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April 17, 2014
Judge Admonishes Lawrence Lawyers on "Abuse" of Subpoenas

Lawrencians wanted Bishop vonRosenberg and Archdeacon Walpole to be deposed Easter Monday and Tuesday

Episcopalians does not like being wrong, but we sure were yesterday.

Even as we were reporting that pretrial fireworks in ex-Bishop Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church had calmed down for Holy Week, Lawrence’s legal team was dispatching process servers to track down his successor, The Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, and the Ven. Calhoun Walpole, Archdeacon of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina under vonRosenberg. 

Their purpose was to serve the two with subpoenas, “commanding” that they show up for depositions on Monday and Tuesday. 

That’s right, the two days after Easter.

For weeks, Church attorneys have been livid over alleged bullying by Lawrence’s legal team around pretrial depositions of potential witnesses for the Church.  All proceedings in the case were supposed to have been halted by order of Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein weeks ago. 

However, the Lawrencians ignored the order and continued to issue subpoenas, chasing down likely witnesses and scheduling depositions with their 40-member legal team. (SC Episcopalians has gotten three subpoenas, two of which appear to have been issued in defiance of Goodstein's order.  We obeyed the judge and didn't show up.)

Earlier this week, Church attorneys asked Goodstein to put a stop to the "abuse" of the subpoena process and attempted "intimidation" of witnesses by holding the Lawrencians in contempt.

Until today, Goodstein had said nothing about the request, but that all changed around mid-morning when all the lawyers in the case were contacted by Goodstein's assistant who let them know that the judge was not pleased her order was being ignored.  

It was hardly the rebuke Church attorneys were hoping for, but it was enough to inspire red-faced Lawrencians to quickly jump on the phone to retract the subpoenas for vonRosenberg and Walpole.

April 16, 2014
PECDSC Lawsuit on Hold after State's Supreme Court Intervenes

Dispute over emails brings pretrial proceedings to a halt; High Court takes over appeals process, but takes no action on the one that's holding things up

fter minor legal skirmishes, Holy Week has turned out to be a quiet interlude in the increasingly tangled lawsuit brought by Mark Lawrence and his followers against the Episcopal Church and those in the Diocese of South Carolina remaining loyal to the Church after Lawrence quit as their bishop nineteen months ago.
Lawrence and his breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Inc.” are asking Circuit Court Judge Diane Shafer Goodstein to rule that they are entitled to leave the Church with parish properties and financial assets valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Lawrence claims that he is the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and still leads an Episcopal “diocese,” even though neither he nor the members of his “diocese” consider themselves Episcopalians.

The parishes and missions want to leave The Episcopal Church over its treatment of gays and lesbians as normal people and an irrational fear that their embrace of Lawrence's Biblical literalism would somehow cause them to be thrown out of their church buildings.

Lawrence’s 40-member legal team filed the lawsuit in January 2013 with the hope of its being adjudicated quickly, based on a related 2009 Supreme Court decision in the case of All Saints’ on Pawleys Island. 

However, that has not happened, nor does it appear that Goodstein’s expectation of a July 7th trial date will materialize either.  Pretrial discovery and depositions of likely witnesses, which have barely begun, are suspended until further notice.

Episcopal Church attorneys say nearly 1,200 emails between ex-Bishop and Diocese's lawyer belong to the Church

The current sticking point is a pretrial ruling by Judge Goodstein last November denying Church attorneys access to approximately 1,200 emails between Lawrence and Beaufort lawyer Alan Runyan, when Lawrence was recognized by the Church as the legitimate Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and Runyan was an attorney for the Diocese. 

Church lawyers say the emails are work products that belong to the Church since both men were its employees until late 2012 when Lawrence left the Church.  They claim that the emails are essential to their ability to defend the Church when the case goes to trial.

In January 2014, Church lawyers appealed Goodstein’s ruling to the state’s Court of Appeals. Such an appeal halts – or “stays” - all proceedings in a case like this, regardless of whether they are directly related to the substance of the appeal.  At one point, Lawrence’s attorneys asked Goodstein to make an exception for them to move forward with pretrial depositions, but she said no.

The Court of Appeals finally ruled last month that the Church's appeal over the email ruling was premature while the case was in its pretrial phase.  However, Church attorneys immediately responded by asking that the appeals judges reconsider the decision since there was legal precedence suggesting that pretrial interventions by the Appeals Court were not necessarily premature in every case.

