Thursday, September 19, 2019

with addendum, 20 Sept.

19 September.
The United States District Judge, Richard Gergel, issued a decision today entirely for the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina and entirely against the breakaway entity. (The Church diocese is now the Diocese of South Carolina, or the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. The breakaways will have to choose a new name.) 

Read the Church diocese's news release about this here  and here . Read the scepiscopalians report here . My thoughts now upon my first reading of today's court decision:


Gergel granted every request of the Episcopal diocese and denied every claim of the breakaway group. He found that the breakaways had indeed violated the federal Lanham Act. 

In conclusion, Gergel made gave two major orders:

1-The names, marks, and shield of the pre-schism diocese belong to the Episcopal Church diocese. He numerated these in two groups, national and state. Therefore, titles as Diocese of South Carolina and  Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belong to the Episcopal Church diocese.

2-Permanent Injunction against the breakaway group against using the names, titles, marks, and insignia that belong to the Episcopal Church diocese.

The major point of the judge's order was that the Episcopal Church diocese is the legal heir of the historic diocese. "This court independently holds that TECSC is the successor of the Historic Diocese since this Court is mandated to accept as binding the decision of the highest ecclesiastical body in a hierarchical religious organization. TEC is a hierarchical church."


Gergel's 73-page "Order and Opinion" of today is impressive in the breath and depth of its scholarship, intelligence, and language. It is the most thoroughly reasoned and substantiated legal document I have read in a long time. Moreover, it is written in plain English whose meaning is perfectly clear. It is too bad it took six and a half years for us to reach this point.

The judge demolished every claim of the breakaway lawyers. And, he did so with withering evidence citing dozens of cases. There must be a hundred cases named in this document. He also called up the Fourth Circuit twenty times to reference their judgments on similar questions. If the breakaway lawyers appeal this to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, that court will certainly deny an appeal, and probably toute de suite. Gergel has already done the work of them. Air-tight.

Another very important point that stood out in his Order was his interpretation of the South Carolina Supreme Court decision of Aug. 2, 2017. He particularly recognized Beatty's opinion that the disassociated diocese was not the successor of the historic diocese. Gergel wrote:  "This holding was vigorously litigated in the state courts, was determined by the three-person majority of Pleicones, Hearn and Beatty and was necessary to support the judgment regarding Camp St. Christopher, and therefore is precluded from relitigation...The Court will not disturb this ruling."

Gergel went on to dismiss the notion that how the SCSC justices reached their conclusions mattered:  "The Court therefore is bound by the Justices' actual holding on the ultimate issues, and will not parse, as the Defendants suggest, whether each Justice properly applied All Saints." It is the decisions that matter, not how the justices reached them. That should impress the breakaway lawyers.

Today's ruling essentially ends the litigation of the core issues of the schism. The ownership of the local churches was settled in the SCSC decision. The ownership of the pre-schism diocese was settled today. The Episcopal Church wound up with most of the local churches and with the whole entity of the historic diocese. The Episcopal Church now owns the battlefield of this long, draining, and expensive war. 

However, this is not the end of litigation. There is more to come, probably much more, but it is just mopping up work. The essential issues have been resolved. One may expect the breakaways to appeal today's decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. They have virtually no chance there. Mediation starts next week. The topic there should be how to implement the SCSC decision, which has just been affirmed by the federal court. There is no question any more about the state supreme court decision. The breakaway lawyers cannot make any credible case that the SCSC decision does not say what it says. The federal court has just said it does mean what it says.

The end of this legal war is in sight. If the breakaways keep fighting, it is only to put off the inevitable. It is pouring good money after bad. One wonders how long the faithful communicants who followed Lawrence are willing to foot the bills of this disaster. 

At last glance, the breakaway group still has the names and shield on their website. They were permanently forbidden from using such today. They need to take these down from the Internet asap, or it seems to me they could be in contempt of court. 

On this blog, I will follow the court order and refer to the breakaways as ADSC, Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. They are no longer allowed to call themselves Diocese of South Carolina. When they choose a new name, I will follow it.

All of this has been a long time coming, over six and a half years. I always believed this day would arrive even though too often it was hard to keep the faith. Here it is. The day of judgment. For all practical purposes, the outcome of the legal war has been determined. The rest is wrap-up, the sooner the better for everyone concerned.

Finally, this is a moment of satisfaction for the long-suffering Episcopalians, but it is not a time of joy. I think this is a time to thank God for his mercies but also to remember the terrible losses this schism has brought and will continue to bring for some time. Now that the structure of the legal settlement has been set, the task is to bring closure and peace. The good churchpeople of SC are much closer to that today than they were yesterday.

Addendum, 20 September, 6 a.m.:

A few thoughts on the morning after.

I have lost count of the people who have written me in protest of my term "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina." There have been five schisms in the Episcopal Church since 2007. Most of them have taken the title "Anglican Diocese of..." and the breakaways in SC are likely to do the same. As so many readers have correctly pointed out, the schismatics are not actually Anglicans. Their parent church is the Anglican Church in North America which is a Christian denomination not part of the Anglican Communion. It is a part of GAFCON, but that is not a function of the Anglican Communion. The dictionary defines Anglican as one in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The schismatic groups, as the breakaways in SC, are not in communion with the ABC and are not officially Anglicans. So, readers out there you point is well taken. I will find another term when referring to the SC breakaways.

Also, one should recognize that Gergel's Order of yesterday should greatly influence what is happening in the circuit court. There, the judge, Edgar Dickson, has been reluctant to define the SC Supreme Court decision. Gergel did that for him yesterday: there are majority decisions in the SCSC decision, it does not matter how one "parses" the words, and only the majority decisions matter. It seems to me this is clear direction to Dickson to proceed on and implement the second and third rulings on page 77 of the SCSC decision.  In addition, it seems to me Gergel has undercut the breakaways' case on Betterments. Betterments is based on the assertion that the occupants did not know they did not own the property. Nonsense. They were part of the Episcopal Church. The Dennis Canon was a law of the Episcopal Church. They knew very well the provisions of the Canon. It seems to me Gergel has heavily influenced the direction of the Betterments case in favor of the Church diocese. At least this should strengthen the hand of the Church lawyers as they enter mediation next week.

The breakaways still have the titles and shield up on their website this morning. Gergel issued a permanent injunction yesterday forbidding them from using the names, titles, and insignia of the Episcopal diocese. We will see how long it takes them to follow the injunction. Meanwhile, I hope to see the proper names and insignia on the Church diocesan website asap.

As I said yesterday, Gergel's ruling is a giant step to the end of the litigation. The outlines of the settlement are in sight. The legal war has entered its last phase. What everyone on both sides needs now is closure and peace. This has been a long and terrible nightmare of self-destruction. It is time for the healing to begin. It is time to get on with doing God's work in a world that needs it.