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March 24, 2015
Episcopal Church, Continuing SC Diocese File Appeal of Goodstein's Ruling
Lawyers ask state Supreme Court to expedite challenge to breakaway 'Diocese of Diane'
COLUMBIA - Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in eastern South Carolina today asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to expedite their appeal of a ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in January, allowing its Diocese of South Carolina and 36 allied parishes to secede from the Church with an estimated $800 million in parish property and diocesan financial assets.
Normally an appeal of this nature would be taken up by the state's Court of Appeals, but both sides are prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court, such that Church attorneys say the justices would be helping "to avoid expense and delay for all parties" by taking up the case.
Church attorneys formally filed their appeal today with the Appeals Court, along with a "Motion to Certify" with the state Supreme Court.
Judge's conduct governed three-week trial last summer
Goodstein, who bears a resemblance to Reba McEntire (SC Episcopalians' favorite country singer), originally heard the case last July during a three-week trial in which her moody, sometimes erratic, behavior raised eyebrows on both sides.
The judge at times was giddy and flirtatious, while on other occasions she'd explode in anger over seemingly insignificant incidences. At one point, she stalked out of the courtroom in a pique when a mild-mannered attorney for the Episcopal Church questioned a ruling.
Goodstein never seemed to fully grasp the issues raised during the trial and her final order appeared to have been lifted directly from submissions provided by the breakaways. In it, she blithely overturned nearly two centuries of Constitutional law and legal precedence by claiming that the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical" and merely a "New York-based corporation."
Throughout the trial, Goodstein even prohibited the mention of the name of the Episcopal Church because, she claimed, there were already "too many churches" involved in the case.
Oddly, Goodstein resisted attempts by Church attorneys to offer evidence of the hierarchical nature of the Exxxxxxxl Church, or clarify that there was only one "church" involved in the proceedings.
72-year-old Chief Justice will likely dominate Supreme Court's hearing of the case
The breakaways' attorneys very likely were pleased with today's move to invite the Supreme Court to take up the case. Some seem to believe that Chief Justice Jean Toal, reportedly a longtime friend of one of their lawyers, is already in their corner.
In 2009 Toal is rumored to have commandeered the writing of the Court's controversial ruling in the related case of All Saints' in Pawley's Island, which laid the groundwork for the breakaways' current lawsuit against the Church. She is slated to retire at the end of this year, so their hoped for advantage may be lost if the case drags on too long.
Similar cases brought by breakaways in other states like Georgia and Virginia have all been shot down by their state's supreme courts. However... this is South Carolina.
Ominous Federal case looming in the distance
Lost in all the attention on the Goodstein decision is a Federal case pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Attorneys for the continuing Diocese have asked the Federal Courts to declare that its bishop, Charles vonRosenberg, is the legitimate Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, and that Mark J. Lawrence, the ex-Bishop who leads the renegade "diocese" is fraudulently using this title.
Last year U.S. District Judge Weston Houck refused to hear the case when it was brought in Charleston, but a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court appeared to believe that Houck's ruling was not justified at a hearing earlier this year. Houck is elderly and reported to be in poor health.
The full Circuit Court of Appeals will meet over the coming weeks to decide whether to overturn Houck's decision and order a trial.
VonRosenberg and The Rt. Rev. Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina are the only two Episcopal bishops with jurisdiction in the state who are recognized by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
March 14, 2015
PECDSC Convention Coverage II
After Promising Start, PECDSC Convention Backslides into Familiar Ways
Lawrence team misses opportunity to offer a vision for the future of his "diocese"
CHARLESTON - As its supporters gathered for their Annual Convention this past weekend, the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." was experiencing a rare opportunity to shape its own destiny. With a court victory in hand and near unanimous approval among its parishes, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his lieutenants looked like a football team marching effortlessly toward the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
At a preconvention workshop Friday afternoon, Lawrence and his Canon Theologian seemed to be positioning themselves to seize the moment in which they would finally set forth a bold vision of the PECDSC's future in evangelical Anglicanism.
There were no rancorous attacks on the Episcopal Church or other perceived enemies, no gloating over the recent lower court ruling allowing them to take the PECDSC out of the Church, nor even the ubiquitous half-baked attacks on the evils of secular culture. Those in attendance included numerous retired bishops, and longtime Lawrence loyalists, all of whom appeared prepared to follow him wherever he wanted to take them. (Scroll down for report on this workshop)
The leaders of the PECDSC had finally come into their own. And then, they fumbled.
Bishop's address was a disappointment
Saturday morning should have been Lawrence's moment in the sun, a kind of victory lap ten years and millions of dollars in the making. In winning an important opening round in his longshot lawsuit, the 64-year-old bishop finally could begin work in earnest on his vision for his new "diocese." He was at last liberated from what he felt was the oppressive and meddlesome Episcopal Church, and free to do the work he believed God had called him to do.
That opportunity came and went.
The planned high point of Saturday morning’s agenda was Lawrence’s keynote address, historically a rallying point for his followers and a blueprint for the future. However, this year Lawrence’s rambling remarks were largely a rehash of earlier themes and old news, amounting to what might best be described as housekeeping and routine.
Absent from his address was the visionary quality of his remarks from the previous afternoon. He seemed oddly detached from his earlier urgency to legitimize the PECDSC through alliances with other quasi-Anglican bodies and domestic breakaway groups. The biggest news coming out of his address seemed to be that he was tired and going on sabbatical at some point.
