Thursday, August 3, 2017


The storm has passed. It left a great deal of destruction in its wake, but it has moved on. The Episcopal Church and her diocese survived. The schismatic faction in South Carolina is now in disarray, confusion, and collapse. Yesterday's decision I believe was the turning point in the history of the schism. The fundamental issue of property has been settled---in favor of the national Church.

The dispute between the Church diocese and the independent diocese was primarily over two big issues: property and legal rights of the pre-schism diocese. Yesterday, the state supreme court settled the first issue and passed the second on to the United States District Court in Charleston for settlement.

The state supreme court overturned most of the circuit court decision of Judge Goodstein (Feb. 3, 2015). Only one justice, Kittredge, gave much recognition to Goodstein's decision.

The crux of yesterday's ruling was property. The court said 29 of the parishes that had claimed to break away from the Episcopal Church must return control of their properties to the Episcopal Church and the Church diocese (Episcopal Church in South Carolina). The court also said that 7 of the breakaway parishes could keep their properties trust-free. 

Some of the lesser agreements in yesterday's decision:

---The Episcopal Church diocese is the rightful owner of Camp. St. Christopher (Pleicones, Hearn, Beatty).

---Neutral principles may settle this case (Beatty, Kittredge, Toal).

---The Episcopal Church diocese is the legal heir of the pre-schism Diocese of South Carolina (Pleicones, Hearn, Beatty).

---The Dennis Canon created a trust in favor of the Episcopal Church (Pleicones, Hearn, Beatty, Kittredge).

---The United States District Court (federal court) must decide issues of copyright (e.g. which of the two dioceses is legally entitled to the rights of the pre-schism diocese) 


---DSC lawyers will probably petition the state supreme court for a rehearing. In my opinion, there is zero chance of a rehearing. All one has to do is read the five opinions of yesterday to know these justices will never want to touch this case again.

---Failing a rehearing, the DSC lawyers could appeal to the United States Supreme Court. On one hand, the Court has routinely rejected appeals against the Episcopal Church. On the other hand, the Court may want to clarify the problematical differences between deference to religious institutions and application of neutral principles. These two have produced a great deal of confusion among lower courts.

---The Episcopal Church and its Episcopal Church in South Carolina will have to decide how they will approach the return of their trust interests over the 29 parishes. I doubt that anything will happen along this line until after the federal court makes a ruling.

---The federal court (the United States District Court, in Charleston) is proceeding with the case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. In essence, vonR (or now, Adams) is asking the court to recognize him and not ML as the legal and legitimate bishop of the Episcopal Diocese. Judge Patrick Duffy is presiding. My guess is that the court will rule in favor of vonR. Here is why:

-Duffy must make a decision. He cannot defer to state court as Hocuk did because there is no more state court adjudication. It ended with yesterday's ruling.

-The U.S. Court of Appeals, in Richmond, has twice ordered the District Court judge to adjudicate the case under the Colorado River standard that requires adjudication of cases involving federal law except in rare circumstances.

-The state supreme court clearly deferred to the federal court to settle the dispute over copyright. What this really means is that the federal court must decide which of the two bishops is legally entitled to the pre-schism diocese, or, in other words, which of the two dioceses is the legal and legitimate heir of the pre-schism Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

-At the same time, the state supreme court, by majority, declared that the Episcopal Church diocese is the heir of the pre-schism diocese (and entitled to diocesan property such as Camp St. Christopher).

-Judge Duffy has already ruled three times in favor of the Episcopal Church diocese (in the matter of the Church Insurance Company).

My conclusion is that Judge Duffy is likely to rule in favor of the Episcopal Church diocese. If so, that will settle both of the basic problems, property and legal rights; and the Episcopal Church will prevail.

So, I sense that the state supreme court decision was the landmark turn in the long and terrible history of the schism in South Carolina. There is still a great deal to be settled, but the final field is beginning to emerge in view.

As I said yesterday, this is a sad and somber time. It is not a moment of rejoicing. A great and founding diocese of the Episcopal Church lies broken and bleeding. The destruction has been done and much of that cannot be undone. Nevertheless, I believe we all have to work to bring healing, reconciliation and peace where it is really needed.

I will return soon with more reflections on the state supreme court ruling. There have been 3,500 hits on this blog since the decision was released.