Saturday, August 26, 2017


This moment has been a long time coming. It was thirty-five years ago that the first seeds of schism were planted in South Carolina, fourteen years since the Diocese of South Carolina began to veer away in earnest after the Robinson affair, thirteen years since the first parish (All Saints of Pawleys Island) bolted the Episcopal Church, nine years since Mark Lawrence became bishop, nearly five years since the schism, and four years since the law suits began. We waited on the circuit court trial for eighteen months. We waited again for a seemingly interminable twenty-two months for the South Carolina Supreme Court to render its decision. If you are now feeling terminal fatigue, you have every reason to feel that way; and you are not alone. We are all exhausted.

Thus, it is with a certain amount of blessed relief that we now face what appears to be the beginning of the end of the sorry legal war between the two sets of former friends, both claiming to be good Christians, both claiming to be the true heirs of the grand old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Scandal. The litigation in state court is almost certainly going to end in the next few months, and probably sooner rather than later. The federal court proceedings will end probably within a year or so. I will go out on a limb and say that a year from now, August of 2018, the litigation will be over. I believe the chances are better than even that the Episcopal Church and her diocese, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina will prevail in both state and federal courts. 

As for the state supreme court, the burden is now on the DSC attorneys to prove that there were errors in the August 2 decision. That is a tall order. If it turns out that the five justices who rendered the decision will sit in judgment on the Petition for Rehearing (due Sept. 1), it is inconceivable they would change their opinions. Justices/judges almost never reverse their written decisions on their own. DSC could appeal the SCSC decision to the U.S. Supreme Court but it is highly doubtful that SCOTUS would take the case. The entire case of DSC rested on state corporate and property law.

As for the federal court, there has been a dramatic change. Judge Richard Gergel has taken the case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. He was the third federal judge to be assigned the matter since Judge Weston Houck's death in July. Gergel is a no-nonsense, fair, reasonable, and highly efficient judge who acts asap. What a refreshing change. He is almost the opposite of Judge Houck who seemed simply overwhelmed by it all. Time and again Houck simply deferred to the state courts, even when he was directly ordered to proceed by the U.S. appeals court. 

Gergel had the case only a few days when he sprang into action calling the lawyers in, and on August 8, issuing a scheduling order. Discovery is to be finished by December of 2017. Trial is to be held in March of 2018. Where has Gergel been all this time? Why do not we have more judges like this? A week after the scheduling order, on August 15, the Episcopal Church filed a motion with Gergel to be added to the case along side the Church diocese. Seven days later (Aug. 22), DSC lawyer Henrietta Golding filed a response strenuously objecting to the inclusion. The very next day (Aug. 23), Gergel issued an eight-page "Order and Opinion" granting TEC's motion and rejecting every one of Golding's arguments. 

Probably the most important part of Gergel's Order was his firm resolution to adjudicate this case. It involves federal law in a federal court. He pointed out that every one of the five state supreme court justices deferred to the federal court to resolve the federal issue of trademarks. With this, Gergel signaled loudly and clearly that he fully intended to resolve this dispute and to do so with dispatch. If Gergel's early thinking is any sign for the future, the TEC side has every reason to be optimistic. I cannot imagine Gergel will let this case last any longer than necessary.

Is an out-of-court compromise settlement possible? Anything is possible, but, in my opinion, it will not happen here. The Church offered a generous settlement in 2015. The DSC leaders rudely threw it back in the lawyers' faces. If the parishes had taken the offer, they would now have full ownership and control over all parish properties. At this point the Church has the advantage and the momentum. I see no reason for the Church to make a settlement, but I am only speaking for myself.

Since the August 2 decision returning 29 parish properties to the Episcopal Church, along with the diocesan properties, the DSC leaders have collapsed into despair flailing about for guidance. Their problem is of their own making. All along they consistently declared every legal decision to be God's will. Now they are a loss to explain the state supreme court's ruling. They have no explanation.

The problem of DSC now is how to retain institutional integrity. Soon, the clergy and communicants of DSC will be given a choice of staying with the buildings and returning to TEC, or leaving the buildings and going off to form churches in exile. It is a terrible choice. The DSC leaders are desperate to keep the local churches together.

One of the great ironies in the history of the schism concerned local rights. The DSC leaders insisted all along that the local parishes would control themselves and their properties, hence the quit claim deeds. However, from the start the DSC leaders did all they could to bind the local parishes under the control of the diocese. For a long time before the schism, they worked hard to keep the parishes loyal to the diocese. At the time of the schism, they leaned on the parishes to sign a "Commitment" form to make the parishes stay in line with DSC. When they filed their lawsuit against TEC, they bound 35 parishes into the suit thus making it impossible for them to do anything but support DSC. In 2015, they summarily rejected TEC's offer of settlement, and did so apparently without consulting the parishes. For years now, the DSC leaders have made it as hard as they could for the local churches to act independently thus contradicting the stated reason for the schism.

On the most fundamental level, the schism was not about property, or local rights. It was basically about enacting the DSC's vision about the Anglican Realignment. They believed that TEC had devolved into hopeless secular humanism (as approving of homosexuality) and must be either killed or rendered into impotence as an American cultural force. The "Realignment" would raise up an "orthodox" version of Anglicanism in America to replace the fatally corrupt old Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church in North America came along in 2009 as the "orthodox" replacement for TEC. 

The problem with this scenario is that the Anglican Realignment has failed. The Episcopal Church remains. The Episcopal Church is firmly in place as the Anglican branch in the United States. The Anglican Communion, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, have rejected the claim of ACNA to be an Anglican province. It is neither Anglican nor a province. Any pretense to either is only self-proclamation. Thus, the DSC's schism from the Episcopal Church has been a failure. DSC is now outside of the structure of the Anglican Communion with no hope of ever being in the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Realignment has failed. Not every idea that sounded good to start with turns out to be so (we have all been there).

