Thinking Anglicans

South Carolina court declines to rehear church dispute

We reported in August that the South Carolina Supreme Court had reached a decision on the legal dispute concerning who was the lawful owner of church properties in the diocese of South Carolina.

The ACNA-affiliated diocese subsequently filed an appeal against this decision.

Now the court has rejected those claims.

The statement from the ACNA-affiliated diocese is here, and there is a letter from Bishop Mark Lawrence.

There is now also a press release from the TEC-affiliated diocese and a statement from Bishop Skip Adams over here.

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John WireniusCRSdr.primroseCynthiaJo Recent comment authors
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CRS
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CRS

Candid judgments from two justices of the SC Supreme Court. Justice Kittredge: “For the purpose of resolving the rehearing petitions, I requested a fifth justice be appointed to fill the absence created by Justice Hearn’s recusal so that a full court could decide this matter of great importance. My request was rejected, which I find shocking. Under these circumstances, to disallow a full court from considering the rehearing petitions is deeply troubling and, in my opinion, raises constitutional implications as the Court has blocked a fair and meaningful merits review of the rehearing petitions.” Former Chief Justice Jean Toal: “…the… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Secessionist episcopalians want it both ways: shocked, I do declare!

Congregations are only losing property ’cause they chose to leave the church to which it belongs. If they want to keep their buildings, all they must do is reaffirm their commitment to TEC.

Leaving on grounds of conscience I respect, even though I disagree with those grounds; demanding you be allowed to take the family silver along for the ride does, however, tarnish things somewhat.

Andrew Godsall
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Andrew Godsall

Interesting to note another side to this from that which Christopher Seitz presents: The court voted unanimously to deny the motion seeking Justice Hearn’s recusal. Justice Jean Toal, who was serving as Chief Justice at the time the court heard the case, noted that “an adverse decision is no reason to excuse a nearly two-and-a-half year delay in making a request for recusal.” “While I make no criticism of the respondents’ lawyers for filing the motions to recuse and for vacature, I am disappointed in the tone of these filings. They are unreasonable harsh criticisms of a highly accomplished judge… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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These cases of litigation across the pond make it all the more important that progressive Christians in the Church of England ‘dig in’ and don’t run. The churches of our country – the fabric, the halls, and their place in our communities – belong to The Church of England. And, as an established Church, to the nation as well. They should never be sliced off from the demesne by dissenters who choose to defy the authority of the Church, set up their own bishops etc. That being so, if conservative Anglicans in England threaten to leave, to ‘not walk with’,… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

I am in SC on holiday and worshipped at Church of the Cross, Bluffton yeasterday. Packed out. Superb preaching and pastoral care from their rector of 22 years. Thanksgiving anf pledge Sunday. Hard to find a parking spot. He will be without a pay check. The personal property and checkbooks will be seized. This will happen across the diocese, for families whose families have worshipped at these parishes back into the 18th century. So it will be a very disruptive and tragic outcome. I am glad that I have retired from TEC. My bothers will shortly retire as well. The… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

Justice Toal believes the Diocese legal team should have demanded the recusal of the TEC Justice and not expected that she would recuse herself given her and her husband’s investments in the progressive cause. When as a diocese, in orderly convention, the Diocese of SC voted—overwhelmingly—to maintain its identity vis-à-vis 2012 General Convention trends, it allowed parishes who felt otherwise to keep their properties. They did this even as they believed the properties belonged to the diocese. Those parishes could have created a new diocese (The Episcopal Diocese of Lowcountry SC) or merged with the Upper Diocese of SC. All… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Now the mediation can proceed without any illusion as to the outcome in state court.

As for the Supreme Court of the United States, let’s just say that the breakaways’ chances there are slim to nonexistent.

From that court’s website: “The Court receives approximately 7,000-8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each Term. The Court grants and hears oral argument in about 80 cases.”

Cynthia
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Cynthia

Susannah, the fact that CoE is the established church, and the US has no established church, makes the picture rather different when it comes to schism and property. I can’t imagine CoE conservatives winning anything in court when their discriminatory position is so antithetical to the law of the land. TEC made a generous offer to the schismatics in SC. SC rejected it and SC initiated the lawsuit. Now TEC’s bishop continues to seek reconciliation, while the schismatics want to take it to the Supreme Court of the US. The big picture plan was for ACNA to replace TEC, a… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

“Now the mediation can proceed without any illusion as to the outcome in state court.” I am curious what you believe is to be mediated? The TEC entity in SC won. There is nothing to be mediated. If you are suggesting that TEC ought to think about some kind of reasonable alternative so as to avoid carrying these empty churches, one can only agree. But I have seen nothing along these lines in the public arena. As for US Supreme Court review you are generally correct. At issue for the Supreme Court is whether individual states can hold contradictary views… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

