Legal win for breakaway American diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2013 p 6. February 7, 2013Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
Tags: Charles vonRosenberg, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Mark Lawrence
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina scored a significant victory in its fight with the national Episcopal Church last week after a South Carolina court issued a Temporary Restraining Order forbidding the national church and its allies in South Carolina from using the name, symbols or seal of the diocese.
The 23 Jan 2013 order handed down by Judge Diane Goodstein of the First Judicial Circuit Court blocked the national church from holding a rump meeting of the diocese on 26 January, forcing loyalists to gather as the “Episcopal Church in South Carolina” rather than the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”.
Canon lawyer Allan Haley noted that Judge Goodstein’s order had been “granted ex parte as a matter of urgency, and holds in place only until the Court can hear argument on a preliminary injunction pending trial of the matter” and will expire on 1 Feb 2013.
Mr. Haley stated that he expected the national church’s attorneys to offer a vigorous challenge to the TRO at the 1 Feb hearing. “But it would appear that the court has already found most, if not all, of the case against them,” he added.
On 4 Jan 2013 the trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and 15 congregations filed suit against the national church alleging that its agents had committed identity theft by using its name, symbols and seal and by holding out the Presiding Bishop the “steering committee” of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as the lawful diocesan ecclesiastical authority. The complaint further alleged the national church had slandered the title to diocesan and congregational property by stating it held an interest in all church property in South Carolina.
An amended complaint filed on 22 Jan, which added 16 additional congregations as plaintiffs, also asked for a TRO from the court. In its request for the TRO the diocese alleged that at the loyalists special convention Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her supporters “intended to make unauthorized corporate changes” to the diocesan constitution and canons, thereby causing the diocese harm.
The diocese stated by this order: “The judge effectively prevents TEC, a voluntary association, and the parishes who support it, from claiming to own or operate the Diocese of South Carolina, an entity that it insists it owns but whose very existence predates The Episcopal Church.”
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, who was elected at the special convention to lead those Episcopalians in South Carolina who would remain with the national church, told the Church of England Newspaper: “Our intention is to carry out our duties on behalf of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina when we meet at the special convention, and at the same time, we intend to continue to take care in using language which might be offensive to others.”
However others in the loyalist faction called the judge’s decision “bizarre” and suggested improper influence may have been used to sway her decision. The diocese’s lawsuit to protect its name and assets was “unprecedented”, “vindictive” and “mean spirit[ed]” it said, adding that Bishop Lawrence was unfit to serve in the Christian ministry and denounced the majority factions as being “the anti-gay diocese.”
The loyalist faction turned their ire on the judge as well. “Andrew Platte, an attorney for several of the plaintiff congregations and the PECDSC Incorporated, is a recent law clerk for Judge Goodstein and has taken a important role in the recent legal attacks on Episcopalians in the Diocese. He is an associate in the firm of Speights and Runyon, which played a significant role in convincing parishes in the Diocese that the Episcopal Church might be preparing to take their property away.”
Bishop vonRosenberg, however, took an irenic approach to the conflict. Speaking to the State newspaper, the provisional bishop-designate for loyalists in South Carolina said there was hope for reconciliation. “While we have diverged at this point in history on our paths, one day those paths will converge once again,” the bishop said.