The DSC leaders have called for a day of prayer and fasting on August 30. This is a slightly pathetic, obviously desperate, last minute appeal to Heaven to save them. It is a bit late. Interesting that they called for no such appeal before the state supreme court hearing. At that time, they were just sure God would carry them to victory. I suggest that all good Christians pause on August 30, and join in the prayers to Heaven, praying that God's will be done and that everyone on both sides will find the courage and faith to accept whatever finally happens in the courts.

In the end our fervent prayer should be that this beginning of the end of litigation will also mean the beginning of the end of the schism, the most destructive event in the 222 year history of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


We are now two weeks out from the August 2 decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court that ordered the return of 29 of the 36 parish properties in question. Where do we stand now? What is likely to happen in the foreseeable future?

One truth is sure. There continues to be a tremendous amount of interest in this matter. This blog has had 12,000 "hits" since the decision. I cannot speak for either side, of course, but I can relay what I see as happening.

The next step will occur on September 1, 2017, when the independent diocese (DSC) is scheduled to deliver its Petition for Rehearing at the SC Supreme Court. This will ask the justices to reconsider their August 2 decision. From what I understand now, the five justices who wrote the decision will sit in judgment on the Petition for Rehearing (rather than the 5 present justices). If this is true, it is extremely unlikely the Court will grant a rehearing. The last thing in the world they would want to do is reopen this case. If DSC is turned down, they can then make an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Again, it is most unlikely SCOTUS would take the case. Thus, all signs indicate this case is over. The reality is that the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is going to regain the properties of the 29 parishes. There is virtually no chance this is not going to happen.

Meanwhile, there is a separate avenue of litigation, in federal court. The case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence (filed in March 2013) is now in the United States District Court, in Charleston, before Judge Richard Gergel. This judge is well known to be one who moves matters along expeditiously. We know that the lawyers are now busy preparing for this trial. This court should be moving along in the next few months toward resolution. In view of everything, including the SC Supreme Court decision, the federal court will most likely come down on the side of the Episcopal Church. The suit is to ask the court to declare vonR (now Adams) and not Mark Lawrence as the legal Episcopal bishop and entitled to all that that means.

In the past two weeks, the the two sides have not changed their initial response to the August 2 decision. The Church diocese really can do nothing until September 1. Presumably, the Church lawyer, Tom Tisdale, will be allowed to file a counter claim to the DSC Petition for Rehearing.

DSC continues to be in collapse. Disarray and confusion abound as the leadership remains in shock and disbelief, even denial of what has happened. Apparently, the pall of death hung over the DSC clergy conference on August 9. Accord to Kendall Harmon, Alan Runyan, the lead lawyer, showed up looking as if he had been run over by two big trucks, and Mark Lawrence declared this was the day he never though would come. One can only imagine the despair of the hundred or so attendant priests, most of whom stand to be removed from their churches.

It seems to me the fundamental problem with DSC is that the leaders had long ago established the imperative that events were God's will. For two and a half years, they won every contest between the two dioceses in the courts and declared every one to be God's will. At one time Lawrence even declared his foes in court to the "the spiritual forces of evil." God was on their side and surely would lead them to final victory. Apparently they had convinced themselves that God would guide the state supreme court to rule for DSC. To be consistent then, DSC must declare the August 2 decision to be God's will. This has thrown DSC into total confusion. Either God guides the court decisions or he does not. What can they say now, that he guides some decisions and not others? Then, who is to say which decisions are God's will and which are not? The Aug. 2 decision greatly weakens DSC's assertion that God is on their side in court against TEC.

Amidst all this collapse, DSC is desperate to keep institutional cohesion. There are 104 clergy in DSC who have been released from the vows in TEC and 13,000 communicants caught in the 29 parishes at stake. What are these people to do? How can DSC keep these clergy and communicants in DSC when it is losing the vast bulk of its local church properties (DSC keeps 6 local churches, none in Charleston or vicinity) not to mention Camp St. Christopher, diocesan headquarters, and all legal rights and assets of the old diocese? As Bishop Iker said, this is a "horrendous loss." 

Perhaps the best indication of the state of affairs in DSC now comes from the August 13 sermon of Kendall Harmon, available on his website, TitusNineOne, post "Kendall Harmon's Sermon..." of August 15. Everyone should listen to it to understand the position of DSC today. KH is now as he has been for 30 years, in the inner core of the diocesan leadership. What he says is what the DSC core leadership is thinking. In his sermon, three items stood out:

1. KH continued what DSC started from the first, doubt about the clarity of the decision. He declared it "far from over" since there were five separate opinions and the majority three came at it from two different perspectives. What he meant was that the decision was far from clear. Besides, don't believe anything in the media, he said, it is all "nutty" [fake news?]. One interesting point was what KH did not say. He did not mention anything about "conflict of interest" or Justice Kaye Hearn. His silence on this may well indicate DSC is backing away from pressing this point with the SCSC (if so, a wise decision). As I said before, allowing 29 congregations to believe they still have a good chance of keeping their properties away from TEC is cruel.

2. KH reiterated that the basic issue at stake was "sexual ethics and morality" (i.e. homosexuality). He said TEC committed an "unforgivable sin" by promoting acceptance of homosexuality while people like him were "hounded out of TEC." Interesting that when KH entered the diocese thirty years ago, his first big crusade was about sexuality. It was to go to war against a booklet called "Sexuality: A Divine Gift." He won. Here, thirty years later, the topic is still sexuality.

