Wednesday, August 2, 2017



The South Carolina Supreme Court has just issued its decision on the Church case. See it at

The decision is split.

I will return momentarily with my summary and analysis.

My First Response:

Upon my first scan, the decision is split and mixed. Here is the main point I see at cursory glance:

The Episcopal Church regains the 28 local churches that overtly affirmed the Dennis Canon.

The 7 other local churches that did not affirm Dennis are allowed to keep their properties. The 7 are:

Christ the King, Pawleys Island

St. Matthew's, Darlington

St. Andrew's Land Trust, Mt. Pleasant

St. Andrew's, Mt. Pleasant

St. Paul's, Conway

Prince George Winyah, Georgetown

St. John's, Florence

St. Matthias, Summerton

This means that all the great churches as St. Philip's, St. Michael's, St. Helena's, Church of the Cross, Holy Cross etc. are subject to the Dennis Canon and therefore under the authority of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina. St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant is now part of another diocese (ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas). This would leave 6 local churches in the breakaway diocese.

I will return soon with more thoughts on the decision.

My Second Response.


Here is my understanding of the decision now. I reserve the right to change this as I reread the document.

---The Court split 3 (Pleicones, Hearn, Beatty)-2 (Kittredge, Toal) to enforce the Dennis Canon in the 28 local parishes that had explicitly adopted the Canon. This would mean the Episcopal Church and Church diocese are indeed entitled to legal trust power over these local parishes. In other words, the quit claim deeds Lawrence issued are ineffective.

---The Court split 3 (Beatty, Kittredge, Toal)-2 (Pleicones, Hearn) to say that the 7 local parishes that had not explicitly adopted the Dennis Canon can keep full title to their local properties.

---The 3 (Beatty, Kittredge, Toal)-2 (Pleicones, Hearn) majority said that the Dennis Canon alone could not establish a trust interest for the Episcopal Church and Church diocese. In order for the Canon to have legal effectiveness, the local parish would have to give explicit recognition to the Canon.

---The majority said that the question of control of local diocesan rights such as titles must be resolved by the United States Court (Judge Duffy is now presiding over the federal case in which Bishop vonRosenberg is suing Mark Lawrence for rights of the Episcopal bishop of South Carolina).

---The 3-2 majority declared that the Church diocese is the rightful heir of the pre-schism Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (but the U.S. Court must settle the issues there).

Two big wins for TEC and TECSC:  1-return trust control over 28 local churches that had voted to leave TEC.  2-state court (apparently unanimously) deferred to the federal court the decision of the legal status of the diocese. This gives the advantage to TEC and ECSC as federal courts typically lean to the national institution.

On the whole this is a major but not total victory for the Episcopal Church and her diocese and a major defeat for the independent diocese.

Judge Duffy's ruling, in the federal court, should end the litigation in South Carolina. (The state supreme court decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and Duffy's decision could be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond.) If Duffy rules in favor of the Church, the Episcopal Church and its diocese would resume the rights, properties and assets of the pre-schism diocese. However, the independent diocese could still continue in the 7 parishes that have been granted their local properties by the state supreme court. If Duffy rules in favor of Lawrence, presumably the breakaways would keep possession of the rights, properties and assets of the old diocese as they have now. However, they would hold just the 7 local parishes that have been allowed to keep their local properties.

There is a great irony here. In June of 2015, the Episcopal Church offered an out-of-court settlement to grant all the 35 local parishes in question full rights to their properties and independence. The diocesan office immediately and furiously announced a rejection. Thus, the 28 local parishes that have now lost control of their property could have had full control over the buildings, lands, and assets. 

I will return with more thoughts on this monumental event.

My Third Response.

What does today's decision mean for the schism?

(and what does it mean for my history of the schism that I just recently turned in to be published? Wouldn't you know the court would rule right after I turned in the manuscript? I have sent an urgent message to my editor asking if it is still possible to make at least a small addition to reflect the decision.) Update-the editor just told me I can make a small addition, just in the nick of time before printing.

