South Carolina dispute goes to court: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2013 p 6. January 17, 2013Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, South Carolina.
Tags: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Mark Lawrence
The Diocese of South Carolina has filed a lawsuit against the Episcopal Church seeking a ban on the use of its name and seal by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her allies, and asking the civil courts to confirm that it had lawfully withdrawn from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.
The 4 Jan 2013 complaint filed in the First Judicial Circuit Court in Dorchester County by the trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and 16 parishes asks the civil court settle the legal and ecclesiological question of the locus of authority in the Episcopal Church. Since taking office in 2006, Bishop Jefferts Schori has argued authority in the church is vested in the General Convention and her office, rejecting the traditional view that authority resides in the dioceses with limited powers delegated to the national church.
The 65-page complaint addresses similar issues before the Texas Supreme Court which is reviewing the case of the Diocese of Fort Worth and lower courts in California and Illinois addressing the secession of the dioceses of San Joaquin and Quincy.
The pleading alleges three causes of action by the diocese against the national church. It alleges the national church has claimed the “right to ownership and possession” of $500 million of diocesan and congregational property; the national church has unlawfully used the diocese’s name and registered service marks; and that the national church “persons under its direction and control” had appropriated the diocesan seal.
Mr. Thomas Tisdale, Bishop Jefferts Schori’s attorney in South Carolina, declined to comment on the pleadings. A spokesman for the presiding bishop told the Church of England Newspaper “the Episcopal Church has not received the legal papers in any such lawsuit in South Carolina and therefore cannot comment at this time.”
The pleading asks the court to step into the dispute between South Carolina and the national church following months of skirmishing that have included the 17 Oct 2012 suspension and subsequent dismissal of Bishop Mark Lawrence from the ministry by Bishop Jefferts Schori, the 15 Nov 2012 secession of the diocese, and the creation of a loyalist group in the diocese, acting under the authority of the presiding bishop, that has claimed the name, rights, property and interest of the diocese.
In a press statement reporting the news of the lawsuit, the diocese said it acted to prevent the national church from “hijacking” its name and assets.
“Like our colonial forefathers, we are pursuing the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs,” Bishop Lawrence said.
The Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary of South Carolina stated “many of our parishes are among the oldest operating churches in the nation. They and this Diocese predate the establishment of The Episcopal Church. We want to protect these properties from a blatant land grab.”
“We have existed as an association since 1785. We incorporated in 1973; adopted our current legal name … in 1987; and we disassociated from the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. The Episcopal Church has every right to have a presence in the area served by our Diocese – but it does not have a right to use our identity. The Episcopal Church must create a new entity.”