In 2005, when the Diocese of South Carolina was conducting a search for its next bishop, at least one potential nominee was asked, “What can you do to help us leave The Episcopal Church and take our property with us?” according to a sworn affidavit filed in state court.
That search process eventually resulted in the selection as bishop of Mark Lawrence, who now leads a breakaway group that says it has “withdrawn” from The Episcopal Church and has filed a lawsuit against the continuing Episcopalians seeking legal control of the diocese.
The affidavit, which was discussed at a hearing today before Judge Diane S. Goodstein, is from the Reverend Thomas M. Rickenbaker, a retired priest in The Episcopal Church and former rector of St. Paul’s Church in Edenton, N.C.
According to the statement, Fr. Rickenbacker was contacted by representatives of the Bishop’s Search Committee for the Diocese of South Carolina in 2005 and asked if he would consider being nominated to succeed the Right Reverend Edward L. Salmon, Jr., as Bishop. Fr. Rickenbaker said he responded positively and later was visited by Gregory J. Kronz, chairman of the search committee, and Paul Fuener, another member of the search committee.
The three met in Fr. Rickenbaker’s office at St. Paul’s, and the affidavit states, “The first question posted to me was, ‘What can you do to help us leave The Episcopal Church and take our property with us?’. I said I was not interested in that course of action in any way shape, or form; and that I was greatly disappointed that the question was even being asked.”
When Fr. Rickenbaker asked why the question was posed, “Father Feuner responded by saying that, ‘We are looking for a bishop who will or is willing to lead us out of The Episcopal Church and take our property with us’, according to the affidavit.
A few weeks later, Fr. Rickenbaker said he was notified by Kronz that he had been eliminated from the selection process.
“This affidavit shows that there was an intention to leave The Episcopal Church,” said Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of the diocese. “As we move ahead with discovery, we expect we will continue to see more evidence that what has happened is the result of long-held plan to gain control of the diocese and take it out of the Church.”
The affidavit supports earlier court filings by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina saying that the 2012 “withdrawal” of the diocese from TEC was the result of a scheme on the part of several individuals that already had begun during the bishop search process.
In today’s hearing, Judge Goodstein denied a motion from TECSC to have four individuals -- Mark Lawrence; Fuener as a Standing Committee president; Jim Lewis as Canon to the Ordinary of the diocese; and Jeffrey Miller as a Standing Committee president – added to the suit. TECSC has said the four are necessary parties to the suit because actions they took to “withdraw” the diocese from TEC were outside the scope of their legal authority and violated state law.
Judge Goodstein said she did not find that the individuals’ actions were different from those that were taken by the plaintiffs as a group. She also denied two other motions filed by TECSC asking her to reconsider earlier decisions in the case.
Chancellor Tisdale said the diocesan legal team will wait to review the judge’s written orders before determining whether to appeal today’s rulings.
Also at the hearing, the judge announced that a trial in the case cannot be scheduled until July at the earliest; a date will be set as soon as possible. All parties in the case agreed to a timetable that would have all discovery in the case completed by May 2.