You paint a grim picture, CRS. TEC made an offer for the schismatics to keep the property, and they rejected it. It was an irresponsible gamble. However, given Skip Adams’ statement, I don’t believe they are about to throw the schismatics out of their churches. I assure you that I would be up-in-arms if they proposed kicking everyone out. I bet my LGBT sisters and brothers would join me. No one wants the pain and gnashing of teeth that the schismatics caused the continuing Episcopalians in SC. They just need to sit down and work it out like adults, as… Read more »

Andrew Godsall
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Andrew Godsall

Christopher: I’m glad to see that the TEC bishop of the diocese speaks of the hard work of reconciliation needed and extremely sorry to see that you can’t join with that. Even sadder that Mark Lawrence shows so little peace and reconciliation in himself.

James Byron
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James Byron

“He will be without a pay check. The personal property and checkbooks will be seized.” Er, no, they won’t be “seized,” CRS: he chose to leave them behind when he quit TEC. When a person quits their job, are their desk and paycheck likewise “seized”? I think not. All he, and his congregation, need do to keep it all is to reaffirm their commitment to the church that their predecessors have been part of since the 18th century. The property isn’t theirs: it’s TEC’s, held in trust for a time, and intended to be passed on to future generations. They’ve… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

I agree with James Byron. If you spurn the organisation you belong to, fair enough, life is full of choices, but then you need to take personal responsibility for your choices and actions. If I worked for a distribution company and refused to accept the authority of my managers, would I be allowed to take the company’s truck and use it to run my own distribution company? If you quit a company or organisation, what do you expect? The real question, perhaps, is whether ACNA leaders acted with due diligence and care in the best interests of their parishioners. Perhaps… Read more »

badman
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badman

Part of the problem is that ACNA supporters include lawyers like A S Haley a.k.a. the Anglican Curmudgeon who have confidently and wrongly predicted victory at every turn. Haley is never humbled when his predictions are wrong; instead, he says the judges are wrong. But when the judges always disagree with you, and the judges are the arbiters of the cases and the law, you really should question whether, just possibly, you were wrong. The congregations were told they could have their cake and eat it. It turns out they could not. I suspect that, even if it had been… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

The legal shenanigans are something to behold, with demands that a SC Supreme Court justice recuse herself, followed by demands that SCOTUS step in. Anyone could’ve told ’em that judges, as a rule, are loathed to recuse themselves, even when there’s much stronger claims than exist here; and SCOTUS have one or two other things to do with their time. This could’ve been an example of grace, with the congregations leaving their buildings with a heavy heart, and wishing their successors the best. Such would’ve impressed many who disagreed with ’em, perhaps even persuaded some in TEC to look at… Read more »

Broad Churchman
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Broad Churchman

Terms such as “schismatics” and “curmudgeon” are quite out of place in this discussion and reflect rather poorly on those who use them. And British observers who comment on these matters should at least learn a little more about the very different character of the US Episcopal Church to that of the C.of E. Many comments beg the question – i.e. assume that this is a case of dissidents seeking to take the property of the Episcopal Church with them whereas this is the issue of the debate. I think those “dissidents” see it rather as their Dioceses (South Carolina… Read more »

John Wirenius
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As CRS’s own comment (11/20 @ 8:49) makes clear, the schismatics wanted to take the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church. Any parishes that chose not to leave could affiliate with other already extant loyal TEC dioceses. In other words, there was no room for coexistence; the schisimatics wanted not just to leave but to prevent TEC from rebuilding in South Carolina. To not just leave, but to leave a gaping wound behind them. It’s hard to sympathize with them, especially as they turned down an offer to keep most of the property in order to… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

Now we have clergy who work for CEO 815 second avenue and parishioners who have built, maintained, and own their property — told by bloggers here their property belongs to an out of state unincorporated NY entity “the domestic and foreign missionary society.” I don’t believe members of the CofE who comment here understand the polity of TEC. Dioceses own property, not a national church. See the recent rulings in CA in the Diocese of LA. +Bruno could not be halted in his property negotiations. Incidentally, the SCSC did not give the name and seal of the EDSC away, as… Read more »

badman
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badman

Broad Churchman, just to be clear: Anglican Curmudgeon is what A S Haley calls himself on his website. No-one on this thread is using curmudgeon as a term of abuse or disrespect. When you say “Many comments beg the question – i.e. assume that this is a case of dissidents seeking to take the property of the Episcopal Church with them whereas this is the issue of the debate” you need to take account of the fact that this issue has been decided, repeatedly, by relevant US courts in favour of the interpretation, in law, that the dissidents are not… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

“Dioceses own property, not a national church.”