---This is a major victory for the Episcopal Church. The court majority ruled that the Church is hierarchical. 

---This is the first ruling by a state supreme court in the dispute between the Episcopal Church and the five dioceses that purported to leave the Church. The essence of the decision is to recognize the sovereignty of the Church over the dioceses. This will give great weight in the law to the Church side.

---The decision did not uphold the Dennis Canon in and of itself. The majority said that the Canon was effective in the 28 local parishes only because those parishes had given explicit recognition to the Canon. In other words, in South Carolina, the Episcopal Church cannot unilaterally establish a trust without the permission and action of the local property holder. To my knowledge, no court in the U.S. has recognized the effectiveness of the Dennis Canon in and of itself.

---Today's decision does not return anything to anybody. It was a decision in principle, not in specifics. Presumably, the Church diocese may have to get court orders to enact the decision in each parish. 

---The state court deferred to the federal court to settle the question of which of the two dioceses is the legitimate one, that is, entitled to the rights, titles, symbols, and assets of the pre-schism diocese. However, the majority today made it plain they consider the TEC diocese to be the legal one. This is bad news for the breakaways.

---The state supreme court surprised me in some ways. As it turned out, Justice Pleicones took the lead for the Church side and made as powerful a case for the Church as imaginable. Justice Hearn really echoed, and not as well, Pleicones, for the Episcopal Church. On the opposite side, the strongest position was made by Justice Kittredge who was completely in favor of the breakaways. He made a stronger presentation even than Justice Toal who also favored the locals. Justice Beatty turned out to be the "swing" vote between the two resolute and opposite blocks. He is the one who moved the balance over to the Church side by deciding that the local parishes that had affirmed the Dennis Canon were subject to it while the eight that had not approved it were not subject to it. It was his vote that decided the case. 

---In my view, this is the turning point of the history of the schism. The Episcopal Church has won. The breakaways have lost. All odds are the federal court in Charleston will affirm the state supreme court position. 

I should caution all, however, that this is not a moment of rejoicing. Quite the opposite. This is an appropriate time to grieve over the destruction and loss of a once great diocese. The grand old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, a founding member of the Episcopal Church, lies shattered, broken by the willful acts of its own misguided leadership. The largest part, the independent diocese of Mark Lawrence, has just suffered a major defeat, and in a lawsuit that it itself had initiated. There is division, resentment, hurt, and loss all around. This is not likely to go away anytime soon, but today's decision may well be the beginning of a healing, a binding up of the wounds, that will restore at least some of the life of the old diocese. 

I believe we have reached a turning point in a long road. Let's believe that road leads home.

I will return with more reflections on this landmark day in church history.

My Fourth Response.

Having reviewed the parishes included in the lawsuit, I have found 29 that the state supreme court has determined to be subject to the Dennis Canon. That means trust interest of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has returned to the properties of these parishes:

All Saints,  Florence

Christ/St. Paul's,  Yonges Island

Church of the Cross,  Bluffton

Church of the Holy Comforter,  Sumter

Church of the Redeemer,  Orangeburg

Holy Trinity,  Charleston

St. Luke's,  Hilton Head

St. Matthew's,  Fort Motte

St. Bartholomew's,  Hartsville

St. David's,  Cheraw

St. James, Charleston (James Island)

St. Paul's,  Bennettsville

Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston

Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island

Church of the Epiphany,  Eutawville

Church of the Good Shepherd, Charleston (West Ashley)

Church of the Holy Cross,  Sullivans Island

Church of the Resurrection,  Surfside

St. Philip's,  Charleston

St. Michael's,  Charleston

St. Jude's,  Walterboro

St. Helena's, Beaufort

St. Paul's,  Summerville

Trinity Church,  Myrtle Beach

Trinity Church, Pinopolis

Trinity Church, Edisto Island

Christ Church,  Mt. Pleasant

St. John's,  Charleston (Johns Island)

Old St. Andrew's, Charleston (West Ashley)

I will return with more reflections.