Legal proceedings between the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth effectively reached their conclusion today as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal to a May 2020 decision issued by the Texas Supreme Court.
That unanimous ruling affirmed ownership of properties throughout the Diocese administered by the diocesan Corporation and worth tens of millions of dollars. The diocese separated from the Episcopal Church in 2008 and is among the founding jurisdictions of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) organized in 2009.
The Episcopal Church argued that in severing their relationship with the denomination, officials in the Fort Worth diocese were no longer its legal officers. Diocesan officials including Reed and his predecessor, Bishop Jack Iker, argued successfully that the Episcopal Church could not unilaterally remove the elected officers of a Texas corporation.
“Today’s decision marks a turning point for us as a Diocese,” Bishop Ryan Reed stated in a diocesan press release. “After directing so many resources to this dispute, we can now put our entire focus on Gospel ministry and Kingdom work.”
You can watch or listen to my interview with Bishop Reed following the May Texas decision here.
Episcopal Church officials today stated that they had pursued litigation in 2009 as “steward of the legacy of generations of faithful Episcopalians.”
“Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry of The Episcopal Church 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 diocese of the Church in as uninterrupted a manner as possible,” wrote the Episcopal Church’s Provisional Bishop of Fort Worth Scott Mayer in a press statement.
The case has legal ramifications outside of the Episcopal Church. The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and officers of the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) in January signed on to an Amicus Brief in support of the Episcopal Church appeal.
The Supreme Court has been reluctant to grant a hearing on church property cases, leaving such decisions in the past generation to state courts. That has resulted in an uneven patchwork of decisions about the ownership of church properties across several jurisdictions.
Episcopalians and departing Anglicans have been in legal conflict in several parts of the United States as churches and five separate dioceses disaffiliated with the denomination in the mid-2000s onward.
Those departing to join the ACNA have won lawsuits in Texas and Illinois, while losing lawsuits in New York, Virginia and California. A South Carolina case is ongoing: a district court handed down a ruling favorable to Anglicans in June 2020, which now awaits state Supreme Court review.
Fort Worth is the second largest diocese by membership in the ACNA and counts 55 congregations. The diocese, which holds to an Anglo-Catholic form of churchmanship, disagreed with the direction of the Episcopal Church in matters of scriptural authority and human sexual expression.
A trial court will next move to enforce the ruling and to consider related matters severed from the original suit filed against the Diocese in April 2009.
“We are grateful for the thousands of prayers said over these 12 years, for the faithful leadership of Bishop Jack Iker, the excellent work of our legal team, the solid foundation laid for our Diocese nearly 40 years ago, and most of all for God’s gracious provision with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit,” diocesan officers wrote in a statement.