Friday, January 1, 2016


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

(Original post, May 2014:)
A major legal victory is at hand for the Episcopal Church and her Diocese of San Joaquin. On May 5, 2014, Judge Donald S. Black, Judge of the Superior Court, County of Fresno, California, issued a "Tentative and Proposed Statement of Decision" in the case of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin against the secessionist diocese [Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin]. The trial was argued in Black's court in January of 2014. Allan S. Haley, the blogger a.k.a. "The Anglican Curmudgeon" was one of the lawyers present for the secessionist side.

Judge Black's language in his astute ruling is so clear and so important that it bears repeating here:

Diocesan bishops are at all times subject to and bound by the Church's Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. None of these documents authorizes a diocesan Bishop to waive, to declare null and void, or modify or amend any of the Church's Constitution and Canons. In fact, both Article 8 of the Church's Constitution and the ordination service in the Book of Common Prayer obligate every member of the clergy, as a condition of ordination, to subscribe to the "declaration of conformity": "I do believe the holy Scriptures of the old and new Testaments to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church." (p.5)

Black went on to find all in favor of the Episcopal diocese and to order return of all property along with a detailed accounting of all assets. This Tentative Decision will become the official one unless there is a good objection. Most tentative decisions become final. Of course the final decision is likely to be appealed, but the burden falls on the appellant to show good cause for overturning such a judgment. Thus, this ruling will be a landmark for Episcopal dioceses in their legal struggles against the secessionist, or breakaway factions.

This court ruling has been a long time coming. The majority of the old Diocese of San Joaquin voted to leave the Episcopal Church in December of 2007. Mark Lawrence, rector of St. Paul's, Bakersfield, at the time was on sabbatical and missed the vote at the diocesan convention. His parish, however, voted to join the secessionists. Since then, bit by bit, the Episcopal diocese has been regaining its properties, as St. Paul's, and is rebuilding after the destruction of 2007. This court decision is a great boost for the Episcopalians of San Joaquin.

What does this mean for South Carolina? Judges of South Carolina--are you paying attention? Courts all over the country are overwhelmingly ruling in favor of the Episcopal Church and her dioceses. Even in nearby states as Georgia and Virginia, the courts are saying the same thing: the Episcopal church is a hierarchical institution. Judge Black in Fresno has just ruled that dioceses are bound by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church just as parishes are bound to dioceses. It could not be any clearer.

Good Episcopalians of South Carolina take heart. Legal decisions are building up all around the country for the Episcopal Church. It may take many years, but in the end our beloved Church will prevail. Sometimes fighting for the right causes is costly, but it is still the right thing to do. For many years now, the Episcopal Church has fought the good fight for human rights for all of God's people. I for one could not be prouder of that record. So, we have to believe that in the end justice will prevail, in South Carolina as in San Joaquin.

UPDATE on June 4:

On May 21, the lawyers for the Anglican diocese of San Joaquin filed a six-page "Defendant's Request for Statement of Decision and Objections to Proposed Statement of Decision" with Judge Black in Fresno. The lawyers were Russell vanRozenboom, chancellor of the Anglican diocese, and Allan S. Haley, the blogger known as the Anglican Curmudgeon. Haley gave the details on his blog of May 22, 2014: . The Request is a list of twelve questions for Judge Black who will decide on whether to respond before issuing a final judgment.

On the next day, May 22, Bishop Eric Menees, of the secessionist Anglican diocese of San Joaquin, and his chancellor vanRozenboom held a meeting with Bishop David Rice, of the Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin, and his chancellor, Michael Glass. Menees reported:  Our meeting was warm and cordial, and was an important step in my decision-making about how we will be moving forward as a diocese. Both sides were able to make their current positions and desires clear, and both agreed to take some time to think about the discussions, talk about them with their Standing Committees - and in their case 815 - and then have another meeting in the near future. Allan Haley was not one of the lawyers present at this meeting.

The news of the conference of the two courtroom-adversary bishops may well signal the beginning of a settlement in San Joaquin. It would certainly be in the Anglican side's interest to make a negotiated deal considering that Judge Black's ruling was entirely favorable to the Episcopal diocese. Without a deal, they will be left without any of the rights, property, or assets of the pre-schism diocese. Of course, the Anglicans could appeal Black's decision to a higher court, but appeal is always an expensive and risky uphill climb.

The two bishops in San Joaquin are talking. They have had one meeting and plan to have another. Only time will tell whether the two sides can reach an amicable accord. Meanwhile, should not we all be glad that they are moving in the direction of peaceful coexistence rather than continued legal combat?

Any chance of this in South Carolina? Not at the present. The trial between the two sides is set to start on July 7. It will take some time before Judge Goodstein hands down a judgment. Then, whichever side loses will inevitably appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Considering the historical record, that court is likely to rule in favor of local sovereignty, that is, for the independent diocese. Time-wise, we are looking at another couple of years in state courts.

However, one should recall that there is an appeal pending by the Episcopal Church diocese in South Carolina to the federal court of appeals in Richmond. There has been no indication of when a judgment may come down from that court. A ruling favoring the Episcopal diocese could change everything in South Carolina.

Bishop vonRosenberg has talked nobly of a reconciliation between the Episcopal Church and the wayward former Episcopalians in South Carolina. That, of course, would be ideal. The secessionists in South Carolina, however, have shown absolutely no interest in a peaceful settlement. Lawrence's lawyers initiated the litigation against the Episcopal Church and have promoted it ever since. Odds are they will prevail in Goodstein's court and in the state supreme court. They would have no interest in a negotiated settlement until somewhere down the road a court rules against them, as Judge Black did against the Anglicans in San Joaquin. Since chances of a court ruling against Lawrence appear to be well into the future, there can be little hope at the moment of a San Joaquin-type meeting of the two bishops to bring the fighting to an end.

Nevertheless, is it not reassuring that somewhere in the country, a secessionist independent bishop and a loyalist Episcopal bishop are sitting down as adults to practice the Christian virtues of healing, reconciliation, and peace? They should be a model for bishops everywhere. 

UPDATE on August 18:

On August 18, 2014, Bishop Eric Menees, of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin announced that he planned to appeal Judge Black's ruling to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. This is the California state court of appeals serving the nine counties of central California. It is located in Fresno. This announcement reveals that his May 22 meeting with Bishop Rice failed to resolve the differences amicably. In his sharp letter to his faithful ( ) Menees placed the entire blame for the failure of a peaceful settlement as well as for the schism on the Presiding Bishop. In an appeal, the burden is on the appellant to show just cause for the appeal. We will await Menees's motion to the court. 

SECOND EDITION, (added Dec. 23, 2015):

The Anglican Diocese appealed Judge Black's ruling to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, in Fresno. Their lawyers, VanRozenboom and Haley submitted their briefs to the court ton April 2.

On April 7, 2015, the Episcopal Diocese went back to Judge Black to get an enforcement order to enact his decision. The Anglican Diocese wanted a stay placed on his decision pending the appeals court response. On April 16, 2015, Judge Black rejected the Episcopal Diocese's request.

The case is pending in the state appeals court, and Black's order is on stay.