Recall that right after the schism of 2012, DSC insisted that the break had had nothing to do with sexuality. It was supposedly all about "God not Gays," that is, about theology, not sexuality. Of course, they asserted incredibly, DSC was not against homosexuals. KH is now returning to the truth. The schism was very much about homosexuality.

Why return to the homosexuality issue now? Simple. For many years, the DSC leaders dragged out the homosexuality/transgender theme when they needed an emotional issue to unify the diocese. Homophobia was the wedge issue to separate the faithful from TEC and it worked well every time. Perhaps it can work again at this time. If they ever needed to unify the diocese, it is now.

3. God is on our side theme. The DSC leaders have asserted this from day one. It is nothing new, but the urgency is new. "We have to stay together," "We have to support one another," KH pleaded. The good us (DSC) against the evil them (TEC) theme worked very well in the past. Perhaps it can work again, but now it has a whole new meaning as 29 properties return to TEC.

Thus, the DSC leadership is now thrashing about for ways to keep the disintegrating diocese together. It will be a hard task.
One overlooked but important part of the August 2 decision was validation of the conspiracy charge. In their decisions, Justices Pleicones and Hearn declared the schism to be the result of a conspiracy, although they did not use that term. The meaning was the same. They said the diocesan leadership had consciously and deliberately moved the dioceses in steps away from TEC. One will recall that Church lawyer Tom Tisdale had raised this charge in the circuit court only to be immediately dismissed by Judge Goodstein. We know from DSC's own documents that there was a secret plan beforehand to "disaffiliate" the diocese from TEC. We just do not know how far back in time it went. 

If there were a conspiracy as numerous legal minds are now charging, it has failed. That is the stark but unmistakable reality of the August 2 ruling. If the conspiracy were a mutual deal of making Lawrence bishop in return for his taking DSC out of TEC with the properties in hand, it has all but ended in failure. Lawrence did not secure the properties for DSC. The vast majority of parish properties will return to TEC.

The failure of the conspiracy should make everyone involved in this schism reevaluate his or her place in all of this. Over a hundred clergy and 15,000 communicants attached themselves to what they believed to be a rising star. It turnout out to be only a shooting star, a meteor, that is now crashing and burning. These thousands of trusting people now have to decide what they are to do about this.

I think everyone should go back to the original claim and reconsider the issue of God's will. It just may be that the Holy Spirit did indeed speak through the five justices of the state supreme court. It just may be that their decision IS God's will. That is something thousands of people must now contemplate and decide for themselves. Let us all pray that the people of faith now caught in the tragedy of the schism may find peace in whatever resolution they discern in this "horrendous" state of affairs.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017



Wipf and Stock Publishers have announced the publication of Ronald James Caldwell's A History of the Episcopal Church Schism in South Carolina. It is now available for order.

The Wipf and Stock website ( will have the book available for order by Saturday, August 12. The cost is $62.00 plus shipping. If you order from the website, there is a 20% discount. This is the paperback edition. The hardback and e-book editions will be released in a few weeks.

If you cannot wait until Saturday, or wish not to order online, you can order by telephone. This can be done now at Wipf and Stock, 541-344-1528.

For the book cover, see the post "Book Cover" of August 3, 2017.

For the first few pages of the Preface, see the post "Forthcoming..." July 27, 2017.

To see the first pages of the chapters and index, look at "Notes---June 30," posted on July 1, 2017.

This book is the product of four years of research and writing. I examined what I believe to be all the publicly available pieces of primary and secondary evidence, some 2,500 in all. I cited 900 of these in 2,200 footnotes. The text is 512 pages. It is an in-depth examination of the causes, nature, and results of the schism in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 2012. 

At long last, the book is ready and available for purchase.


A week has gone by since the South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision on the Church case on August 2, 2017. It is timely to ask, where do matters stand now, one week on? In one way, nothing has changed. In another way, everything has changed.

The decision electrified, even shocked, the Episcopal/Anglican world. Many, perhaps most, people did not anticipate the outcome. No one can quantify it, but I think the consensus of opinion was that DSC would win a narrow victory mainly because Chief Justice Toal would convince two or three other justices to join her in defending her signature achievement, the famous All Saints decision of 2009. It is taking awhile for the reality to settle in on people. There has certainly been a great interest in the decision. This blog has had 10,000 "hits" in the past week. 

The reactions of the two sides have been, unsurprisingly, quite different. On the Church side, Bishop Adams delivered a muted response mainly appealing for reconciliation. The clerical and lay leaders of ECSC met in Charleston on August 4, but, as far as I can tell, decided nothing new. It is a waiting game while the other side prepares to enter a Petition for Rehearing before the Court, due by September 1. (I doubt seriously that DSC will get this. I am not clear if the 5 justices who made the decision will act on the Petition, or whether it will be the present 5 justices. I am trying to find out. If the earlier 5, they will certainly reject the Petititon. It is inconceivable that after 22 months of brutal warfare, they would touch this still highly radioactive atomic bomb. If the later 5, there is only a slightly better chance. At any rate, I think it is extremely unlikely there will be a rehearing.) 

On the secessionists' side, the initial response to the decision of August 2 was stunned disbelief. Bishop Lawrence issued a letter unlike any I have seen from him before. Gone was any combativeness. Gone was the proclamation of God's will. Gone was any characteristic brash confidence. Gone were any metaphors of war against the other side. Instead, he admitted to "despondency." He talked of people who had "walked away from the church buildings." The Rev. Jeff Miller told his congregation in St. Philip's of Charleston last Sunday, "I was shocked...I thought we were never going to lose." The Rev. Marshall Huey wrote to his faithful at Old Saint Andrew's: "To say that I am stunned by the Supreme Court ruling yesterday is an understatement." One may reasonably assume Miller and Huey were speaking for the clergy of the diocese. 