Read commentary by Dr. Ron Caldwell
It's not about God or gays, but Fear
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Saturday’s convention was the return of the fear factor.
If Lawrence had any interest in transforming the PECDSC's anti-gay, anti-women, and its generally intolerant image, it was not evident. The afternoon session became a replay of earlier conventions with the same homophobic and undertones that proved so critical in sustaining support for him during his make-believe "war" with the Church (2008-present).
At one point delegates were shown a sketchy slide presentation, presented by Lawrence's chief lieutenant, Jim Lewis, which vaguely purported to highlight a handful of local news events (none from anywhere near South Carolina) in which devout Christians were somehow being oppressed by the local secular culture in the gay-friendly communities in which they lived.
One of the slides Lewis chose highlighted the plight of a congregation that meets in a coffee bar in Lake Worth, Florida. Lewis claimed the municipal government was requiring churches to have business licenses or face closure, and seemed to suggest that such encroachment of secular laws on a religious body represented an ominous threat to Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
There was something about Lewis' hasty use of the slides that seemed off.
As it turns out, this story was based on a highly-exaggerated report on FOX News that had been mangled further by the right-wing news media from which Lewis apparently got it.
The story had nothing to do with business licenses, but a long-standing municipal ordinance requiring all community organizations, including churches and non-profit organizations, to obtain a use and occupancy certificate to ensure the safety of public gatherings and compliance with occupancy standards in the buildings in which they met. Every parish in the PECDSC has a similar license to insure the safety of its building for events and activities.
There were no gays involved (as suggested by some of the bloggers), no one's religious freedom was threatened, nor did there appear to be any threat to marriage. It is true that the city manager has a Jewish-sounding last name, which raised the suspicions of conservative religious bloggers, especially after he refused to tell them where he worshipped. Read the story yourself
It was never clear what this story had to do with the Task Force on Marriage, except to remind the delegates that the evils of the secular world are just around the corner, or at least in Florida.
[Mr. Lewis' use of this example was a bit ironic in that the PECDSC just won its monster lawsuit against the Episcopal Church by convincing a local judge that the Constitution's protection of religious freedom does not exempt the Episcopal Church from having to comply with the secular laws of local and state governments.]
What would the PECDSC be without the LGBT?
It would not have been a PECDSC convention without a debate on who is to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, based on sexual preference, behavior, or - as in Saturday's session - genitalia.
Right on cue, thanks to the Task Force on Marriage, the Lawrencians successfully conjured up once again the specter of sneaky transgendered people trying to get on God's good side, even though they may be living with altered man or woman parts.
It happened during the discussion of a resolution defining marriage as between a "biological man and a biological woman, that is, between two persons whose birth gender identities were respectively male and female."
At first the proposed language in the resolution seemed to please everyone. Then, an especially alert delegate from a small rural parish raised the possibility that, under that language, a transgendered man could marry a transgendered woman in a PECDSC parish ... and in a strange technical way, they'd still meet the one man, one woman standard.
Yikes! How this huge loophole was missed by the Task Force on Marriage remained a mystery and, for a few awkward moments, the PECDSC leadership on stage appeared to be without a response. Could it be that in their eagerness to exclude the non-existent transgendered members of the PECDSC, they had in fact left the door wide open to marriage?
Other delegates soon came to the rescue and seized their own moment to send a message to all the transgendered people beating down their doors. Without a great deal of suspense, the language was clarified and the resolution sailed through.
[There were nuances to the convention's discussions on the resolutions on marriage that Dr. Caldwell observed in a different way than SC Episcopalians. His enlightening interpretation is worth the read here.]
March 13, 2015
PECDSC Convention Coverage I
The Anglican Province of South Carolina?
Is the ex-Bishop laying the groundwork for an astonishing vision for his "Diocese"?
CHARLESTON - If you can be your own Anglican-ish diocese, why not be your own province, or even your own Church?
Delegates to this weekend’s Annual Convention of the breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” heard a lot more than they anticipated when they signed up for a preliminary workshop on Anglicanism and the status of efforts by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence to find them a new spiritual home.
In two well-executed presentations, Lawrence and his Canon Theologian, Kendall Harmon, appeared to lay the groundwork for an astonishing - or possibly, preposterous - vision for the future of their momentarily-independent “Diocese of South Carolina.”
In essence, they appeared to be advancing the idea that the PECDSC should become a kind of national, evangelical Anglican Church with South Carolina as its anchor.
Lawrence never actually used the word “Church”, but instead referred to such a new entity as a “Province,” as in one of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. Obviously, there is no realistic way that a self-generating province, crossing multiple provincial boundaries, would ever be recognized by the Communion. However, Lawrence seemed to be talking about something more.
Lawrence claimed that, since his recent courtroom victory over the Episcopal Church, he has been contacted by numerous parishes outside of South Carolina expressing an interest in “joining" the Diocese. He seemed to believe that his "Diocese of South Carolina" has attracted sufficient attention and admiration among disaffected evangelicals around the country that it could become a potent vehicle for "shaping emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century."
"So where are our boundaries now?" he asked.
Oops! What about the Diocese in Upper South Carolina?
The only hiccup in an otherwise seamless presentation was an inadvertent suggestion that parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina were interested in affiliating with Lawrence’s PECDSC.
