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Church coup in South Carolina: The Church of England Newspaper, November 18, 2012 p 7. November 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
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The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has backed an ecclesiastical coup against the Diocese of South Carolina and has purported to have prorogued the standing committee of the conservative evangelical diocese. A “Transitional Committee” in South Carolina loyal to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has formed a “steering committee” to act in the place of the diocese’s officers – its ecclesiastical authority – and has pledged to “continue” the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

On 11 Nov 2012 the steering committee announced that it was now in charge. “We write to assure you that The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is continuing,” under the authority of a “steering committee of faithful Episcopalians” who will “reorganize our continuing Diocese over the next few months. This committee will serve as the broad-based group in the Diocese that communicates with the Presiding Bishop during this period when the Diocese has no functioning ecclesiastical authority.”

The loyalist faction, writing in the name of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and acting under its seal,  said that at a March convention they would “begin the work of selecting a bishop, a new standing committee, and forging ahead with our missions and ministry.”

Last month Bishop Jefferts Schori suspended South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence with the intent to depose him from office within sixty days.  By using the church’s “abandonment canon”, created in the Nineteenth century to remove from the church’s roster clergy who had “gone over to Rome”, Bishop Jefferts Schori need not bring Bishop Lawrence to trial or prove the charges.

The diocese, however, does not recognize the authority of the church’s new disciplinary canons introduced last year. It also adopted a “poison pill” amendment to its constitution and canons so that if the national church attempted to remove its bishop for political reasons, the diocese would automatically withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  The 15 Oct 2012 announcement by the presiding bishop that she had suspended Bishop Lawrence, under South Carolina civil law, removed the diocese from the General Convention.

National church loyalists in South Carolina have been working in concert with New York and two retired bishops living in South Carolina: Charles vonRosenberg of Eastern Tennessee and James Buchanan of Western Missouri.

On 3 Nov, an advertisement affixed with the diocesan seal was placed in two newspapers by the clergy and vestry of two congregationsstating the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” “will continue” as part of the Episcopal Church with “new leadership and a new Bishop.”

On 7 Nov the same group, claiming now to be the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina wrote to the clergy of the diocese inviting them to attend a “clergy day” with Bishop vonRosenberg where they would receive a report from “the Steering Committee.”

A spokesman for the presiding bishop’s office told the Charleston Post & Courier it was in her authority to act as Bishop Lawrence had been suspended and she had removed the standing committee removed from office.

However, in a paper released on 11 Nov, the Anglican Communion Institute noted the actions taken by the presiding bishop and the loyalist group violated civil and canonical law.  The Episcopal Church has “no canonical basis for the actions that the Presiding Bishop and pro-TEC local parishes appear to be taking.”

The ACI further stated the “absence of any canons authorizing what the Presiding Bishop and others are doing is proof that TEC is operating under a profoundly flawed understanding of the church’s polity.”

Canon lawyer Allan Haley has argued this latest action may be a step too far, as the national church’s actions cannot be defended by reference to civil or church law. The South Carolina Supreme Court has repudiated the church’s national property canon in the state, he notes and the “Dennis Canon is as dead as a doornail in South Carolina, and so are any thoughts of an implied trust on diocesan property based on other Church canons and past relations”

“Moreover, the Diocese of South Carolina is organized as a corporation under South Carolina law. That fact guarantees its own independent, legal identity in the State’s courts and before all of its executive and legislative bodies, officers and agencies. For the Bandit Bishop and her minions to try to appropriate that identity for their own nefarious purposes is fully akin to what would be called ‘identity theft’ in any other context,” he said.

Bishop vonRosenberg told The Church of England Newspaper the loyalist faction would meet on 15 Nov – two days before the diocese gathers in a special convention to respond to the suspension of their bishop.  He denied that his support for the dissident group was fomenting schism or a violation of canon law. “A group of loyal Episcopal priests felt the need to gather, for mutual support.  They asked me to offer a homily during the liturgy they will share.  I had previously been licensed in this diocese by Bishop Lawrence.  I certainly felt able to respond to the invitation affirmatively, and I look forward to being with that group.”

“I imagine that things will become clearer soon.  I hope so, because there is much confusion at this point,” Bishop vonRosenberg said.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

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