Why the overconfidence in DSC? Good question. Part of the answer lies in the fact that for two and a half years after the schism of 2012, the DSC lawyers controlled the field of the litigation. In the state court they won recognition right off of the legal rights of DSC to continue the pre-schism diocese then won a smashing and total victory in the circuit court trial of July 2014. Alan Runyan's performance there was one to behold in awe. He conducted that event as a virtuoso playing a fine violin.

Ah, but therein lies the problem. Judge Goodstein's decision, which sounded to me an awful lot like Runyan's presentations, was too clever by half. It was over the top. It was so wide and so thin that the Supreme Court justices could hardly wait to pounce on it. The demolition was led by Chief Justice Toal herself who could barely restrain her ridicule. Not one justice arose in Goodstein's defense.

Over in the federal court, Judge Houck repeatedly deferred to the state court and essentially refused to have anything to do with the case even though he was directed twice by the U.S. Appeals Court to adjudicate it. Runyan held the field there too.

Thus, going into the state supreme court in September of 2015, the DSC lawyers must have been feeling highly confident of impending victory. This confidence may well have been why the DSC leadership rejected TEC's offer of a compromise settlement (the parishes for the diocese) in June of 2015. The DSC leadership rejected it out of hand, and with disdain. (I wonder what the parishes think of that now.)

Overconfidence is the only logical explanation I can come up with for why Runyan did not ask Justice Kaye Hearn to recuse herself from the case. To my knowledge, Runyan has never given a public explanation of why he failed to ask for Hearn's recusal. Obviously the other justices had no problem with Hearn staying on the case. They did not see recusal as an issue; and they certainly knew she was a member of a loyalist Episcopal congregation. So, the idea now that DSC should ask the supreme court to get Hearn to recuse herself retroactively is disingenuous. That ship has sailed, train left the station, horse is out of the barn, insert your favorite phrase here ___.  It is just not going to happen, and for good reason.

I imagine too that religion had something to do with the overconfidence. The DSC leaders convinced their followers, and apparently themselves, that God was on their side. They said so in so many words time and again whenever they won any legal success. It was always God's will. If they prayed, worshiped, fasted etc. enough, surely God would lead them to final victory in the state supreme court. Surely He would not abandon His people. When the court ruled against them, the DSC leadership was, really for the first time, at a loss to explain it. Hence, the disbelief and shock. Notice there has been no mention of God's will lately.

The DSC leaders have been loath to accept the reality of what has happened. The DSC official statements that have appeared over the last week suggested the decision was inconclusive, that it was deeply divided, and even wide open to reinterpretation. This is unfortunate. To promote the idea among the faithful that the court decision has a good chance of being overturned and that the parishes might well keep the properties, is cruel to the people in the pews. The reality is:  1-the decision of August 2 is clear-cut; the majority said the 29 parish properties must return to TEC; 2-there is only an extremely small chance this decision will change. 

One who clearly grasped the reality of the moment was Bishop Jack Iker, of the schismatic diocese of Ft. Worth. He wrote the day after the decision: "This means that the Diocese and Bishop Mark Lawrence lose everything else--the diocesan offices, the Cathedral, the Bishop's residence, their camp and conference center, all those historic colonial churches and rectories in Charleston, and so on. It is a horrendous loss."

The bottom line is that it is virtually certain that the Episcopal Church will regain control over the 29 parish properties in question. The DSC leaders' problem now is not how to keep the buildings, but how to keep the people. According to the last official figures (2015), there were 13,302 active members ("communicants") in these 29 parishes. The real question now is, what are these people to do?

What about TEC's offer of a compromise settlement (June 2015) of the parishes for the diocese. Just speaking for myself, I do not see this again. TEC is about to gain the parishes and the diocese both by court decision. There is no need for TEC to make any deal at this point. In my opinion, it is out of the question that there will be an out-of-court compromise settlement of any kind. It is too bad now that the parishes did not take the offer when it was made (but remember it was the DSC leadership, not the individual parishes, that rejected this offer). 

The schism has been a destructive and painful event. The staggering cost is evident all around; and it is not over. Now, the groups that will fall victims to the pain are the clergy and laity of DSC who put their faith in what they sincerely believed to be the right cause. One has to feel for the 104 clergy who cut themselves off from the Episcopal Church and are now entirely dependent on Lawrence and his "Anglican" cohorts. Most of them are about to be removed from their churches. How they are to provide for themselves and their families remains to be seen. But mostly one should feel for the 13,000 faithful who now have to decide what to do. If they want to know what they are about to experience, they should talk with some of the thousands of loyal Episcopalians who had to flee from their beloved home churches to living rooms, boat docks, bar-be-que restaurants, old schools, funeral homes, office buildings, and borrowed churches. I can tell you first hand, many a tear has been shed. There are many more to come.

Everyone in the Church diocese should pray for their brothers and sisters in the independent diocese. The clergy and the communicants have some very difficult choices ahead. In the end, religion is a personal experience. It is what the individual person believes to be true and right. No one has the right to impose that on anyone else. I hope the people of DSC will gather all the information they can about how they got to where they are (here I am putting in a plug for my forthcoming history of the schism. It should be out in  a few weeks.) Of course, I would like reconciliation but that is not my prayer today. At this point I am praying that each and every person in DSC will engage in a lot of prayer, meditation, Bible reading, soul-searching, talking to God and then discerning what is best for himself or herself; and in the end only that person can know what is in his or her own heart. In the weeks ahead, let us all remember in prayer all the people caught on both sides of this tragic schism.