Andrew Waldo, the Bishop of that Diocese, was generally been accommodating of Lawrence’s misconduct while he was in the Episcopal Church and, at least publicly, appeared to be unthreatened by Lawrence’s efforts to establish a legal precedent in the state allowing parishes and even an entire diocese to walk away from the Church with their property. Waldo does not believe that any parishes in his diocese want to leave the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence quickly moved to clarify the gaffe, suggesting there were no parishes in that diocese that had expressed a desire to join him, just individuals. However, it is widely believed that some Lawrence loyalists with or without the bishops' knowledge are working with like-minded Episcopalians there.
Lawrence disses friends and potential allies
Among the many startling statements by Lawrence were those dismissing friends and potential allies whose support he had once sought.
He seemed to equate the unwieldy structure of Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), founded by his friend and mentor Robert Duncan, with that of the Episcopal Church. He attacked the Archbishop of Canterbury as weak and ineffectual, and the four Instruments of Anglican Unity as “not adequate” to address recent "crises" in the Communion.
Lawrence even expressed disappointment in his less-than-a-year-old affiliation with a committee of conservative Anglican Primates known as the Global South, complaining that it had not “matured” in a timely way that would likely be helpful to the PECDSC.
Among those attending the workshops were retired bishops like Alden Hathaway of Pittsburgh, Fitz Allison of South Carolina, and Alex Dickson of Tennessee - all longstanding critics of the Episcopal Church.
The final event of the day was a Eucharist at 5 p.m. Registration for tomorrow's business meeting at St. Luke and St. Paul opens at 7:30 a.m. The business meeting begins at 9 a.m.
March 13, 2015 (noon EDT)
Jubilant Lawrencians Seek to Redefine Themselves at Weekend Convention
PECDSC Inc. searches for a theology and religious tradition after breaking with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON - The momentarily independent "Diocese of South Carolina" opens its Annual Convention in Charleston today in a triumphant mood following a lower court ruling, declaring 36 rebellious parishes and the Diocese itself free of its historic ties to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Over the course of the next two days, members of the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc. (PECDSC)” are gathering to begin the arduous task of redefining themselves as something more than an angry protest against the Episcopal Church and its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and interpretations of Scripture at odds with their own literalistic views.
In January, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County ruled that the breakaway parishes and the Diocesan corporation were free to leave the Church and take with them an estimated $800 million in parish properties and Diocesan financial assets accumulated by the Church over 225 years of its history in the eastern part of South Carolina.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought against the Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina in January 2013 by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers. Only five years earlier, Lawrence had publicly proclaimed his loyalty to the Church to gain the consent of its bishops and dioceses to become Bishop of South Carolina.
Bogus claims of theological differences and legal threats mean the PECDSC Inc. must figure out what it really stands for
In siding with the breakaways, Goodstein overturned nearly two centuries of U.S. Constitutional law in a leap of logic, daunting even to the Flying Walendas. Her ruling is currently is being appealed by the Church with its key issues unlikely to be resolved for years.
Meanwhile, Lawrence and his PECDSC now face a significant challenge in defining exactly who they are and what their purpose is beyond their well-publicized resistance to social change.
The PECDSC has never been clear about whether it is even a real "Church" or simply a non-profit corporation with religious purposes. It continues to mimic the Episcopal Church in its style of worship, sacraments, and even its use of the Church's Book of Common Prayer. It is also fuzzy on how it considers its bishop in the line of Apostolic succession, given his renunciation of ministry in the only Church that recognized him as such.
Many PECDSC parishes have been losing members, laying off staff, and running up deficits since announcing their attempt to leave the Church in December 2012. In response, they have continued to refer to themselves as "Episcopal" in their public advertising, attempting to lure new members and compete with a rising number of new missions and parishes established by loyal Episcopalians in their communities.
During the three-week trial of the lawsuit last summer, Lawrence and his legal team distanced themselves under oath from earlier assertions that they were leaving the Church over differences in theology. After years of scaring parishes into thinking liberal Church leaders were planning to take away their property, Team Lawrence also failed to produce any evidence that such threats were anything more than propaganda to panic conservative congregations into supporting its lawsuit.
They never tried to prove their claim that their "spiritual freedom" was under attack.
Lawrence clings to the Anglican Communion, though he is no longer one of its bishops
A particular challenge for Lawrence and his lieutenants is the credibility of promises to their followers that leaving the Episcopal Church would not take them out of the Anglican Communion. The Communion only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its sole legitimate presence in the United States. They were embarrassed last fall when the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly stated that the breakaway movement in North America was a "separate Church” that was not part of the Communion.
Lawrence and his long-time theologian-in-residence, Kendall Harmon, will tackle these issues this afternoon with back-to-back workshops “to explore the distinctiveness of Anglicanism and look at possible options for affiliation.”
Lawrence was criticized by some out-of-state participants at last month’s Mere Anglicanism conference for inaccurate and self-serving characterizations of Anglicanism. The Lawrencians apparently plan to continue the charade of Communion affiliation by asking delegates on Saturday to budget funds for Lawrence’s participation in the next Lambeth Conference of recognized Anglican Bishops in London.
The Communion only recognizes two functioning Anglican bishops in South Carolina, Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg, Lawrence’s successor.
