The national Episcopal Church is appealing a South Carolina judge’s ruling that the breakaway Diocese of South Carolina can keep its name, marks, and church property.
The ruling protects the 49 southern and eastern South Carolina congregations that split from the national church in 2012 following years of disagreement on gay clergy and other issues. The divide began after the national church tried to remove Bishop of South Carolina Mark Lawrence for comments he made regarding disagreements with the national church. Particularly, Lawrence stated his diocese’s Constitution could supersede the national church if the two conflicted.
The ruling on Tuesday dealt with whether or not the breakaway parishes could keep their names and roughly $500 million worth of church property. Rev. Jim Lewis, the Canon of the Ordinary for the Diocese of SC, said their attorneys argued the diocese predates the national church by four years and even helped found the Episcopal Church after the colonies broke away from Great Britain. Each parish and congregation also owns its own buildings, he said.
“This ruling affirms that the parishes and the diocese both have the right to associate freely and… if there’s a freedom of association, there’s also a freedom of disassociation,” Lewis told South Carolina Radio Network. “Those two can’t be separated.”
In her 46-page ruling, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein ordered those 30 congregations which had stayed loyal to the national church (currently called the “Episcopal Church of South Carolina”) to stop using the old diocese name, emblem, and other marks. “It is clear from the record that the (Diocese of SC) are the owners of their names and marks and that they are incorporated charitable organizations while (the Episcopal church) are not.
The Episcopal Church of South Carolina (TECSC) bishop Charles von Rosenberg said the ruling had been expected. “Our biblical heritage tells of journeys experienced by faithful people,” he said in a statement. “Those journeys often were difficult and filled with setbacks, but people of faith were called to persevere on the way.”
A spokeswoman for TECSC said they had requested an appeal.
Lewis said the Diocese wants the legal fighting to end. “Both sides will spend resources that could better be spent on ministry by having to go back into court to adjudicate this,” he said.
The schism does not impact the church’s Diocese of Upper South Carolina, which covers congregations in the Midlands and Upstate.