Monday, August 7, 2017


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

The Dennis Canon (The Episcopal Church, 1979):

"All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission, or Congregation is held in trust for this Church [the Episcopal Church] and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons."

By now everyone knows the essential parts of the SC Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017: TEC and the Church diocese regain control over 29 parishes, 7 parishes are left as sole owners of their properties, and Camp St. Christopher returns to TEC and the Church diocese.

At this point it would be instructive to take a closer look at the actual decision and what all of this may mean. I should remind readers that I am not a lawyer or legal expert. My views here are only the thoughts and opinions of an ordinary layman.

The decision is really a collection of five different opinions, one by each of the justices. 

The justices split into two camps: Costa Pleicones and Kaye Hearn, versus John Kittredge and Jean Toal. In the middle was the "swing" vote, Justice (now Chief Justice) Donald Beatty.

For simplicity sake, we can call the P and H side, "the national church," and the K and T side, "the local church." 

The National Church side:

P delivered a sweeping opinion strongly supporting the Episcopal Church and dismissing all the arguments of the dissenters. He delivered a 17 page opinion taking the "lead" for the majority. 

P declared TEC to be hierarchical and said civic courts could not interfere in a hierarchical church. He asserted the deference principle: If the dispute is "a question of religious law or doctrine masquerading as a dispute over church property or corporate control," then the Constitution of the United States requires the civil court defer to the decision of the appropriate ecclesiastical authority. P insisted that the whole problem in SC developed from doctrinal, that is, religious, issues.

He dismissed the circuit court trial and decision of Judge Goodstein as "erroneous and prejudicial" and insisted her entire order should be overturned. 

Next he went to great lengths to refute Toal's signature work of the All Saints decision of 2009: I would now overrule All Saints to the extent it held the Dennis Canon and the 1987 amendment to the Lower Diocese's Constitution were ineffective in creating trusts over property... It was too narrow and localized and failed to understand the relationship between the local and national church. Moreover, P said the Dennis Canon did in fact create a trust in South Carolina because it was part of the hierarchical church. 

He was not through. P went on to declare the schism to be a premeditated conspiracy (ECSC atty Tom Tisdale had charged this in the circuit court): The record demonstrates that Bishop Lawrence and others in the Lower Diocese determined to leave TEC and take with them the property of those parishes in the Lower Diocese that were intending to disaffiliate. P outlined several steps in the conspiracy: amending governing documents, granting quit claim deeds, and revising corporate documents.

Finally P concluded that the court had to accept as final and binding the decisions of the Episcopal Church in regards to the local diocese. The Church must control its own decisions, not the court: The civic courts in South Carolina cannot decide disputes which are governed by church polity and governance concerning property ownership.

In sum, P discarded the Goodstein decision, the All Saints decision, and insisted all the matters of property and names, titles and rights of the pre-schism diocese were the prerogatives of the Episcopal Church, not the civic courts. In the end, he declared the preeminence of the First Amendment. 

No one could have written a stronger opinion for the national Church.

After P's "Lead" opinion, Hearn really needed to do little but echo it and add a few supporting elaborations on the same themes in her 15 page decision. She too insisted the dispute had grown from doctrinal issues, that the Episcopal Church was hierarchical, and that the court could not interfere in Church decisions. She held too that the Dennis Canon would trump any local law and would be binding in and of itself under the hierarchical nature of the Church. While adding a few items for emphasis, she really added nothing substantial to what P had written.

In sum, P and H argued that this dispute was religious, that the Episcopal Church was hierarchical, that the Dennis Canon was in effect, and that the civic court would have to defer to the Church in all internal decisions including property. In short, the national Church held sovereignty over the local entity which was subordinate and subject to the authority of the larger church. Therefore, state laws on property and corporate rights were irrelevant in this case because the local entity could not operate independently of the national church.

The Local Church side:

In his 9 page opinion, K declared that the proper application of "neutral principles" demanded that the local entities should have control over the local properties. However, he said the Dennis Canon had indeed created a trust, but only because the parishes had acceded to it: The local churches' accession to the 1979 Dennis Canon was sufficient to create a trust in favor of the national church.

K went on that the Dennis Canon was not irrevocable because it was in a church document that was inherently amendable. In other words, it was not permanent because the Church could change it. If the Church could revoke it, local parishes could too; and this they did as they ended accession to the TEC canons in 2010. Thus, at the time of the schism in 2012, all of the seceding parishes kept their properties in sole ownership because they had revoked the Dennis Canon two years earlier. To K, the Dennis Canon had no power in and of itself. It was only the accession of the local parishes that made it effective; and since it was not irrevocable, it was their withdrawal of accession that made it ineffective. 

K concluded that TEC and its diocese had no right to the properties or to the pre-schism diocesan rights. All of these matters had been determined under local property and corporate laws.

K treated the diocese and the parishes "neutrally," that is, as if they were independent equals of the national church. Following this, he found the local entities had operated entirely legally under state laws. However, he did not go as far in localism as did Toal.

Toal, not surprisingly, contributed the longest and most detailed opinion at 30 pages (39% of the whole decision). 

This was essentially an elaborate defense of the Court's 2009 All Saints decision which she had written. As K, she insisted that neutral principles meant the local entities had to be treated equally with the national Church; and she too agreed with the circuit court findings (except that the federal court would have to determine the trademark/copyright issue). 

T also followed the local property and corporate laws but varied from K in her view of the Dennis Canon. In contrast to K, T argued that the Canon never went into effect in SC because the title holders had never properly set up trusts for the church and diocese. In her view, simply acceding to the Church's Constitution and Canons was not enough because it was not following the letter of the law. Only the deed holder could set up a trust. 