February 23, 2015
Goodstein Rejects Motion to Reconsider "Diocese of Diane" Ruling
Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina can move forward with an appeal of her controversial ruling
SAINT GEORGE -- S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein today rejected motion by attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina to reconsider her decision to award property and assets of the Episcopal Church valued at nearly $800 million to a breakaway group led by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence. The ruling was no suprise and allows the Church and its loyal members in South Carolina to appeal her decision to the state's Supreme Court.
February 13, 2015
Church Attorneys Launch Blistering Attack on Goodstein Ruling
180-page motion for reconsideration cites dozens of factual and legal errors, setting the stage for a monster appeal to state's Supreme Court
ST. GEORGE - The Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina filed a motion in state court today asking Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to reconsider her recent decision to dismember the Church's 220-year-old Diocese of South Carolina. There is practically no chance that will happen, but the motion is essential in moving the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court on appeal.
Earlier this month Goodstein ruled that deposed Bishop Mark Lawrence and his supporters could leave the Episcopal Church with their parish properties and the financial assets of the Diocese itself. The Lawrencians are angry with the Church over its inclusions of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and interpretations of the Bible inconsistent with their own.
The estimated value of the booty they received from the ruling comes to about $800 million.
In today's filings Church attorneys pointed out "dozens of instances in which the ruling doesn’t fully address evidence, makes incorrect statements, or fails to consider relevant points of law," according to a spokesman.
Church attorneys zinged Goodstein's repeatedly for basing her ruling on the faulty assumption that the governance of the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical," and therefore not protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In her ruling, Goodstein effectively overturned nearly two centuries of legal precedence, including decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, in finding that the Episcopal Church had no claim on its Diocese of South Carolina or the 36 pro-Lawrence parishes who have held themselves out as part of the Episcopal Church, in some cases, since 1795.
Church attorneys, led by Charleston barrister Thomas Tisdale, cited nearly twenty instances in which Federal and state courts have concluded that the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical", including most recently Federal Judge Weston Houck, who may yet hear the case.
Goodstein was not up to the challenges of the case
The lawsuit landed in Goodstein's court two years ago, shortly after Lawrence was found to have abandoned the Episcopal Church and the vows he took when he was consecrated a bishop in 2008.
However, Goodstein never really seemed much interested in the issues of the case and certainly was never in control of the trial last July. That role was filled by Lawrence's lawyer, Alan Runyan of Beaufort, who apparently chose Goodstein believing she would be more sympathetic to his cause than more aggressive judges in other jurisdictions, like Charleston.
Runyan assembled a massive legal team that included lawyers with past ties to Goodstein, and one who had reportedly left her employ for his. At times the ferociousness of their courtroom tactics looked like schoolyard bullying, and Goodstein was either unwilling or unable to restrain them.
There was little question that Goodstein struggling with the significance of the issues before her, and consequently appeared to rely on Runyan and his team in navigating the trial.
Her discomfort became increasingly obvious as the trial began and, in a moment of great frustration, she instructed the attorneys on both sides that they were not to use the name of the Episcopal Church in the proceedings-- because there were too many "churches" in the case for her to keep straight. (corrected 2/16)
She also rarely displayed intellectual confidence with the complex Constitutional questions the case raised. Once, when she did try to ask a witness a question about the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church, Runyan leaped to his feet and vigorously objected. Incredibly, she backed down.
On another occasion, not even halfway through the trial, Goodstein blithely volunteered to a bewildered courtroom that she had already decided to let the parishes that had joined Lawrence's suit as co-plaintiffs leave the Episcopal Church and take their property with them. Some of them had been with the Church since its founding after the Revolutionary War.
When Goodstein finally did rule in the case - seven months after the trial - the extent of Runyan's control was obvious. Goodstein's order looked a lot like she had simply cut and pasted key parts of his filings, including the draft of the order he'd proposed she issue. She appeared to have added nothing new to it, leaving the only remaining mystery about the ruling as to why it took her seven months.
Goodstein's courtroom behavior stunned even veteran lawyers
During the trial Goodstein's temperment became an issue as her behavior on the bench seemed to run the gamut from serious to goofy, and enraged to coquettish.
At one point, she became so angry that she stormed out of the courtroom after bitterly lashing out at one of the Church attorneys over a relatively trivial matter. Shortly thereafter, when she returned, her demeanor was lighthearted and even flirtatious with some of the older male attorneys.
Some in the audience were annoyed that she seemed to make faces when she didn't agree with the testimony of witnesses, and sometimes would put on a crude Gullah accent to explain her rulings in simple ways. On a few occasions, she actually offered coffee to witnesses as they were testifying and, on one occasion, used the term "nanny-nanny-boo-boo."
Goodstein will almost certainly deny the Motion for Reconsideration, which will then clear the way for an appeal.
Read news release from the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina
Read the entire Motion for Reconsideration
February 8, 2015
Independent 'Diocese of Diane' Celebrates Lower Court Win
Goodstein’s ruling dissolves SC Diocese’s historic ties to the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON – Followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence went to church today celebrating a state court ruling last week that legally severed their historic ties to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, while giving their leader control over parish properties and Diocesan financial assets with an estimated value of nearly $800 million.
Worship services around the breakaway "diocese" were conducted this morning just as they have been for years, with many clergy suggesting that something good and important had happened ... though few seemed to be exactly clear what it is, what it means, or if it even means anything.
