Court Rules in Favor of SC Episcopal Diocese
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina will be able to keep an estimated $500 million in property and assets belonging to the parishes within the Diocese before it withdrew from The Episcopal Church in 2012.
After a three week trial last summer circuit court Judge Diane Goodstein ruled in favor of the Diocese of South Carolina on Tuesday. The Diocese disassociated from the national denomination in 2012 after The Episcopal Church attempted to remove the head of the diocese, Bishop Mark Lawrence, claiming he had abandoned the Church.
The Diocese, concerned that the attempted removal of its leader was the Episcopal Church's first step to gain control of its parishes, began steps to split from the national denomination.
Although many articles link the split to The Episcopal Church's ordainment of gay Bishop Gene Robinson, in an article published by Rev. Jim Lewis he states, "Virtually all the articles suggest our diocese left because TEC ordained a gay bishop. That's just not true."
"The diocese separated last year, nine years after TEC elected its first, non-celibate, gay bishop - and only after the denomination tried to strip all authority from our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence," he said.
CBN News spoke to Rev. Lewis to find out why he thinks the judge showed them favor.
"We didn't go after anyone asking for penalties or sanctions," Lewis said. "We simply asked the court to confirm what we believed all along to be the truth, that we continued to be the Diocese of South Carolina and our congregations and this diocese have a right to the property that we do ministry with and the names and identities that we have been doing ministry under for in some places close to 300 years."
***CBN News reporter Heather Sells reached out to Rev. Jim Lewis who serves as canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina. Watch his commentary on the ruling above.
The diocese argued in court that it was established long before 1789 when The Episcopal Church began. They also successfully proved that each diocese is free to associate with any denomination of its choosing.
According to the court's ruling, "the Constitution and canons of TEC have no provisions which state that a member diocese cannot voluntarily withdraw its membership."
Since 2003, The Episcopal Church has struggled as a denomination and lost about 17 percent of its national members. The denomination has spent roughly $40 million in legal fees fighting dioceses and parishes who desire to leave and take their assets and buildings with them.
Many of those churches, such as Falls Church Anglican in Virginia and Christ Church Anglican in Georgia, have not been successful in retaining their properties.
The fate of some of the historic Episcopal Church properties that denomation has legally won control over is uncertain as their dwindling congregations size struggle to financially sustain the buildings.
Other conservative-leaning Episcopal churches have decided to stay with the national denomination for now as long as they are not forced to officiate same sex marriages or ordain gay bishops and ministers.