Moreover, in T's view, the diocese had acted legally in changing its corporate charters and Lawrence had acted lawfully with the quit claim deeds since he was the Episcopal bishop.

T had the most extreme view of local rights, even more so than K. To her, there was no question that the diocese and parishes had acted legally and were the owners of the properties and rights of the old diocese (except those issues of national trademark properly in the federal court). She viewed the dioceses as virtually a a sovereign and self-governing unit, even if it were in a national church.

In sum, K and T argued that neutral principles demanded that the court settle the issues at hand: property ownership and legal rights of the old diocese. They strictly applied local laws on property and corporations to the questions at hand and found entirely for the local entities. Their only significant difference was in their understandings of the Dennis Canon. K believed it went into effect under the parishes accession to the TEC Constitution and Canons. T insisted it never went into effect because it had not been enacted in the proper documents by the deed holders ( the parishes). Both agreed, however, that the Dennis Canon had no effect in the state at the time of the schism and therefore there was no question that the parishes owned their own properties outright. K and T felt so strongly about this that both ended their essays with remarks against P and H that could fairly be described as bitter and sarcastic. This was something that I have never seen in a supreme court decision.

There was a deep, hostile divide between the national and local factions. If any compromise were possible, it was not apparent.

Beatty was in neither of the equal factions. He turned out to be the deciding vote in an apparent attempt to make a compromise between the two sides. He gave the shortest opinion, at just 3 pages, but these were the pages that made all the difference.

B tried to placate both sides. To K and T, he agreed with neutral principles and said the Dennis Canon was not sufficient to impose a trust in and of itself: The Dennis Canon had no effect until acceded to in writing by the individual parishes. For P and H, he agreed that 29 of the 36 parishes in the lawsuit had indeed given written agreement to set up a trust: their express accession to the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create an irrevocable trust. Then, he went on that 7 of the 36 had never given accession and therefore had never set up a trust. These 7, he said, must be free to have unqualified ownership of their properties. In other words, 29 parishes would return to trust control of TEC/ECSC and 7 would not. This was Beatty's compromise.

On the Dennis Canon, Pleicones and Hearn said it went to effect automatically under the umbrella of the hierarchical church and remained permanent. Toal, Kittredge and Beatty all rejected this but wound up having different views. T said it never went into effect in SC. K and B both said it did go into effect as part of the parishes' accession to the Constitution and Canons. Then, K and B parted ways. K said the trust was inherently revocable; and the parishes did this in 2010. B held the trust created by the accession was not revocable; so, even if the parishes claimed they removed the Canon in 2010 they could not and did not. Thus, B concluded that the 29 that acceded to the Canon did in fact create a trust that was irrevocable. He joined P and H on this point giving the overall decision to the Church side.  

How did the Court reach a settlement?

No one can know for sure since the justices' deliberations are private and leak-proof. Here is my opinion of how this probably happened:

The split occurred right away. Everyone knew that Hearn would side with TEC but P was a surprise. As it turned out he was by far the bigger advocate for the Episcopal Church and H simply echoed him, and not as well. 

T was resolved to protect and defend her signature achievement, the All Saints decision of 2009. Years from now, this will be her legacy. She fiercely defended it to the end. She has always been known as a formidable and "aggressive" contender. The Aug. 2, 2017 decision is probably her last; and she wanted to go out on a strong note. K agreed that local rights had to be protected under local laws, even if he swayed a bit to allow the Dennis Canon to come in under a general "accession." 

Month after month went by as the two sides dug in their heels and wrote, and rewrote lengthy and heavy treatises defending their positions. Neither side would budge.

Meanwhile, Beatty became Chief Justice (Feb. 1, 2017). He felt a responsibility to bring some closure. He knew this had to come to some kind of end. If it went on indefinitely, the reputation and standing of the state supreme court would suffer. The court had to go on; the court had to maintain its reputation. It seems to me that B consciously worked to find a compromise. However, the best he could work out really gave the bulk to the national church side. 29 to 7 was hardly equal.
Perhaps this explains why K and T ended with their uncharacteristically bitter comments.

All of this is just speculation of course. I am left wondering too why P was so contentious in his views. As T, this was perhaps his last decision. It should be remembered that T and P had had a tussle over the chair of chief justice (although they always insisted they remained good friends). In 2014, P was up for promotion to the seat. At the last minute, T decided she wanted to get elected to another 10 year term although she could serve only one year of it because of the mandatory retirement age. She managed to get herself elected. P was left to run next year. He did and he won but he had only one year to serve as Chief because of age. After his one year, Beatty took his turn by election of the state assembly. I can only wonder what all this might have had to do with the sharp differences between their opinions of last week.

In spite of all the five different opinions, make no mistake that the majority has ruled. They said 29 parishes properties return to control of TEC/ECSC. How the court reached that decision should be a fascinating subject of study one day.

The SC Supreme Court decision of Aug. 2, 2017, is the first time that a state supreme court has ruled on the relationship between the Episcopal Church and one of its dioceses. This decision will have great weight around the nation for a long time to come. In essence the court handed a great victory to the Episcopal Church. It said the Church is hierarchical. That means that sovereignty rests in the national church. Dioceses are subordinate and dependent on the national Church. They are not independent, self-governing entities. 

One note of caution, however, for the Church. The SC court did not recognize the validity of the Dennis Canon in and of itself. No court in the U.S. has done so. Whether the Episcopal Church has the right to impose unilaterally a trust on local properties is still an issue to be resolved.


These two events were not at all the same. Comparing the transcripts of the two, one may be surprised at the differences. On Set. 23, 2015, no one could have predicted how this would turn out nearly two years later. 

