THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE TRIAL
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
Yesterday, Tuesday, July 22, was the eleventh day of the trial. Yet again, we have our three daily eye-witness reports, from Steve Skardon (www.scepiscopalians.com), Holly Behre (www.episcopalchurchsc.org), and the independent diocese (www.diosc.com). And, once again, the first two are long, detailed, and useful.
The trial yesterday seemed to be only marking time. It was more of the same in the well-established pattern of the trial: Church lawyers trying to get witnesses and documents admitted while independent diocesan lawyers aggressively interrupting, delaying, blocking and keeping the judge on course.
There were two witnesses yesterday, one in person and one by written deposition and not in person. Mark Duffy took the stand. He is head of the Episcopal Church archives in Austin TX. He tried to introduce documents from the Church archives relevant to the case, but independent diocesan lawyers objected continuously and succeeded in blocking most of them. The judge's rationale for disallowing them was to remind everyone yet again that this is a case on neutrality and not on hierarchy. Neutrality means that the matter is treated as a property issue where both sides are treated equally, or neutrally. Hierarchy would mean that the court would have to recognize the superiority of the Episcopal Church over the local diocese. Judge Goodstein has repeated almost daily that she is conducting this trial on neutral principles alone. In my mind, that means beyond a doubt that she will rule in favor of the independent diocese. She as much as said so on Monday when she told the Church lawyers they could take up what they wished on appeal.
The second witness was not present in person. He was Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker, a retired priest now living in the upstate. He made a deposition in June stating that two members of the bishop's search committee talked with him about the possibility of becoming a candidate for bishop of the diocese of South Carolina during the search in 2005-06. He said they told him point blank that they were looking for someone to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church intact and with the property in hand. (One should recall that the committee wound up nominating three candidates, all known to be prominent opponents of the Episcopal Church. Two left the Church rather soon thereafter. The third, Lawrence, left the Church in 2012. In order to achieve consents in 2007, he had repeatedly assured nervous standing committees around the country that he had no "intention" of leaving the Church. In order to be consecrated bishop in 2008 he had taken an oath before God and the public that he would conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church.)
The trial could conclude today, or possibly tomorrow. It appears doubtful that the most important witness in the room will testify. For whatever reasons, both sides have refused to call Mark Lawrence to the stand. Whether Episcopal bishop vonRosenberg will testify remains to be seen.
As more evidence of the Episcopal Church side looking ahead beyond this pre-determined trial, word came yesterday that the Episcopal Church diocese, called the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Episcopal Church diocese of Ft. Worth in its recent appeal to the Court. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church also joined in support of the Episcopal diocese. Of course, a Supreme Court ruling on the matter would have a great impact on ongoing litigating in South Carolina and elsewhere.
It has been interesting to observe the way the two sides have handled public relations during the trial in St. George. The independent diocesan side has issued only brief daily reports with little helpful information about the daily proceedings. Their echo chamber on the Internet has also downplayed the trial carrying relatively little about it. After they shredded the first Church witness, McWilliams, they all but ignored the rest. Monday's star witness, Walter Edgar, barely got a mention anywhere in the anti-Episcopal Church blogosphere. On the other side, the pro-Church party has given us long and detailed daily reports and have tried to make the most of it. They have not gotten very far on the Internet because their echo chamber is much smaller and quieter. Why the difference in the way the two sides reported the trial? Two reasons: the trial will be decided by one person, Judge Goodstein, not by a jury and certainly not by the public; and, all signs, from Jan. 4, 2013, point to a foregone conclusion. Thus for the independent diocesan side, there was no reason to roil the waters let alone make a public relations campaign. I think everyone knows how this trial will end. It's just a matter of time before, as Judge Goodstein said, the Church attorneys will make an appeal.