Tuesday, November 21, 2017


(with updates)

Nov. 21, a.m.:
There are signs that the legal war may well end sooner rather than later.

On yesterday, Monday, November 20, 2017, the website virtueonline posted a letter from Bishop Mark Lawrence to the independent Diocese of South Carolina, dated November 20, 2017. Find it here . Scepiscopalians also posted it here . I have searched the Diocese of South Carolina's website and have not found the letter there. Apparently, this letter was sent internally in the diocese and was not meant for publication. It is public now.

The letter is very important and potentially game changing. Look in the second paragraph:

All parties to the case have previously discussed the timetable for a filing under the Betterments Statute. Legal counsel can give you best directions for how to proceed with that process.

What is the Betterments Statute? Find a description of it here .
As I read it (and remember I am not a lawyer), the Statute says people who occupy property belonging to someone else are entitled to recover the costs of whatever improvements they made when they occupied the property in the mistaken belief they owned it. In other words, the DSC congregations are entitled to receive repayment for whatever investment they made since the schism in the parish properties that have been returned to TEC/TECSC.

If I am reading this right, this is a monumental turning point in the history of the schism. It says that DSC has accepted the loss of the 29 parishes. However, I do not want to assume too much, and I caution people the same.

Here are points I see in this:

---If "all parties" have discussed the Statute, does this mean it has been discussed in mediation? Mediation is supposed to be confidential. If indeed it were discussed in the mediation, this may explain at least part of the reason for the recess, in order to give DSC time to research and list the repayments they are due.

---The Betterments Statute accepts the fact that the property in question belongs to someone else. The someone else in this case would be TEC/TECSC.

---This assumes that the people occupying the property identify themselves as separate from the property owners. DSC is trying to keep congregations together under DSC as these congregations leave the buildings.

---DSC is preparing people to leave the buildings of the 29 parishes in question.

---The only reason to leave the buildings is acceptance of the state supreme court decision. DSC accepts the fianality of the decision.

Just as importantly, and perhaps more so, is what Lawrence's letter does not say. It does NOT say:

---the SC supreme court decision was wrongly derived or in error. There is no recrimination whatsoever against the court, including Justice Hearn.

---DSC will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

---DSC will engage in the federal case ongoing in the U.S. District Court, in Charleston, under Judge Richard Gergel.

---DSC is exploring any other legal avenue to keep the properties.

A couple of other points in the letter:  ---it calls the SC supreme court decision "final." ---the DSC Standing Committee is to meet this morning (Nov. 21). Perhaps we will get a press release from DSC about Lawrence's letter soon.

Again, I do not want to read too much into this and I caution readers the same. However, the tone and the wording of this letter is a drastic change from the past. To me it says the DSC leaders accept the failure of their attempt to leave TEC with the properties in hand. This must be bitterly disappointing to them. They believed strongly in this. They put a great deal into it. It must be very hard for them to accept that their hopes and dreams have failed. I suggest everyone reread Lincoln's second inaugural address and that TECSC use it as the guide for the future: with malice toward none, with charity for all.

Lawrence's letter to the diocese of November 20, 2017, may well turn out to be the clear signal of the end. If so, it has been a long and hard time a coming. It is nearly five years now since DSC opened the war with its lawsuit against TEC on Jan. 4, 2013. Do you realize this war lasted longer than the American conduct of the Second World War, or longer than the U.S. Civil War? No wonder we are all exhausted. Today, I do not want even to think about the casualties and costs of this completely useless and avoidable conflict. It is too overwhelming. Let everyone on both sides just relish the thought that, at long last, and in all likelihood, peace is at hand.

UPDATE Nov. 21, 1:00 p.m.:

Scepiscopalians has brought our attention court papers filed by DSC in the circuit court. DSC has launched a new lawsuit against TEC/TECSC. Find the link to the papers here . On November 19, 2017, DSC filed a "Summons" and a "Complaint" demanding the application of the Betterments Statute. See particularly p. 4, # 10. My first question was, if the Statute were part of the mediation, why was it necessary for DSC to file a court action? Why could not this have been left as part of the mediation?

UPDATE Nov. 21, 5:00 p.m.:

On reading the new lawsuit, I am tempering my earlier optimism about an eminent settlement. I was unaware of the new suit when I wrote my morning post. I am very disappointed in the attitude of the breakaway side. They are not acting in good faith to make a timely compromise agreement. The mediation has already started and will resume on Dec. 4. This new litigation throws an ominous cloud over the upcoming mediation.

The new suit demands a jury trial. The point is to make The Episcopal Church and the Church diocese pay a great deal of money to get the property back. How much money was left undetermined. The most troublesome point to me regarded the entity of the diocese (p. 4-5 of Complaint). DSC is demanding payment for "improvements" but does not specify a time period, other than the start of the diocese in 1785 and the first incorporation in 1973. It sounds to me as if DSC may be demanding total payment of everything in entity of the diocese.

I have no knowledge of why DSC felt it necessary to file this new lawsuit. The state supreme court has already ruled the issues between the two dioceses. It is settled and final. Perhaps the motivation is to put pressure on TEC/TECSC in the mediation. Perhaps it is to buy time to prepare the congregations to find other places to meet. Perhaps it is just spite. I am sure there is a reason, but it is not apparent to me. Be sure to read Steve Skardon's post on this at scepiscopalians here .

I am not the only one disappointed in the actions of the sore losers. The Church diocese has issued a press release about the new suit. Find it here . Thomas Tisdale, the chancellor, expressed his feelings:  "This new filing is not only completely without merit, but unfortunate and inappropriate. It moves us no closer to the kind of resolution that restores unity to our diocese."  Bishop Adams appealed to the DSC leaders "to allow the people in the affected parishes to start having the necessary conversations with us to ensure that they can continue to worship in their churches. It is time to begin healing the division." Obviously, the DSC leaders want anything but healing. They may well be reverting to their old Vietnam Syndrome strategy: destroy the diocese to save it.

What all this tells me is that the leaders of DSC may not have accepted the reality of the state supreme court decision and are resolved to re-litigate the issues in another form (in the friendly circuit court, perhaps with Judge Diane Goodstein again) and to delay any settlement possible. They are obviously making it as difficult as possible for the Church diocese to regain the parishes and enact reconciliation. 

If DSC is really serious about this new lawsuit, rather than just using it as a bargaining chip, I must say my hopes for an early end to the devastating and long legal war are now deflated. The war goes on. It looks as if the DSC leaders will be dragged to a settlement only kicking and screaming. If so, TEC and TECSC will have no choice but to play hardball. 

It is with disappointment and sadness that I have to conclude now that the end of the legal war is not in sight.