That’ll be why the breakaway dioceses have won all their lawsuits over the years, won’t it, CRS? Oh, wait.

Been following this for a decade now. Like plenty courts, I’ve never been persuaded that secessionist dioceses have a right to walk away with real estate acquired when they were members of TEC.

CRS
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CRS

JB–what do you mean, exactly? Do a title search. You will see who owns the property. It isn’t 815 or a ‘National Church.’ This is where, as Broad Church remains, TEC isn’t the CofE. You must be assuming an ‘accession clause’ functions to convey property. It does not. Justice Blackmun explicitly said that this would rquire an express trust. Try to get that passed at GC! Liberals would object. See the recent moves of +LA to convery property without let or hindrance. And of course this is why Texas SC and Illinois ruled against TEC in its claims re: accession… Read more »

CRS
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CRS

After the most recent Texas Supreme Court decision, Presbyterians all over the state decided to leave with their properties. Simple parish vote. One might have hoped TEC would be as reasonable.

Which is of course, JB, why your claims about leaving are just false. The Diocese of Springfield could leave anytime it wanted.

The point is that this is a state by state matter. And in SC, we now have a bizarre 2-2 split court.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“assume that this is a case of dissidents seeking to take the property of the Episcopal Church with them whereas this is the issue of the debate”

Really?

I would have thought it would be difficult to argue that a question is being begged, when the Supreme Court of South Carolina has now answered that very question. Not once, but twice.

But the propaganda continues. Often coming from those who encouraged secession in the first place.

Fool me once….

John Wirenius
Guest

Well, I know the word “schismatic” is harsh, but those who were ordained and who are, quite literally tearing apart the Episcopal Church after having “solemnly engage[d] to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church” (1979 BCP, p. 513 (bishops) 526 (priests) leave little alternative. Indeed, a bishop is especially “called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,” by which is clearly meant the Episcopal Church. (BCP, p. 517). They no doubt feel a moral imperative to act as they have, but they have set aside their solemn engagements and divided the Church… Read more »

Andrew Godsall
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Andrew Godsall

“Perhaps there is some parallel with the English Provinces of Canterbury and York separating from Rome some time ago.” I don’t think that’s a parallel at all. It’s much more like the Methodists separating from the C of E. And they didn’t take any buildings with them. Broad Churchman – if they are not schismatics, what are they? I bet they are also sorry they hitched themselves to ACNA, now in disarray over the ordination of women. The whole thing is a mess and the only people who seem to come out well are the real diocese of South Carolina… Read more »

Jo
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Jo

I rather think that schismatic is as schismatic does: if you hold a vote and decide to separate yourself from the rest of the church then, guess what? You’re schismatic. If you don’t like being called schismatic then don’t enact a schism.

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

CRS: How does a diocese have the right to continue to call itself “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” when it has severed all ties with The Episcopal Church? How do its churches continue to designate themselves as “Episcopal” (capital letter, not lower-case) in that circumstance? And, finally, if that diocese and those parishes operated under the canons of The Episcopal Church, after those canons were amended to give title to real property to the national church, held in trust by the local parish and diocese; if those parishes and diocese elected delegates to General Convention and those delegates voted… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

Broad Churchman, schismatics is absolutely spot on. They initiated schism from TEC, and tried to take the property with them. Can a pro-gay church in Sydney break off from the Anglican Church of Australia, start marrying gay people, and keep the property? I’m all for reconciliation, but ACNA is not going to become the official Anglican Church in the US and Canada, and that was an element in this sorry episode. TEC maintains a hope of reconciliation over the properties, the original offer was generous, and it can be worked out. But they are schismatic. CRS, I don’t know what… Read more »

TBDB
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TBDB

First time caller. I’ve practiced law in SC for 35 years. Criticism of Justice Kay Hearn in this matter is unwarranted, in my opinion. If that’s your cup of tea, however, I invite you to read the vitriol and innuendo masquerading as legal memoranda regarding the question of recusal. If you want to be saddened by what we can do to each other as Christians with the written word, that’s an excellent starting point. Anyway, I served on my parish vestry at the time of Gene Robinson’s consecration, with its attendant intra-parish battle and the resulting damage to more than… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

CRS needs to note the opinion of a long-ago cleric:
“Schism is a very horrid thing”.

And those who resort to it have only themselves to blame. Members of the C. of E. who contemplate changing your allegiance to A.M.i.E., take heed to what is going on in the U.S.A. and think again. You cannot take the parish churches with you!

