Saturday, December 7, 2013






By Ronald Caldwell
(last revised on 12-31-13)
"Conspiracy" may be defined as a secret agreement among a group of people to commit unlawful act(s). The question at hand is:  Did Bishop Lawrence, James Lewis, Jeffrey Miller, and Paul Fuener carry out a conspiracy to remove the Diocese of South Carolina from the Episcopal Church and to defraud the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina of its lawful assets? This charge was recently presented in court.

On Nov. 25, 2013, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC) [the Episcopal Church diocese] filed papers in Circuit [state] Court stating:  (1)  "In or around 2006, Lawrence made an agreement with members of the Standing and Search Committees of the Diocese to lead a scheme to withdraw the Diocese from The Episcopal Church in return for their votes electing him Bishop of the Diocese;" and (2)  "Beginning in or around 2009, the Additional Parties began executing a conspiracy to take away the Diocese's assets and deprive Episcopalians loyal to The Episcopal Church of their property rights by manipulating the Diocese's corporate entity and The Trustees." In other words, ECSC asserted that 1- Lawrence and his allies in DSC conspired to remove DSC from TEC even before his election as bishop and 2- that they plotted to remove, illegally, all assets from TEC and DSC to DSC alone. If Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein admits this petition to join Mark Lawrence and the three others as parties and these serious charges of conspiracy and fraud against them are proven in court, the consequences for Lawrence and the others would be shocking.
A quick review of the litigation in the Circuit Court since its beginning, January 4, 2013, shows that Judge Goodstein has most often favored the DSC side, but not invariably. On March 19, DSC filed two motions before her against ECSC, one for summary judgment and one for contempt of court. Judge Goodstein has yet to rule on either of these. It was possible at first that she was awaiting a judgment from the pending litigation in the federal court of Charleston. The federal judge, C. Weston Houck, however, ruled on June 10 and again on August 23 that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction in this matter. Although the federal court has recognized her full jurisdiction in the matter, Judge Goodstein has still not granted DSC's two motions of March 19. Thus, it is true that while Judge Goodstein has favored DSC, she has not granted its every wish.
On July 11 Judge Goodstein set a timetable for the lawyers to use in the matter before her: 90 days for written "discovery" and an extra 120 days for depositions, ending on Feb. 5, 2014. After that a trial date is to be set. Thus, it was after July 11, that the ECSC lawyers began their "discovery" by  requesting certain records from DSC including presumably the previously sealed minutes of the DSC Standing Committee. The ECSC lawyers have not revealed what records were obtained or what evidence is in them, but from the tone of the court motions of Nov. 25, one can only suspect that there is incriminating material therein. DSC steadfastly refuses to open these records to the public. This leaves one wondering if there is something to hide.
After "discovery" began and DSC had to turn over certain records to the ECSC lawyers, DSC launched a new, bold public relations initiative to rally its base---and raise new money. They knew what was in the records they turned over in "discovery." Did they fear what was coming next? On Oct. 2, the Rev. Jim Lewis, the Canon to the Ordinary of DSC, issued a long article in The Charleston Mercury restating DSC's old standard but historically highly contorted propaganda pitch that this was a fight of biblical orthodoxy (DSC) against heresy (TEC), not an issue of homosexuality. This hyperbole, over-inflated to the point of nonsense, was meant to rationalize the fight (and its cost) as a necessary war, one to defend nothing less than the true religion of the past against the heretical falsifiers who had taken over and fatally corrupted the Episcopal Church. Lewis also continued to reiterate the threadbare theme that TEC "attacked" or "assaulted" DSC. Everyone now knows that it was DSC that first sued TEC in court and continued to compound this for two months before TEC entered its first court action against DSC. With nothing new to add, DSC seems to have no choice but to repeat, at higher decibels, the old themes that have worked in the past. 

At the very same time, according to, Alan Runyon, Lawrence's lead lawyer, was in St. Michael's of Charleston warning the communicants of dire consequences if they did not pay up a new sum of $150,000 for lawyers.

On Nov. 17, DSC published a special edition of Jubilate Deo reprinting Lewis's article almost intact [TEC went from being THE American expression of the Anglican Communion to AN American...] and appealing to the faithful of DSC to pay up at least $2 million in additional funds for lawyers. The newsletter had an air of hysterical desperation summarized in Bishop Lawrence's stunning assertion: "...our legal suit is a tempestuous battle against 'the spiritual forces of evil.'" [Who is "evil"? Tisdale? vonR? ECSC? TEC? Jefferts Schori? General Convention?] Has the bishop of DSC descended to the level of describing his courtroom opponents as "evil"? Does Lawrence expect his followers to turn on their Episcopalian friends as "evil"? (Bishop Lawrence would do himself and all of us all a service to explain what he meant in this statement.)
We do not know yet what the "discovery" has uncovered. ECSC's "Notice and Motion" of Nov. 25 stated:  "...discovery production has revealed that numerous personal and individual ultra vires, fraudulent, and intentional unlawful acts injuring TECSC were taken by each of the four additional parties..." Thus, both sides are acting as if the litigation has taken a much more serious turn. ECSC is charging that Lawrence has willfully broken the law. DSC is acting as if it is in worsening trouble. 
Back to the original questions.
1- Was there a conspiracy to remove DSC from TEC? We know from their own admission that the Standing Committee voted unanimously in a secret session with Lawrence on Oct. 2, 2012 to "disassociate" with TEC if TEC took any action of any kind against Lawrence. This would satisfy the dictionary definition of "conspiracy." Only later was this act revealed to the clergy, the Presiding Bishop, and the public. Did the conspiracy predate that? Did it go back even before the election of Lawrence as bishop in 2006-07? Even a cursory glance at the "Chronology" on this blog shows a steady and defiant movement of DSC away from TEC from before the time of Lawrence. There is a good deal of circumstantial evidence of a gradual removal of DSC. At the same time, there is no circumstantial evidence that Lawrence made any concession to keep DSC in TEC.
2- Was there a conspiracy to remove assets from TEC and DSC to DSC alone? The evidence in the court papers of Nov. 25 shows DSC blatantly violated the Constitution and Canons of TEC in issuing the quit claim deeds to the parishes. This was the main issue on which Lawrence was charged by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops of having abandoned the communion. This charge of Lawrence's serious wrongdoing seemed entirely clear to the DBB well before Lawrence was suspended from official duties in TEC.

Let us hope that for the sake of our understanding of the history of the schism in SC the documents hitherto hidden by DSC will see the light of day. The sooner the better for those who seek the truth. Sunshine is always the best disinfectant.

At this point we can only await Judge Goodstein's response to ECSC's official Motion of Nov. 25 to add the four names to the suit. If she agrees, we are in for a very serious turn in the litigation.

UPDATE---On Dec. 30, 2013, Judge Goodstein denied ECSC's motion to add the four names as superfluous. However, the charge of a conspiracy was strengthened by an affidavit (Dec. 18, 2013) of the Rev. Thomas M. Rickenbaker declaring that he had been approached in 2005 by the bishop's search committee that told him they wanted a new bishop to lead DSC out of TEC, and with the property. Lawyer Tisdale has indicated there will be more such items supporting his charge of long-term conspiracy.