Everyone was waiting for an answer from the appellate judges two weeks ago when, out of the blue, the state’s Supreme Court announced that it would take over the appeals process in the case from the Court of Appeals. 

However, the Court did not say when it would rule on the Church’s request for a hearing on Goodstein’s ruling, so the “stay” order halting all proceedings in the case appears to remain intact.

April 9, 2014
Church Attorneys Demand Sanctions Against PECDSC Legal Team for "Misconduct" and "Intimidation" over Subpoenas

Despite judge's order, PECDSC pressing forward on interrogation of retired Bishop & Archdeacon during Holy Week, Easter

Lawrence's legal team even going after the spouse of a Supreme Court Justice

torneys for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina today asked S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein to sanction ex-Bishop Lawrence’s legal team for continued “misconduct and wrongful intimidation” of potential witnesses in the lawsuit he and his secessionist “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Incorporated (PECDSC Inc.)” have brought against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina.

According to Church lawyers, the PECDSC legal team has continued to issue subpoenas and pressure potential witnesses for depositions despite Goodstein’s order “staying” all proceedings in the case. They also have asked the judge to quash all 14 subpoenas they believe to have been wrongfully issued by Beaufort Attorney Alan Runyan and company.

Is this legitimate information gathering?

Depositions are intended to serve as pretrial tools for collecting information from potential witnesses in a lawsuit.  Lawyers are often given wide latitude in using it, and sometimes the line between reasonable data gathering from potential witnesses and harassment or intimidation is not always clear. 

This week PECDSC lawyers even issued a subpoena for the husband of a member of the state Supreme Court, demanding that he be deposed this Friday, just before Holy Week begins.  George Hearn, and his wife, were among a number of prominent Episcopalians in South Carolina who left their longtime parish homes when Lawrence supporters tried to secede from the Episcopal Church.

The PECDSC Inc. legal team has also been shameless in trying to schedule depositions around Palm Sunday and Easter, in what appears to be a show of contempt for individuals like retired Western Missouri Bishop John Buchanan and Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole, the first woman to hold a position of authority in either legitimate diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Other subpoenas were issued to Bishop Charles vonRosenberg; retired Upper South Carolina Bishop Dorsey Henderson; the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church; the Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston; the Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in North Charleston; and the Director of Communications for the continuing Diocese.

Lawrence’s attorneys also want to depose imagined enemies like Charleston Attorney Robert Black, and former leaders of the Episcopal Forum, Melinda Lucka and Barbara Mann.  They were instrumental in filing a complaint with the Episcopal Church questioning Lawrence's conduct as a bishop in the Church.  It is not clear what they have to do with issues raised in Lawrence's lawsuit, especially since Lawrence has never disputed the factual basis for their claims.

Since January, PECDSC Inc. lawyers have employed process servers to deliver subpoenas to potential pro-Church witnesses by sneaking up on them at their homes at odd hours of the day.  It is a mystery why the PECDSC Inc. is doing this, since none of their targets have indicated any objection to providing depositions.  Normally, just mailing or delivering subpoenas to attorneys of record during regular working hours would be a more civil and less expensive process.

PECDSC Inc. angered over disclosure of legal fees?

Meanwhile, Mr. Runyan also wants to depose the editor of SC Episcopalians, and ordered up a process server to travel to his home last Tuesday to deliver what appears to be an exact copy of a previous subpoena.  The process server announced his arrival with a loud banging on the front door at the crack of dawn.  Runyan wants that deposition to be taken on Monday of Holy Week. 

Oddly this -- now third -- subpoena arrived two days after we published an article detailing the extraordinary legal fees Lawrence’s “diocese” has been paying since he became bishop in 2008. 

Last year alone, those fees of $286,250 consumed 14% of the PECDSC’s operating budget.  We also pointed out that the PECDSC appears to have ended up nearly $150,000 in the red for that year. You can do the math.

April 9, 2014
SC Supreme Court will hear Appeals during PECDSC Lawsuit Trial

Change of appeals venue from SC Court of Appeals does not prevent future appeals; "Stay" order still in place

Lawrence's legal team fighting to protect  over 1,200 emails that Church lawyers believe might reveal misconduct

COLUMBIA - The state's Supreme Court ruled today that it would assume jurisdiction over appeals generated during the trial of Mark Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina.  The trial is expected to start July 7th, but pretrial activities have been explosive and already included appeals of a controversial ruling by the trial judge.