Toal dominated the entire hearing. She spoke more often and longer than anyone. Her famous "controlled aggression" showed as she raked DSC lawyer Alan Runyan over the coals. She ridiculed the circuit court trial. She shredded Goodstein's decision. She snatched Runyan's All Saints defense from him. Judging from all this one might have assumed she was ready to declare for the Episcopal Church side. 

In retrospect, it seems to me that Toal was perhaps unhappy with Runyan for the over-the-top circuit court decision that messed up her neat little reiteration of her All Saints decision of 2009. It had gone way off topic. Now she was going to have to clean up the mess and work hard to get the court around to her view of local rights. In the end, she could not do it. Not one of the other four justices joined her in defending All Saints. In perhaps her last hurrah, Toal was left alone to defend what will remain perhaps her signature achievement. 

Hearn was next in speaking in the hearing. Of course, she promoted the interests of the national church. Her written opinion was no surprise. Pleicones spoke only a few times in the hearing and really said little of substance, or at least little to indicate his lean. He showed absolutely none of the thinking that would come out so vividly in his written opinion. Everyone assumed Hearn would lead the Church side, but this turned out to be wrong. It was Pleicones who led the charge for the Episcopal Church. No one could have guessed that on Sept. 23, 2015.

In the end, it was not Hearn or Toal who determined the outcome. It was the mild mannered, rather quiet Chief Justice Beatty who settled the whole decision. He made the compromise to bring the intolerable war to a merciful end. The Episcopal Church and its diocese really owe a huge debt of gratitude to Beatty. In a way he contributed as much if not more to their final victory than did Hearn, or even Pleicones. Every Episcopal Church in South Carolina should put up a picture of Chief Justice Beatty. They should remember that he easily could have joined K and T for the local entities and the Episcopal Church would have gone down to a crushing defeat. In the hearing, he had said hardly a word. Sometimes those who say the least do the most.

The lawsuit in SC tested the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of a saint. We thought it would never end, even that it was perhaps unsolvable. It did end and it did reach a solution. The justices did the best they could. That is all we can ask of them. Now it is up to the good people on both sides of this tragedy to do the best they can to bring all of this to an end. It is most unlikely that the Court will agree to a rehearing and that SCOTUS will take the case. There is still the federal case but I think that will probably come down on the side of the Church too. Finally, at long last it will come to an end.    

Saturday, August 5, 2017


If you are feeling "schism fatigue," you are not alone. I think we are all exhausted. After all, the process of moving to schism started 35 years ago [!]. The schism itself occurred almost 5 years ago. The two sides have been at war in the courts for 4 and a half years. We waited on the state Supreme Court for 22 months. It is no wonder we are all emotionally spent. However, one should not get wiped out now. There is much more to come and it make take years for it to finally conclude. 

I continue to be amazed at the interest in what is going on. This blog has had 5,000 hits since the court decision of Aug. 2. I am trying my best to relate information to a hungry public.

What I want to do now is review where we are and where we are likely to go in the foreseeable future. ( I remind everyone that I am not a lawyer or a legal expert, just an ordinary layman. These are my own views.)


First, understand that decisions of the South Carolina Supreme Court (SCSC) are by majority vote of the five justices.

The majority decision has the weight of law. It must be followed by all the courts in the state. The decisions must be enforced by the law enforcement officials of the state.

SCSC is the highest state court in SC. There is no appeal possible in the state. The only court above SCSC is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

The primary decisions of the SCSC on August 2 were:

---29 parishes are to return control of their properties to the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Church diocese, called the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC).

---7 parishes may remain in sole control of their properties (St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant, in the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, and 6 in the independent Diocese of South Carolina (DSC).

---Camp St. Christopher belongs to the ECSC.


---The 29 parish properties will return to the control of the Episcopal Church bishop, "Skip" Adams. The clergy and laity who remain on these properties and do not recognize the authority of Bp Adams would apparently be in violation of the law. Mark Lawrence will have no authority over these properties. Presumably Church control could be enforced by court order. What Bp Adams does about these local properties would be up to him and the Episcopal Church authorities per the Dennis Canon which holds that all parish property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church diocese. 

---The 6 parishes that keep full control of their local properties would presumably continue as the DSC. Since none of these is in Charleston or its suburbs, DSC would have no property in this area. 

---The old Diocese of South Carolina lies divided into four pieces, All Saints of Pawleys Island, St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant (both in ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas), DSC (now a diocese of ACNA), and the Episcopal Church diocese.

---The court decision only applies to the property. People, of course, are free to choose their own religion. Those now occupying properties to be returned to TEC may choose to stay and return to TEC, or leave and create other communities in other quarters. What communicants do about that is entirely up to them.


Nothing will change in the immediate future.

The SCSC decision of Aug. 2 did not include specific directions for enactions.

DSC has until September 1, 2017, to file a petititon for a rehearing in the SCSC.  In my view, there is absolutely no chance the SCSC will grant a rehearing. Here's why:

A rehearing would be before the present Court. Since the original hearing of Sept. 23, 2015, two justices have retired, Toal and Pleicones. Both participated in the decision. Two new justices have taken the bench; both had nothing to do with the decision of Aug. 2. They would be starting from scratch.

Although Justice Pleicones wrote the lead opinion for the majority, it was Justice Beatty who finally settled the decision. 

The two sides (Pleicones & Hearn v. Kittredge & Toal) were deadlocked in a bitter confrontation. Beatty stepped in to make a compromise.