For now though, it was sufficient that in the eyes of a Dorchester County judge their religious corporation, known as "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc," is somehow independent and governed by a man who says he didn't even know anyone in the state ten years ago.
However, all of today's church-goers, in secessionist as well as loyal Episcopal parishes, were very much aware that the controversial ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was only the first of series of rulings and appeals that will likely stretch out for years.
No longer Anglican
While many of the Lawrencian parishes use the word “Anglican” to describe themselves, Goodstein's decision means they are out of the worldwide Anglican Communion, currently led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The Communion represents centuries of western religious tradition going back to England's King Henry VIII, but only includes parishes and dioceses that belong to one of its 37 provinces around the world. In the United States, the Communion’s only province is the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence has tried to maintain the fantasy that he and his "diocese" are in the Communion by suggesting his friendship with dissident Anglican bishops, mostly in Africa, constitutes formal recognition by the Communion.
However, that isn't how it works. Just last fall, Welby said that renegade former Episcopalians now claiming to be Anglican were some sort of “separate Church” outside the Communion Lambeth Palace, Welby’s home and the center of the Communion, recognizes only Charles vonRosenberg as its bishop with jurisdiction in eastern South Carolina.
VonRosenberg succeeded Lawrence two years ago when he quit the Church.
Secession was a combination of clever lawyering and old fashioned fear-mongering
Since Lawrence was consecrated in 2008, he has been engaged in an imaginary “war” with the Episcopal Church over its acceptance of gays and lesbians, women in positions of ecclesiastical authority, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with his own.
During the trial of his lawsuit last July, it was clear that for almost all of his episcopate the highly-secretive Lawrence was publicly trying to appear conciliatory toward the Church, while privately organizing a move to secede.
In 2012 he and his team convinced leaders in nearly two-thirds of the parishes in the Diocese that liberal Church leaders wanted to take over their properties to either fill up with gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, or sell to Muslims. To protect themselves, they needed to amend the governing documents of their parishes, substitute all references to the Episcopal Church with references to his religious corporation (the PECDSC Inc).
Even though the takeover threat existed only in Lawrence's imagination, many normal intelligent people went along with it, and joined in a very expensive preemptive lawsuit to prevent such a thing from happening.
For example, a well-respected Charleston businessman and good friend of SC Episcopalians, told a local newspaper this week that he welcomed Goodstein's ruling because it would allow him to be buried in St. Philip's churchyard with his relatives going back to the 1600s.
To manage the lawsuit, Lawrence and his supporters engaged a legal dream team of nearly fifty lawyers, many with close personal and professional ties to Judge Goodstein in whose jurisdiction they shrewdly decided to file the suit.
After delays of a year and a half, Goodstein finally held a trial of the case last July.
Their careful judge-shopping obviously paid off Wednesday, as Goodstein declared that the Lawrencian parishes are sole owners of their property and the Episcopal Church has no claims on them. She also ruled that they also own the very wealthy "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc" - the religious corporation established by the Episcopal Church for its work in eastern South Carolina.
There was nothing in Goodstein's ruling that did not appear to have come directly from Lawrence's attorneys. The only surprise was that it took Goodstein six months to issue the ruling. She gave nothing to the 27 parishes and missions, who have remained loyal to the Church and whose leaders were instrumental in building up the Diocese.
Oddly, there were no reports of disappointed gays, lesbians, transgendered people, or Muslims showing up at the Lawrence parishes this morning.
Fresh from victory, Lawrencians renew discredited attacks to raise money
To celebrate their legal victory, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his chief lieutenants immediately returned to their rhetorical comfort zone by dredging up discredited attacks on the Episcopal Church to stoke their followers into providing more funds for a planned appeal of Goodstein's ruling.
The PECDSC Inc. and many of its parishes have been sucking wind financially and otherwise as loyal Episcopalians in their congregations have either left or have stopped giving.
This week Lawrence's public relations team revived their old claim that the Episcopal Church is a dying Church because lawsuits against theologically conservative parishes are driving members away.
It is true that the Church did lose members over the past decade and a half, but not nearly at the rate as other mainstream, hierarchical Churches. The Lawrencians' rhetoric is ironic since the Diocese of South Carolina appeared to be one of the fastest growing in the Church during that time ... until 2008 when Lawrence took over and it became the fastest shrinking.
Lawrence's team always seems to omit the fact that the Episcopal Church has never initiated legal action against any of its parishes or dioceses. It has only become involved in litigation when those entities and those like Lawrence - who have abandoned their vows -- have legal steps to leave the Church with Church property and financial assets.
February 3, 2015
Goodstein Rules Breakaways Can Secede
Says anti-Church group can have the name, property, and financial assets of the Diocese of South Carolina
State judge puts South Carolina at odds with Federal Courts & other states over whether the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical"
Read 54-page ruling here
Read summary and initial response of Bishop vonRosenberg here
ST. GEORGE - A South Carolina state court ruled late today that ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers own nearly $800 million in property and financial assets of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, as well as the Diocesan corporation itself.
The decision is a huge victory for beleaguered former Episcopalians here and around the country, who have needed a solid court victory to pump up their claims to own Church assets. Their remaining legal efforts are ongoing in the Diocese of Fort Worth and the tiny former Diocese of Quincy, Illinois.
The ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was surprising only in that she took nearly seven months to render a decision that was mostly an exact recitation of filings provided her by Lawrence's lead attorney, Alan Runyan. She announced during the trial that she would allow the pro-Lawrence parishes to leave the Church, so the only key unresolved issue was whether the Diocese's corporate structure could leave as well.
The decision now pits Goodstein and a favorable ruling in the state courts of Illinois against the high courts in nearly two dozen states which have lined up with the Episcopal Church. The Texas Supreme Court has been favorable to the breakaway group in Fort Worth, but that case has gone back to the lower state courts for retrial.
It also puts her on the opposite side of the U.S. Federal courts that have affirmed that the Episcopal Church is an "hierarchical" Church comprised of dioceses whose leadership is determined by its governing bodies. Such ecclesiastical structures are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The United States Supreme Court recently let stand a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found in favor of the Episcopal Church in its version of the Lawrence case.
While he refused to hear a related case brought by the Church last year, Federal District Judge Weston Houck in Charleston, who could actually hear the case at some point, did stated last year that there is no question the Episcopal Church is hierarchical.
If Goodstein's reasoning is allowed to stand on appeal at the state level, secessionist congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and other similarly structured denominations like the Lutherans and Methodists, will also be able to lay claim to their parish properties and leave.
January 30, 2015
Lawyers Battle over Houck's Ruling in Federal Appeals Court
VonRosenberg wants the Federal courts to order Mark Lawrence to stop saying he's an Episcopal Bishop... but a ruling by a local judge is standing in the way
Lawrencians may be facing an expensive two-front battle to secede from the Church
RICHMOND - Lawyers for South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg took to the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today seeking to overturn a lower court ruling denying them the right to challenge ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence's claim to be an Episcopal Bishop.
Charleston attorney Tom Tisdale, Chancellor for the Church's continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina, butted heads with a pesky, though not unsympathetic, three-judge panel trying to determine if the lower court was wrong.
Wednesday's arguments addressed only a single procedural issue, and not the substance of the case. However, if Tisdale's appeal is successful, he will have forced the Lawrencians to open a second legal front in unfriendly territory in their increasingly expensive and quixotic battle for secession from the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence left the Church in 2012
Lawrence announced in October 2012 that he had left the Episcopal Church after a disciplinary board found he'd abandoned the Church and the vows he took at his consecration only five years earlier. In compliance with Church law, its leaders formally gave him the boot shortly thereafter. He admitted that he had done everything with which he was charged by the disciplinary board.
Since then, Lawrence has repeatedly asserted that he is still the Bishop of the Church's Diocese of South Carolina.
In January 2013, he even filed a monster lawsuit in state court demanding that the diocese be allowed to secede from the Church under his leadership, and that he and his followers be awarded an estimated $800 million in Diocesan property and financial assets accumulated over 225 years.
Nearly two-thirds of the Diocese's missions and parishes said they wanted to leave the Church with Lawrence, and most joined his lawsuit as plaintiffs.
Only in the peculiar world of Lawrence does this make any sense.
Tisdale: Ex-Bishop is a poseur engaged in illegal false advertising
Wednesday's oral arguments in Richmond were solely about a ruling by U.S. District Judge Weston Houck last year in which he refused to hear vonRosenberg's case. Houck said that the issues Tisdale raised in that case did not necessarily need to be tried in Federal court since the trial of Lawrence's lawsuit in state court would likely address them.
Tisdale disagreed and appealed.
Tisdale wants the Appeals Court to order Houck to hear the case, and argued that the issues raised by vonRosenberg's lawsuit are violations of Federal law that were not addressed in Lawrence's lawsuit or its ensuing trial last July before S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein from Dorchester County.
Tisdale's arguments suggested that Lawrence is a clever poseur, whose antics are "false advertising" intended to make it difficult for vonRosenberg to carry out his responsibilities as the duly elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. He claimed that the damage being caused by Lawrence is ongoing, and that a timely resolution by the courts is critical.
The state court under Goodstein took some indirect towel-snaps when the judges expressed consternation on learning that she'd not yet ruled in Lawrence's lawsuit.
Not the genteel courtrooms of South Carolina
Neither Tisdale nor Lawrence attorney, Alan Runyan from Beaufort, was particularly forceful during his allotted twenty minutes before the panel. The judges had obviously read briefs submitted by both sides and repeatedly interrupted the attorneys with technical questions about other cases and precedents that might have a bearing on this one.
The sharp questioning by the judges seemed to rattle both attorneys who were struggling to get their positions on the complex issues in the case on the record. On several occasions, a seemingly frustrated Judge Diana Gribbon Motz tried to explain to the lawyers what they were trying to say.
Judges got Tisdale's arguments; not-so-much Runyan's
Runyan appeared to get the worst of it, as the panel was clearly not buying his defense of Houck's ruling, or his explanation of why a violation of Federal law should not be tried in a Federal court.
Runyan's technique of charming a more cooperative Goodstein away from issues unhelpful to him last summer only seemed to annoy the Federal judges Wednesday. He seemed flummoxed when Motz continually pressed him for precedents justifying Houck's action.
In fairness, Houck's decision did not give Runyan much to work with.
Runyan has spent years plotting Lawrence's case against the Episcopal Church based on a trial in state courts. Consequently, he has sought to avoid the Federal courts, which have been strongest against breakaway groups around the country.
