. Many conversations will need to occur for which we have not yet had the opportunity, yet our God is a God of reconciliation and hope as shown forth in the living Christ. Healing is our desire, and we renew our commitment to the hard work of reconciliation in whatever form it can come. May we focus on the healing of division and the seeking of common ground for the good of all Episcopalians, but even more importantly, for the sake of the Good News of Jesus.
The TEC-affiliated diocese has published this: Diocesan leaders to review Supreme Court decision
Episcopal Church leaders from across eastern South Carolina will gather on Friday at Grace Church Cathedral to review the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling on church property and assets and consider the next steps toward resolving the division and confusion resulting from a breakaway group’s lawsuit against The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Skip Adams called the meeting on August 2, hours after the court issued the ruling. Friday’s meetings will include a joint gathering of the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and Trustees, three bodies of clergy and non-ordained elected leaders. Bishop Adams also has called a meeting for the leaders of nine congregations that organized as mission churches since the 2012 breakup left them without buildings where they could worship as Episcopalians.
Both gatherings will give local Episcopalians an opportunity to discuss the complex, 79-page court decision, which includes separate opinions written by all five Supreme Court justices who heard the case. The decision cannot be viewed as final until all possible steps toward an appeal have been resolved…
The ACNA-affiliated Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas has issued this letter.
The Anglican Curmudgeon blog carries this: Massive Conflict of Interest Taints South Carolina Ruling. Earlier it had this analysis: BREAKING – So. Carolina Decision Is Out.