State Supreme Court rules in favor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina

Posted Nov 20, 2017

[The Episcopal Church in South Carolina] Ruling in favor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the South Carolina Supreme Court has denied two motions from a disassociated group and upheld its August 2 decision that property and assets of the Diocese of South Carolina, and most of its parishes, must remain with the Episcopal Church.

The Nov. 17 orders can be found here: denial of rehearing motion and denial of recusal motion.

The rulings reject two motions that were filed by a breakaway group that left the Episcopal Church in 2012. One sought a rehearing of the case, while the other asked that Justice Kaye Hearn, one of the five justices who wrote the opinion, be recused, and her opinion vacated.

The court voted 2-2 on the rehearing motion; a majority would have been required in order to grant a rehearing. Hearn did not vote.

The court voted unanimously to deny the motion seeking Hearn’s recusal. Justice Jean Toal, who was serving as chief justice at the time the court heard the case, noted that “an adverse decision is no reason to excuse a nearly 2 1/2-year delay in making a request for recusal.” 

“While I make no criticism of the respondents’ lawyers for filing the motions to recuse and for vacature, I am disappointed in the tone of these filings. They are unreasonable, harsh criticisms of a highly accomplished judge and a person of great decency and integrity,” Justice Toal said.

Statement from Bishop Gladstone B. Adams of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina

We give thanks for the clarity that the State Supreme Court’s decision provides and we are grateful for the thoughtful and difficult work the justices have undertaken in this case.

From the time this lawsuit was filed against the Episcopal Church, the hope of reconciliation has been our guiding principle. We believe this is what the Lord Jesus would expect of us and it is consistent with the teachings of St. Paul who said in his second letter to the Church in Corinth, “All this is from God, who reconciled himself to us in Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” We renew our commitment to this hard work of reconciliation in the days to come.

We understand that the many people in the parishes affected by this ruling may be experiencing pain, fear and confusion. Let me say to all that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is committed to finding a path that will allow the people of God to continue to live their lives as a part of the Anglican Communion in and through the Episcopal Church. As former bishop of South Carolina William Alexander Guerry said more than 100 years ago, “If we are to be truly Catholic, as Christ himself is Catholic, then we must have a church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living human soul.”

The Episcopal Church seeks to be an expression of faith in Christ that welcomes all to his expansive table. Our prayer is that every person in every parish of the diocese will join in working and praying together to bring healing to the church, the body of Christ, in this part of South Carolina.

— The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III, of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina


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Comments (6)

  1. Doug Desper says:

    As one sees elsewhere where once faithful Episcopalians left for reasons of conscience this court victory is hardly one for rejoicing. The absent numbers once among us are far too obvious which speaks of a larger systemic problem. With victory won, the much smaller S.C. Episcopal diocese will become smothered in the staggering mounting expenses of many, many vacant church properties. The departing Episcopalians are not about to pay out twice to stay in properties that they maintained and improved – some for centuries. They’ll turn over the keys and keep walking away by the thousands. Winter is a terrible time for victors to inherit frozen pipes, spoiling paint, and all the other joys of dozens of properties that have been abandoned. The dominant liberal wing of the Church might summarily dismiss these vital, once-loyal churches and say how they should just go and leave the stuff. Be careful what you ask for, though. The General Church will have to pay staggering sums to make yet another small diocese who is property poor look sustainable, and as recently seen elsewhere, their mounting debt will have to be forgiven and absorbed by the rest of the Church.

    Put the trumpets and sparklers away. This ain’t a victory.

  2. Ron Wilson says:

    Seems to me that you are confusing the Church (The people of God) with the Church (Buildings) Buildings have never been a requirement for the people to worship. Yes there are many lovely churches but if Diocese cannot afford these buildings then they will surely find other places to continue worship.

  3. John Miller says:

    It would be hard to see that the Court would rule otherwise. The same thing happened in California. And as Ron states the church is not the building.

  4. Doug Desper says:

    True, the Church is not the buildings. And to prove that the Episcopal Church has spent tens of millions in court to keep them, and further vast sums to maintain their empty shells.

  5. Larry Waters says:

    Perhaps as members of the EC, we ought to be concerned, as is Mr. Desper, with the ever mounting number of folks who are leaving the EC. Some years ago, a newspaper article detailed “Is the Episcopal Church even still relevant” or words to that effect. While I concur that the EC is not buildings, continued loss of congregants will mean death to our Christian sect.

  6. David Karoly says:

    Property is a resource and is necessary to the church’s mission.

    The California and South Carolina cases reach the same result but for different reasons. The California case is fairly clear cut; the Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin is a corporation sole, Bishop Schofield was not the Bishop when he executed Deeds, Jerry Lamb was therefore the EC prevailed.

    I’m still reading the SC Supreme Court opinions, there is a lead opinion for the majority, a couple of concurring opinions, and a dissenting opinion. So far the dissenting opinion is more persuasive to me but maybe that’s because I’m in the middle of it right now.

    I am a life long Episcopalian originally from Bakersfield, CA (but have lived in Sacramento for 35 years). I think the separatists are wrong but in South Carolina looking at it objectively it appears they have the better case. I think they prevailed in Illinois too because there the Diocese is a secular non-profit under State law.

    I have a lay person’s interest in property law because it affects my profession, I am a professional land surveyor licensed in California. Mainly I deal with the law of boundaries which most Attorneys don’t understand very well, it’s much more practical than the law of property which has evolved to be very complex.

    The SC opinion:
    http://www.sccourts.org/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/27731.pdf

    The California opinion:
    http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/F070264M.PDF

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