The prospects of having to pursue Lawrence's lawsuit in state court and simultaneously defend him in Federal court is also not going sit well with pro-Lawrence parishes who are already grumbling about the costs of backing their litigation-happy ex-bishop.
Listen to the oral arguments before the three-judge panel
Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent analysis of the Federal case
January 29, 2015
Longtime Rector at Historic St. Philip's in Charleston is Out
Haden McCormick has been a Lawrence loyalist and supporter of his leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON - Ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and the leaders of St. Philip's Episcopal Church announced today that Haden McCormick, its rector for the past fifteen years, will vacate that position in April.
The announcement came after a private meeting between Lawrence and McCormick last week. According to Lawrence, quiet discussions about McCormick's future have been ongoing with the parish vestry since last summer.
Neither Lawrence, parish leaders, nor McCormick were specific about the reasons for his departure.
Former glory, pre-Lawrence
Saint Philip's was once considered the "mother parish" of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and its rectors were instantly among the most influential clergy in the Diocese. Its congregation has included former leaders of colonial South Carolina and the doomed Confederate States of America. Vice-President John C. Calhoun was buried there., along with many other prominent South Carolinians who shaped the state's destiny.
However, whatever was left of that influence in more modern times has long since evaporated.
Under McCormick in 2012, the congregation voted to try to leave the Episcopal Church, and joined Lawrence's quixotic lawsuit to grab an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets in addition to becoming independent from it ... and the parish has not had an easy time since.
Several longtime parishioners left. Some were loyal Episcopalians while others simply grew tired of McCormick's negative tone toward the Church. Others wanted to remain a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its province in the United States.
Gradually parish leaders began realizing that Lawrence's justifications for bringing the lawsuit are largely fantasy, generated by his imaginary culture "war" with Church leaders. In fact, there was never any threat to St. Philip's from the Church or any interest by any of its leadership in taking over the parish's property, as people like Lawrence and McCormick suggested.
Ironically, the decision to join the lawsuit has actually put ownership of parish property up for grabs, which would not have happened if the parish had simply done nothing except the work Jesus Christ gave them to do.
The parish has incurred deficits in its operating budgets in the past two years, and racked up significant legal bills (nearly $130,000 in 2013 alone) which it paid out of investment funds set aside for future ministry. Lawrence has given no indication of abandoning his commitment to his lawsuit, which attorneys predict will drag on for years.
However, St. Philip's is still a vibrant congregation with strong lay leadership.
Humiliating stunt tarnishes departing rector's legacy
Sadly, McCormick will always be remembered for an adolescent stunt he and other Lawrencians engineered in 2008.
That year Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted their invitation to participate in a service of evensong at Saint Philip's during her three-day "listening tour" in the Diocese.
However, she was told by the Lawrencians that she would not be allowed to speak during the service, except to say a closing prayer. She was also informed that she would process into the church along side Lawrence rather than following him at the end of the procession as is protocol.
Apparently, they wanted to send Jefferts Shori a you're-not-the-boss-of-us message, and let her know they did not regard her as anything more than one of many bishops in the Church.
The readings for the service were carefully chosen for their condemnation of sexual immorality, and the lay readers -- members of St. Philip's -- even turned around to glare at her when they read.
While nearly 300 people attended the service, the parish further embarrassed itself by arranging a reception for the Presiding Bishop immediately following at which it served only served store-bought cookies. (Remember this is downtown Charleston). The leader of the Episcopal Church and Primate in the Anglican Communion was also told to vacate the premises after 45 minutes because a youth group needed the space.
Almost every insult planned by the Lawrencians backfired. At the end of the service, the disgusted congregation erupted in a joyous ten-minute ovation for the leader of their Church. Afterwards, she and her husband were mobbed by admirers, who generally ignored Lawrence and McCormick.
In her remarks at the reception, she graciously thanked the people of the parish for their warmth and generous hospitality. Unfortunately for the parish, the incident was reported throughout the Anglican world.
Who will succeed McCormick?
McCormick's successor has yet to be announced, though it is not clear that the decision has even been made. Current speculation centers on one Lawrence favorite, but it is all based on rumors and SC Episcopalians is not close enough to the powers-that-be to mention the name with any confidence. He will almost certainly be male.
In the autocratic Lawrencian "diocese", it is not clear how much say parishes have in the selection of their rectors. Recent shake-ups in rectorships in other parishes have generally involved promotions from within the ranks of loyal Lawrencian clergy.
Lawrence will be the dominant factor in the selection process, and he seems to be okay with promoting existing staff clergy to the top job in a parish without an extensive search or parish discernment. That is not the practice in most Episcopal churches.
January 20, 2015
Oral Arguments in Appeal of Houck's Decision Scheduled for Jan. 28
No word yet on a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Goodstein
RICHMOND - Lawyers for the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina will head to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia next week to argue that a local Federal judge was wrong not to claim jurisdiction in a case they brought in 2013 asking that the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg be recognized as the Church's duly elected bishop in eastern South Carolina.
VonRosenberg's predecessor, ex-Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, claims that he is the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, even though he abandoned the Church more than two years ago. For years Lawrence has been engaged in an imaginary "war" with the Church that includes a massive lawsuit claiming that he and his followers own an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets.
Federal Judge Weston Houck from Charleston previously rejected the Church's argument that issues raised by Lawrence's conduct necessarily warrant the intervention of the Federal Courts.