Normally such appeals would first go to the state’s Court of Appeals, which was created in 1983 to reduce a backlog of cases pending before the Supreme Court.  However, the justices will make exceptions in some cases, including those where there is an expectation of an eventual appeal to the high court.

Lawrence and 34 parishes and missions in his breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc.” are suing for control of Episcopal Church property and financial assets valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

There is no way to infer whether such an action favors one side or the other.  For the past few months, attorneys for the Episcopal Church have been pressing the Appeals Court to overturn a pretrial decision by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County to exclude nearly 1,200 emails between Lawrence and attorney Alan Runyan as evidence in the case.

Lawrence's spokesmen have been hailing the Supreme Court's intervention as a "victory" for their case, suggesting that it will prevent future "frivolous" appeals by the Church and prevent delays in the trial.  However, such a claim is a stretch as there is no restriction on appeals by either party, nor is there any guarantee that the Supreme Court will hear them expeditiously.

April 5, 2014

PECDSC Corporation Swimming in Red Ink

Budget Report:  Declining revenues, legal fees, & excessive spending undermining breakaway effort

Addiction to long-standing Church trust funds preventing even larger deficits

Plagued with declining revenues and mounting legal bills, the breakaway "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Incorporated" slipped even further into the red in 2013 with an operating deficit of nearly $150,000, according to financial reports provided delegates to the corporation's Annual Meeting two weeks ago

The 2013 deficit would have been even greater if the PECDSC Inc. hadn't drawn down nearly $280,000 from trust funds established for the work for the Episcopal Church through the Diocese of South Carolina.  Those funds are managed by a separate Board of Trustees over which ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence presides.  The legality of that annual transfer of funds is in limbo because of issues raised in Lawrence’s current lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese led by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg..

Deficit spending is not new for the PECDSC Inc.  In 2012, operating expenses exceeded income by $42,965. When 2012 off-budget accounts were added in, the deficit reached an unprecedented $562,980, according to an independent audit released  last summerThat 2012 deficit would have been even larger had it not been for $271,516 from those same Episcopal Church trust funds that Lawrence, who is no longer part of the Episcopal Church, insists he controls.

As was the case in 2012, delegates to the corporation's 2013 Annual Meeting took no meaningful steps to get spending under control, nor does it appear that their leadership has the stomach to make the kind of spending cuts necessary to balance the books in the future.

Annual income from parishes and missions has declined by 32% under Lawrence

Part of the problem facing the PECDSC Inc. is that annual income from parishes and missions has declined every year since Lawrence was consecrated. 

In 2013 income from parishes and missions was 32% below the level in 2007, the final year of the episcopate of Lawrence’s predecessor. That works out to a decline of about $750,000, only a little more than $100,000 of that decline is attributable to congregations that remained loyal to the Church after Lawrence was deposed in 2012, and 34 PECDSC Inc. parishes and missions that tried to leave with him.

Annual income from parishes and missions under Lawrence:

     2007          $2,341,741          
            2008          $2,311,833          
            2009          $2,017,768          
            2010          $1,856,940          
            2011          $1,749,492          
            2012          $1,852,032 *         
            2013          $1,682,842
            2014          $1,600,000

              *  Includes more than $100,000 from parishes that have remained loyal to the Episcopal Church. 
            **  Projected in 2014 approved budget

Lawyers gobbled up 14% of PECDSC Inc. income in 2013

The PECDSC Inc. continued to be a cash cow for lawyers in 2013 as their fees gobbled up 14% of its operating income. This apparently does not include payments to lawyers from individual parishes or any money possibly from a highly secretive, legal slush fund being organized by Lawrence’s inner circle.  By our count, Lawrence and his allies have more than forty lawyers on one payroll or another.

Annual PECDSC Inc. spending on lawyers is now more than five times what it was when Lawrence became bishop in 2008Last year’s payments to lawyers were nearly twice what was budgeted and approved by delegates to the 2013 Annual Meeting.