In the course of deliberations, Beatty became Chief Justice of SCSC. The case seemed impossible to end with the two sides intractable. To bring the case to an end (remember this took 22 months) and to preserve the institutional integrity of SCSC (a decision had to be rendered), Beatty arose to give something to both sides. To K & T, he agreed with the local view that a national institution cannot unilaterally impose a trust on a local property owner without the written agreement of the title holder. He said the Dennis Canon was a trust, but not one that could be applied in SC in and of itself. To P & H, he agreed that 29 of the 36 parishes in question had done just that, had created in writing trust interests for TEC and its diocese. Therefore, Beatty decided that these 29 had to return to TEC/ECSC control. It was Chief Justice Beatty who really decided the outcome of this case.

Since Chief Justice Beatty was the essential core of the ruling, any rehearing would directly confront his decisions. It is unimaginable that two new justices of SCSC, who had nothing to do with the ruling, would blatantly defy their chief and discard his words. If they did, this would poison the court's working relationship forever.

Moreover, it is beyond belief that the two new justices would want to start from scratch and relive this extremely difficult and complicated case. Remember they have dozens of other cases at hand. My prediction is that the new justices will avoid the Church case like the plague.

To get a rehearing before SCSC, the DSC lawyers would have to demonstrate errors in the Aug. 2 decision. Again, going against the decision will be going against the Chief Justice. How Runyan et al, tiptoe around this will be fascinating to watch.

Judges and justices are loath to revisit their own written opinions and almost never reverse their own judgments on their own. 

To me, it seems inconceivable that the present SCSC would reverse the Aug. 2 decision. To do that, K would have to convince both of the new justices to go along, something I think they are most unlikely to do.  


If SCSC affirms their Aug. 2 decision, which I think they will, what happens then? This would be the end of the matter as far as the state courts of SC are concerned. However, DSC lawyers could appeal the Aug. 2 decision to SCOTUS.

Runyan et al. would have 90 days in which to file an appeal with SCOTUS.

It is possible but not probable that SCOTUS would take the appeal. Here's why:

-SCOTUS takes only 1% of the cases appeal to it. So, chances of being accepted are tiny. 99% of appeals are rejected.

-SCOTUS, as the high court of the nation deals only with issues of national importance, and only with relatively few of those, usually the most urgent.

-SCOTUS shies away from local issues.

-DSC lawyers would have to show why the SCSC decision was in error. At present, DSC lawyers are arguing that the SCSC justices did not follow sufficiently the state laws on property and corporations. If they go to SCOTUS and present such arguments, they are likely to be dismissed. To my understanding, DSC lawyers are not arguing constitutional issues, only local law. 


In March of 2013, Bishop vonRosenberg entered a suit in the United States District Court, in Charleston, against Mark Lawrence, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. He charged Ml to be in violation of the federal Lanham Act that protects trademark and copyright infringement. In essence, vonR asked the court to recognize him, and not ML, as the legal bishop of the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. In other words, vonR asked the court to recognize the Church diocese as the legal heir of the pre-schism diocese and entitled to all the rights and assets entailed therein.

After Judge Houck's death last month, the case moved to Judge Patrick Duffy. Recently, the case has been reassigned to Judge Margaret B. Seymour, senior judge in the U.S. District Court, in Columbia. Seymour is now in charge of the case.

It is most likely vonR (now Bp. Adams) will win this case. Here's why:

-The U.S. Court of Appeals, in Richmond, has twice ordered the District Court to adjudicate this case. It is inconceivable Seymour would ignore this.

-Houck had deferred to the state court. Seymour cannot defer since there is no more state case (or will not be after SCSC affirms its decision). The federal court will have to adjudicate this case.

-SCSC gave clear opinion in the direction of the federal court. It found ECSC to be the legal heir of the pre-schism diocese. SCSC also declared TEC to be hierarchical, that is, that the national Church has authority over the local dioceses. SCSC also said federal trademark law takes precedence over local, and therefore, the federal court would have to resolve issues of "marks," or names and titles.

-If Seymour agrees with SCSC that TEC is hierarchical, she will have to recognize vonR as the legal bishop of the Episcopal diocese and entitled to all that means.

-Federal courts have consistently sided with TEC in disputes of property.

If DSC fails in SCSC, fails to get SCOTUS to take the case, and loses in the U.S. District Court, It can appeal the District Court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Richmond. It seems to me most unlikely the appeals court would agree.

All of this means that litigation is likely to go on for a long time, perhaps several years. I know, at this point, no one wants to contemplate years more of this mess, but unfortunately, that is the reality.

Of course, one should recall that in 2015, TEC offered a compromise settlement with the schismatic diocese. The offer was to give the rebel parishes full control of their local properties in return for the rights and assets of the pre-schism diocese. The diocesan ruling clique immediately and furiously rejected this. I wonder if the offer might still be on the table.


At this point, one may reasonably conclude that the Episcopal Church and her diocese will regain the titles, rights, and assets of the pre-schism diocese as well as most of the local properties, including all of the Episcopal churches of Charleston and its outlying area as well as Camp St. Christopher. This means it will also regain the missions of the old diocese as well as the diocesan headquarters on Coming Street.

DSC may be reduced to 6 pre-schism parishes, a few misisons, and whatever congregations they can form outside the old properties.

Whatever, both sides have a great deal of difficult work ahead. There will be many hard choices along the way that have to be made. They cannot be avoided.

By all appearances, the road ahead is long and rocky. The greatest test is yet to come, that is, how to work out the best relationships between two former sets of friends. Everyone involved is going to have to reach deep into his or her religious beliefs and values and decide how they are to affect personal behavior near and far. Everyone is being put to the test. The world is watching. They will judge Christians on what they do and not what they say. Whatever happens, the people of faith now divided into unhappy camps must find some way to live together as the best Christians they can be.

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.