Church lawyers and those representing Lawrence will be given a total of twenty minutes each to present their oral arguments in the case on January 28th.
Meanwhile, there has been no word on when a ruling in the case of Lawrence's mega-lawsuit might be handed down by State Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County. The trial was held last July, and the judge herself seemed to suggest that an opinion would be forthcoming in the fall. However, she is under no timetable and many legal observers at the trial thought she was not aware of the potentially far-reaching effects of her decision when set the schedule was announced.
Read full story from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina website.
January 1,, 2015
New Year Finds Current and Former Episcopalians in South Carolina Stalled, Entering a Third Year of Breakaways' Attack on the Church
After two turbulent years of legal maneuvering by their embittered former Bishop and his nearly 50-member legal team, current and former Episcopalians, in what was once a large, thriving diocese in the Episcopal Church, are spiritually exhausted and financially depleted.
Any hope of a quick resolution to the complicated legal issues raised by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in their lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina have long since evaporated.
Lawrence and his followers are part of a national effort by ultraconservatives to create a legal precedent that will allow them and their allies in other dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church and take their parishes and even their entire dioceses with them. The strategy has failed in most places, including Georgia, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, but legal cases in Fort Worth and Quincy (Ill), along with Lawrence's in South Carolina, are still active, but moving at a snail's pace.
Episcopal Church in South Carolina thrives under Lawrence's successor
Much to the surprise of many on both sides, the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina has proven to be a viable entity with sufficient resources to fight Lawrence's attempt to make off with the Diocese of South Carolina's parish properties and financial assets, conservatively valued at $800 million. The continuing diocese has also gotten good news in the form of insurance coverage for its legal expenses incurred while defending itself from Lawrence's legal assault.
Lawrence's successor, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, has led a reorganization of the Diocese that has seen significant grown and rebirth. New mission parishes have formed in parts of the Diocese where pro-Lawrence congregations have not yet relinquished control of their buildings, and a number of its larger, established parishes have continued to attract loyal Episcopalians who have grown weary of Lawrence's erratic leadership, hostility toward homosexuals and lesbians in the Church, and his intolerance of those whose experience of God is different from his own.
Parishes loyal to the Episcopal Church in Charleston experienced record turnouts this Christmas. Grace Church, the largest of them, had five Christmas services with nearly 3,000 participants.
Lawsuit slogging along, likely to take years and millions of dollars
Lawrence's lawsuit went to trial last summer in Dorchester County, where some of his attorneys have ties to a judge they felt would rule in their favor. The judge's performance at trial drew occasional gasps and guffaws, as she appeared determined to limit the admission of evidence that might be helpful to the Church and its continuing Diocese on appeal.
Now, nearly six months after the trial, the judge has not yet ruled in the case, nor has a Federal appeals court in Richmond made a decision on vonRosenberg's request that he be recognized as the legitimately elected and officially-recognized Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Lawrence, living very well in Charleston, says no chance of reconciliation
Meanwhile, Lawrence has firmly ensconced himself in Charleston in the official residence established by loyal Episcopalians for the rightful Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The Diocesan Board of Trustees, which the ex-bishop chairs, has awarded him a $1-per-year lease for the home, located in a very posh and historic part of downtown. Funds contributed by his breakaway "diocese" cover maintenance and upkeep on the property. He also has a very nice agreement with the "diocese" that makes him its salaried CEO until he decides to give that up.
Believe it or not, in addition to his salary, he gets a pension from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund, one of the most lucrative retirement plans in the country and one which his priests were forced to give up when they abandoned the Church with him.
Last year Lawrence launched an aggressive appeal for $2 million in funds to pay his lawyers, and this year he is pressuring them for the same amount to fight the "spiritual forces of evil.". Details of the legal fund's income and expenses do not appear to be available to the public.
December 22, 2014
Ex-Bishop's exotic metaphors, vivid dreams, and rhetorical flourishes have defined a leadership style that has guided his schism
Episcopalians in South Carolina have long become accustomed to Mark Lawrence’s accounts of divine revelation through dreams, visions, angelic messengers, and even ordinary humans through whom heavenly voices speak in ways that only he can understand. His recounting of these imaginings often echo the writings of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and authors of other literary classics he studied in college.
Many of these narratives are charming, as is the one in which his surprise proposal of marriage was spoiled by angels, who had tipped off his future wife in a dream the night before. Then there are bigger picture revelations, almost always cast with Lawrence as God's reluctant hero. All have contributed to his mystique among his followers but many also have been useful to him in inspiring (or some would say, manipulating) them in his recent schism with the Episcopal Church.
Readers of this weblog will remember, for example, Lawrence's 2012 summer vacation that somehow transformed itself into a Biblical epic when he ascended the mountains of North Carolina in anticipation of a new vision to guide next steps in his imaginary “war” with the Church.
On his return, a jubilant Standing Committee eagerly spread the word that indeed the bishop had received an exciting vision through which the Diocese would at last be "drawn into a place of alignment with God alongside Mark."
Few - except the cynical, shameless, and SC Episcopalians - noticed that Lawrence's new vision bore a striking resemblance to his attorneys' secret legal scheme to sue the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese of South Carolina, and make off with hundreds of millions of dollars in property and financial assets accumulated over 225 years of its proclamation of the Gospel...
Read full posting by clicking here