Annual legal fees paid by the Diocese of SC/PECDSC Inc. under Mark Lawrence

            2008          $  50,000 (estimated))       
            2009          $  41,029         
            2010          $266,967         
            2011          $169,963         
            2012          $198,228         
            2013          $286,250 ($147,000 budgeted)

PECDSC corporate salaries are too big for such a small operation

SC Episcopalians is almost too polite to bring this up, but much of the 2013 operating deficit is due to salaries and other compensation that are excessive for a “diocese” the size of the PECDSC Inc.  

Lawrence apparently doesn’t see it that way, and actually asked for and got raises for his top lieutenants from the convention, even while the operation is swimming in red ink. 

Lawrence's compensation significantly exceeds those of bishops of dioceses in the Episcopal Church of similar sizes.  In addition to his regular salary he is also fully vested in the Episcopal Church's pension fund.  (The PECDSC Inc. has never confirmed if he is receiving both his full compensation package and full pension.)

The Bishop's  travel & entertainment account last year was 35% over what was approved by the Annual Meeting, even though he no longer attends meetings of the House of Bishops, Province IV meetings, or any other Episcopal Church gatherings.  With one-third less parishes and missions to serve, it seems like there should be some savings there, but apparently not.

April 1, 2014
Church Lawyers Ask Goodstein to Stop PECDSC from "Abusing" Subpoenas

Ex-Bishop Lawrence's refusal to release 1200 emails has tied up proceedings in his lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese

ST. GEORGE - Lawyers for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina today asked S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to hold attorneys for Mark Lawrence and his "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." in contempt for issuing multiple subpoenas to potential witnesses while proceedings in the case had been halted.

A "stay" order automatically went into effect in January when Church lawyers appealed a pretrial decision by Goodstein allowing Lawrence to withhold approximately 1,200 emails between the Standing Committee's lawyer and himself during nearly three years when they were both employees of the Episcopal Church.  The Church maintains that their correspondence is work product to which it is entitled.
Goodstein ruled that attorneys would not be allowed exceptions to the order.

Last week the appeals court ruled that the appeal was premature, and declined to hear arguments on it at this stage of the case

However, Church lawyers subsequently asked the appeals court to reconsider its decision, which again, stayed all proceedings in the case.  This week Lawrence's lawyers have asked Goodstein to lift the stay so that they can proceed with depositions.  However, she has not issued a decision on that request.

Church lawyers also complained to Goodstein that "Starting in January, the breakaway group has been taking the unusual step of hiring a process server to track down local Episcopalians at their homes and workplaces and serve them with subpoenas to appear and give depositions. Normally, deposition schedules are arranged cooperatively between attorneys for the parties. So far, at least 10 people are known to have been subpoenaed by the breakaway group."

SC Episcopalians was among those receiving subpoenas from process servers. In several instances, the process servers commented on how kindly they were received by those on whom they were serving papers while they were in their homes. Apparently, they were even invited in for coffee and breakfast.

Lawrence's lawyers have scheduled SC Episcopalians' deposition for Holy Week

April 1, 2014

Lawrence Lawyers Using Depositions to After His Enemies?

Potential witnesses, publicly attacked by Lawrence's spokesmen in the past,
have been subpoenaed to give depositions ... even though they have no apparent expertise in issues raised by the lawsuit

Potential key witnesses in a trial are generally subject to interviews by lawyers for both sides.  Some, whose testimony is particularly complex or otherwise essential to one side or the other, will often be required to give pretrial depositions.

In the pending lawsuit by Mark Lawrence and 34 breakaway congregations against the Episcopal Church and its continuing local Diocese, the original list of potential witnesses Lawrence’s lawyers wanted to depose was not only lengthy, but included people whose relevance to the issues in the case was not immediately apparent.

The list is smaller now, but those unlikely names have stayed on the list.

For example, Lawrence’s legal team is particularly keen on questioning two former leaders of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, the members of which Lawrence and his lieutenants have long regarded with open hostility.

As part of pretrial discovery, they and others have been told to hand over any documents including emails detailing any involvement they might have had in complaints submitted to the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops in 2011 and 2012.  Those concerns about Lawrence's conduct as a bishop were the basis of the Board's eventual finding in late 2012 that he had "abandoned the Church." 

Similarly, SC Episcopalians, not always a fan of Lawrence's agenda, has been told it must produce any documents related to its involvement with the Church’s disciplinary procedures against Lawrence. (SC Episcopalians was not one of the signers of the complaints).

