South Carolina Episcopal

August 2, 2017

South Carolina Court Hands Down Mixed Ruling in Episcopal Dispute

Institute on Religion and Democracy Press Release
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Contact: Jeff Walton Office: 202-682-4131, Cell: 202-413-5639, E-mail: jwalton@TheIRD.org

Episcopal Church officials speak regularly about themes of reconciliation, but their actions in the courts indicate that property and exclusivity of their Anglican Communion franchise is paramount.”
— IRD Anglican Program Director Jeff Walton

Washington, DC— Today the South Carolina Supreme Court in a 3-2 ruling partly overturned and partly upheld an earlier District Court ruling that had favored the Diocese of South Carolina, which dissolved its connection with the Episcopal denomination in October 2012. The majority reversed the lower court on the status of ownership for 29 of 36 disputed parish properties. A final ruling would affect more than $500 million in diocesan and parish properties.

On February 3, 2015, Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein ruled that the departing diocese was legally entitled to the property and use of the name “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”.

A lower court ruling on the issue of intellectual property issues, including which group controls the diocesan name and seal, was left in place with justices splitting 2-2.

A majority of members in 49 churches voted to sever their ties to the Episcopal Church and remain affiliated with the diocese following disputes over the redefinition and reinterpretation of Scripture.

The Diocese of South Carolina is the fifth U.S. diocese to vote to depart the national church. Based on a review of yearly audited financial statements, attorney and Episcopal Church blogger A.S. Haley estimates the denomination and its dioceses have spent in excess of $40 million in litigation expenses in disputes with departing Anglicans. In December 2011 the Diocese of Quincy (Illinois) won a legal dispute on property ownership over the Episcopal Church that was subsequently upheld on appeal. Litigation is ongoing in the state of Texas, where the diocese of Fort Worth departed the Episcopal Church in 2008.

In June 2017, the Diocese of South Carolina formally joined the Anglican Church in North America. The diocese now counts 53 member churches and more than 20,000 members.

Episcopal Church U.S. membership dropped 2.1 percent in 2015, the most recent reporting year, a loss of 37,669 persons. Attendance declined 20,631 persons, down 3.4 percent.

IRD Anglican Program Director Jeff Walton commented:

“Episcopal Church officials speak regularly about themes of reconciliation, but their actions in the courts indicate that property and exclusivity of their Anglican Communion franchise is paramount. The Episcopal Church has spent millions of dollars to litigate against departing Anglicans.

“The Episcopal Church and its liberal Mainline Protestant counterparts refuse to accept what has become obvious: the majority of many congregations across the country do not want to depart their denominations, but will do so if liberal leadership continues down an unfaithful path.

“Sadly, the Episcopal Church appears more interested in the recovery of property than in reconciliation.”

www.TheIRD.org


12 Responses to South Carolina Court Hands Down Mixed Ruling in Episcopal Dispute

  1. diaphone64 says:

    Soon coming to a UMC annual conference near you.

  2. Dr. John E, Stumbo says:

    Jeffrey: Can you explain more clearly the final ruling on the 29 of 36 disputed parish properties?

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Hello Dr. Stumbo, while I am not an attorney, I can at least share what I understand about the ruling:

      1) The ruling does not in itself award ownership of parish properties. Of the 36 contested properties addressed in the ruling, the majority determined that seven were not affected by the Episcopal Church’s Dennis Canon, and 29 were affected. Because of this ruling, a case to determine ownership of those 29 properties has been remanded to the trial court, which must consider the Dennis Canon in order to rule on who owns the properties.
      2) The trial court’s ruling on the question of who rightfully controls the diocesan name and seal (its intellectual property) was upheld. The Episcopal Church is still pursuing this in federal court, as part of U.S. trademark law. But for now, the Diocese of South Carolina, not the Episcopal Church, control the name and seal.

  3. Walter Pryor says:

    As we near the End Times and the Rapture do not expect the Good Godly People to win a lot of court cases.

    Satan and his followers are gaining more and more power. This dovetails with the Bibles End Time Prophecies.
    We thought we would never have to suffer with Christ?

  4. John Cassidy says:

    Many of the members like me, who trust in the Word of God left the Episcopal Church years ago. It seems that those who stayed were shielded at a local level from the actions of the rest of the Denomination. The fact that the Episcopal church is investing so much in keeping the properties is an indication of how lost they have become.

    • Wayne says:

      John, I also find it interesting that churches like TEC are investing huge sums of money in legal fees, just to retain empty church buildings which can sometimes take years to sell. It would be far better to let the breakaway churches leave and save a ton of money in the process. Unfortunately, TEC has largely become apostate in its beliefs and no longer believes in many of the essential tenets of the faith.

      • Jeffrey Walton says:

        Wayne, I agree that it would be far better for the Episcopal Church to let the other churches go. But this assumes that church officials are pragmatic. Property is one part of this issue, but church officials also seek to provide a disincentive for other congregations to depart. There are multiple cases (Good Shepherd in Binghamton, NY among the most prominent) in which the diocese declined a sizeable settlement package with the local parish and instead lost most — or all — of that money in litigation. There is more at stake here than just bank accounts. Episcopal Church officials will not tolerate any parish to depart with property so long as that parish seeks to continue with an Anglican identity. If the parish seeks to become Roman Catholic or non-denominational Evangelical (e.g. St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, MD or Moon Township in Pennsylvania) accommodations can be made, but if they seek to continue within the Anglican Communion but outside of the Episcopal Church, there is usually no settlement permitted.

  5. Lester Hemphill says:

    Could this happen in the United Methodist denomination that now is at a cross roads over the homosexuality issue. During 2016, United Methodists elected a bishop who is a same sex married lesbian; although that is contrary to the denominational rule book.

  6. Pat Capuano says:

    Do you know how much the Diocese of SC has spent in legal fees on this issue?

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      I don’t have that information, but it is safe to say that the amount spent by the diocese is in the millions of dollars.

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