James Byron
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James Byron

“Do you know anything about TEC polity?”

About as much as the SC opinion linked above, CRS: “The finding that TEC is hierarchal requires that I defer to its highest ecclesiastical body.” (P.18)

Your extreme confidence in the correctness of your opinion is an odd fit with the court judgments reaching the opposite conclusion, including this one. If I’m wrong, well fine: I’m in fair company.

Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

CSR writes, “Now we have clergy who work for CEO 815 second avenue and parishioners who have built, maintained, and own their property — told by bloggers here their property belongs to an out of state unincorporated NY entity “the domestic and foreign missionary society.” This is a parroting of the rhetoric from the Mark Lawrence camp: TEC –a NEW YORK corporation — is taking the property of South Carolinians. It ignores the many South Carolinians who wanted to stay with TEC and were left without a church home when Mark Lawrence made his move. These Episcopalians are an inconvenient… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Both sides have apparently approached this on the basis of “What is best for us? What do we understand our legal position to be?” rather than “What approach best serves the Lord our God?” We read the same here with people suggesting that progressives should stand firm because successionist conservatives should leave with nothing. How does that attitude edify the Lord? How does disassociating a congregation from its traditional place of worship praise the Lord? I strongly disagree with the schismatic conservatives in South Carolina and in England but, for me, attempting to force a congregation to abandon its traditional… Read more »

Andrew Godsall
Guest
Andrew Godsall

And now yet more silly posturing and waste of money by Mark Lawrence.

http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/joint_statement__17_11_21.pdf

John Wirenius
Guest

CRS, You might want to leave the law to lawyers. In Jones v. Wolf, Justice Blackmun wrote, immediately after the passage to which you refer, that “[a]lternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form.” 434 US 595, 606 (1979). This latter option is, of course, just what TEC did in the… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“Several congregations have already voted affirmatively to join in this petition.”

Only “several,” eh?

Perhaps some parishes are starting to wonder whether they should continue to throw good money after bad….

Jo
Guest
Jo

Kate: it’s worth noting that TEC declining to allow the schismatics to appropriate church property, intended for the worship of God according the the traditions of that church, doesn’t in any way prevent amicable agreements being reached on shared use of the buildings by both the schismatics and the congregations they left behind, or indeed letting agreements where the entirety of the previous congregation has left. If you’re following your conscience out the door then that will have consequences. Others have done it in the past in different contexts (the Disruption in the Church of Scotland is an interesting example;… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

“…the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church.”

This advice is precisely what TEC did not follow. There has never been a change in the Constitution of TEC. GC would never attempt it as it would fail.

You seem to think that an accession clause is an express trust. Blackmun warned that that would not work. Courts in TX and Il agreed with him.

There are also a good number of liberal dioceses that have no accession clause, to further complicate your presumption.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Kate, no one is talking about throwing people out of parishes, except for CRS, who is saying this despite the writings of TEC leadership and previous generous proposals. I’ll mention, however, that the schismatics left loyal Episcopalians with nowhere to go. They got creative and continued… TEC has been talking about reconciliation and working out property issues that would serve both sets of people. Alas, the schismatic leadership has been absolutely unwilling to “compromise.” Yes, it’s been announced, the schismatics are going to try to take their case to the US Supreme Court. Clearly, that decision was taken very, very… Read more »

John Wirenius
Guest

CRS,

If you think that under Jones that the difference between the authoritative nature of the “constitution” of a church and its “canons” is one which secular courts are permitted to parse in order to disregard the latter in a neutral principles analysis, then you simply do not understand the decision.

Leave the law to the lawyers.

dr.primrose
Guest
dr.primrose

In addition to their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the schismatics have also filed a new lawsuit against TEC and the TEC-affiliated diocese seeking damages for the value of all improvements to the churches that the courts have found belong to TEC and the TEC-affiliated diocese. The complaint can be found at http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/uploads/1/2/9/8/12989303/2017-11-19_dorchester_county_new_litigation_filed.pdf Episcopal Cafe has said that the value of the property sought is for improvements made during the time that the schismatics controlled the properties. It’s not completely clear, but I think the schismatics are asking for the value of all improvements to the properties, no matter… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

Dear John

Have a happy US Thanksgiving.

Lawyering lawyers have had the good judgment to distinguish between an ‘accession clause’ and an ‘express trust,’ and they have done resoundingly so in the most recent cases.

Thank God for the sober words of Justice Blackmun, which you have so usefully cited here.

John Wirenius
Guest

Dear CRS,

Thank you for the good wishes. I hope your Thanksgiving was a happy one.