The problem with all this is that the disciplinary procedures against Lawrence are not a cause of action in the lawsuit.  This is a case about Church property, corporate, and canon law about which these potential witnesses have no apparent expertise.  Even more puzzling, Lawrence himself has never disputed the validity of the facts made in the complaints, such that it is difficult to understand why his lawyers now want to raise the issue.

However, these potential witnesses do have one thing in common:  They have all been attacked publicly by Lawrence's spokesmen in recent years, leaving little doubt that in Lawrence's one-sided "war" against the Episcopal Church, they are among the enemies.

March 27, 2014
Continuing Diocese Seeks Rehearing on Email Controversy

According case law cited by the Diocese, "discovery orders can be appealed immediately when they involve the merits of the case, or when they affect substantial rights"

COLUMBIA -  Attorneys for the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina today requested a rehearing on a recent decision by the state's Court of Appeals not to intervene in the discovery phase of the lawsuit by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and breakaway parishes attempting to leave the Episcopal Church with him. 

Church lawyers are asking the Court to rule on a recent decision by Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein not to allow approximately 1,200 emails between Lawrence and Beaufort attorney Alan Runyan to be handed over to them, even though both men were employees of the Episcopal Church at the time. 

The Church's legal team believes the emails will make it plain that the lawsuit is part of an elaborate scheme to defraud the Church of its identity, parish property, and diocesan assets, valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

In their initial appeal, Church lawyers said the emails were vital to their ability to mount an effective defense in the lawsuit.  The Hon. Jasper Cureton, one of the judges on the Court, issued a two-sentence response nearly two weeks ago in which he said such an appeal was inappropriate at this pretrial phase of the lawsuit.

In requesting that a three-judge panel review Judge Cureton's
ruling, a spokesman for the continuing Diocese cited a 1974 decision that said, "discovery orders can be appealed immediately when they involve the merits of the case, or when they affect substantial rights. TECSC contends that its appeal does both, and cites cases in which the courts have granted similar motions."

The trial of Lawrence's lawsuit is scheduled for July

Read the press release from the continuing Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

What does the Court of Appeals do?  "[A]ppellate courts in this state, like well-behaved children, do not speak unless spoken to and do not answer questions they are not asked." State v. Austin, 306 S.C. 9, 19, 409 S.E.2d 811, 817 (Ct. App. 1991)

March 19, 2014
For Now, Appeals Court Won't Act on Goodstein Ruling on Lawrence-Runyan Emails; Trial on ex-Bishop's Lawsuit set for July

Lawrence lawyers shamelessly going after loyal Episcopalians during Holy Week;  SC Episcopalians is "saddened"

COLUMBIA - The SC Court of Appeals said today that it will not act on the appeal of a ruling by SC Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in which she denied the Episcopal Church access to approximately 1200 emails between Mark Lawrence and attorney Alan Runyan. 

The Appeals Court said its involvement, during the discovery phase of Lawrence's lawsuit against the Church, would be premature.  The Court did not indicate how it might eventually rule should the same appeal be made later during the actual trial or on appeal. 

The emails are believed by some to contain evidence of the two conspiring to defraud the Episcopal Church of its property and financial assets.   At the time they were written, Lawrence was the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and Runyan was counsel to its Standing Committee.  Church lawyers claim that, as employees of the Church, their emails are work products to which it is entitled. 

Lawrence and 34 parishes aligned with him want Judge Goodstein to give them ownership of Episcopal Church property and financial assets accumulated over three centuries of its proclamation of the Gospel in eastern South Carolina.

Why we will be "saddened" during Holy Week

The Court's refusal to take up the appeal at this point means that pretrial discovery, which had been halted, can continue. 

When they got the news, Lawrence's legal team wasted little time firing off a subpoena to SC Episcopalians, demanding that we show up on April 14th to be deposed.  Shamelessly, they seem to have decided that Holy Week is a clever time to legitimately harrass loyal Episcopalians, who might otherwise be doing things like going to church.

Last year Lawrence's top lieutenant, Jim Lewis, issued a press release claiming that he was "saddened" when the Episcopal Church's attorneys filed court papers during Holy Week. 

