Important facts to understand about The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the state Supreme Court decision
Updated September 7, 2017
From the beginning of the split that occurred in 2012, the hope and prayer of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has been for reconciliation. We continue in that hope and prayer as we move forward following the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision on August 2, 2017. Division in the church is division in the Body of Christ, and we pray with our Lord that we all may be one.
It is important for all members of our diocese to understand and be able to communicate the facts surrounding the Supreme Court decision, so that honest dialog and informed conversations can take place. Here are some points to be aware of as we move forward.
The legal process
There are still a number of legal steps that could take place before the decision is considered final. Since we do not know what post-Opinion actions may be undertaken by the parties to the litigation the facts and circumstances of future events cannot be predicted, and it is not possible at this time to judge how long this phase will take. At this time, this is a general overview of actions that could occur:
The breakaway group asked for, and was given, a 15-day extension of time to file a motion for rehearing before the SC Supreme Court. The deadline is now September 1.
If such a request is filed, there would be an undetermined period of time for the court to consider it, and more time if a rehearing were to be granted.
Once the process in the SC Supreme Court has concluded, there would be a 90-day time frame for either or both parties to petition the US Supreme Court to accept or deny a Petition for it to consider the case. Then, another period of time would be required for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to accept the case.
The Diocese and the Church
1 – The SC Supreme Court found that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is the true and recognized diocese of The Episcopal Church in this part of South Carolina. (You can read a brief history of our diocese at http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/tecsc-timeline.html )
2 – The court ruled that The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church. The United States Supreme Court has held that under the First Amendment of the Constitution, courts must not interfere in matters of church law and authority in hierarchical churches.
The breakaway group has aligned with a body called the “Anglican Church in North America” (ACNA), and many of its members call themselves Anglicans. However, ACNA is not a recognized part of the Anglican Communion. In a report to the Standing Committee on September 5, 2018, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, clarified that ACNA is not a province of the Anglican Communion.
Clergy who left with the breakaway group were released and removed from ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church in 2013. However, our diocese worked with the wider Episcopal Church to create a path for such clergy to be reconciled and return to the Episcopal Church if that is their desire. Three priests have been welcomed back through this process since 2013. For clergy who wish to explore this path, the first step is to contact Bishop Skip Adams in the Diocesan Office.
Parishioners who were baptized and/or confirmed in The Episcopal Church and have not taken any action to transfer to another denomination are still Episcopalians, even if they have been attending a non-Episcopalian church. People who have been worshiping in the breakaway churches are still Episcopalians if they want to be. No formal action is required.
We have maintained throughout this legal action that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, as the recognized diocese of The Episcopal Church, is entitled to all diocesan property, including Camp St. Christopher, the Bishop’s residence, trusts, and other assets.
A key dispute in this case was whether the so-called “Dennis Canon” of The Episcopal Church applies in South Carolina, especially in light of an earlier decision known as the All Saints’ case. (The Dennis Canon requires church property to be held in trust for the Episcopal Church and its dioceses.) The August 2 ruling concludes that the Dennis Canon is in force for all parishes that adopted The Episcopal Church’s laws as part of their own governing documents. The ruling indicates that 29 parishes had done this, and 7 parishes had not.
On the “intellectual property” – including the official name and seal of the diocese and various names including The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the Supreme Court deferred to the Federal Court in Charleston to decide the proper outcome of these trademark law issues. The opinion notes that a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court in Charleston (vonRosenberg v. Lawrence) should resolve this as federal trademark law is involved.