According to Lewis back then, "There is little to say about the counterclaims filed in Circuit Court by The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. We are saddened they filed their suits on Maundy Thursday in the middle of Holy Week... We pray the denomination’s legal actions do not distract members of the Diocese during the holiest week of the year, when all our thoughts should be on things far more spiritual and far more important."

This year it's SC Episcopalians that is "saddened" and praying that during Holy Week the thoughts of Lawrence and Lewis will be on "things far more spiritual and far more important" than their 41 lawyers who will be deposing us ... much less the hundreds of millions of dollars in Church property and financial assets they hope to gain through their lawsuit.

March 16, 2014

Lawrence, PECDSC Inc. Claim Anglican Legitimacy through Affiliation
with Unofficial Renegade Group

PECDSC Inc:  “The Diocese of South Carolina has been formally recognized as
a member in good standing of the Global Anglican Communion.”

MOUNT PLEASANT - The strange odyssey of “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSC Inc.)” became even more illogical yesterday when delegates to its 2014 Annual Meeting unanimously voted to affiliate with something called GAFCON, an ad hoc group of dissident clerics from Anglican provinces in Asia and Africa.

Former Episcopal Church Bishop Mark Lawrence has sought to create for himself and the PECDSC Inc. a facade of legitimacy in the Anglican Communion without actually making himself or his followers accountable to a higher ecclesiastical authority. 

In October 2012 Lawrence left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, managing to pull about two-thirds of the parishes and missions in his former diocese with him.  At that time, m
any PECDSC Inc. congregations were assured that there was a secret plan in place for them to join the Anglican Communion upon “disaffiliation” from the Episcopal Church. There wasn't.

The PECDSC Inc's choice of GAFCON is odd in that, as a group, they have no status in the worldwide Anglican Communion, and are actually threatening to leave the Communion. They have no authority on their own to recognize anyone as an "Anglican in good standing", as Lawrence claims.  

The glue that binds GAFCON is a shared fear of homosexuals, a theology rooted narrowly in Biblical literalism, gender inequality, and contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Delegates also move forward with vague plan for "primatial oversight"

In a second action, delegates at Saturday’s Annual Meeting gave Lawrence and his lieutenants a green light to explore the idea of placing the PECDSC under some sort of GAFCON oversight council, comprised of yet-to-be-named Primates from developing countries. 
A Primate is the leader of one of global Anglicanism's 39 provinces, but has no authority beyond his or her own province.

Since GAFCON is not an official entity of the Anglican Communion, any such "council" would lack any kind of authority or legitimacy.  The Anglican Communion recognizes only one Primate in the United States and her name is Katharine Jefferts Schori.  It recognizes only two diocesan bishops in South Carolina, Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg.

The "primatial oversight council" appears to have been whipped together a couple of weeks ago, after negotiations between the Primates, and Lawrence and his Canon Theologian, The Rev. Dr. Canon Kendall Harmon. 

At this point it is not even clear who the Primates on the Council will be, whether they know anything about South Carolina, or how much control they plan to exert over the PECDSC Inc. and its parishes.   There appear to be no other organizations seeking the protection of the Council, nor is it clear how much GAFCON will be charging the PECDSC Inc. for its services, which has generally been a deal breaker for other rebellious groups in the United States seeking protection from Anglican Provinces in the developing world.

PECDSC Inc. spin about the Anglican Communion is hooey

Lawrence is viewed by the leadership of the Anglican Communion as a renegade bishop, who abandoned his vows to the Church.  The PECDSC Inc. is viewed as a schismatic splinter group and has no recognition by the Anglican Communion
. The PECDSC Inc. is not a diocese in any traditional sense nor is it is part of any Church.

However, you would never know it from Lawrence and his spin doctors.

For example, last week, according to Lawrence, the oversight arrangement with GAFCON Primates “will give us what some might term an extra-provincial diocesan status with an ecclesial body of the larger Anglican family.”

It does nothing of the sort.  “Extra-provincial” is a specific and exceptional status accorded certain Anglican Churches in unique geopolitical circumstances.  These churches are placed under the direct authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The idea that schismatic entities like the PECDSC Inc. would be among them – or could even vote themselves into such status -- is total hooey.

The PECDSC Inc. is a schismatic splinter group in the eyes of the Communion, hardly a "member in good standing."

However, none of these realities stopped Lawrence and company on Sunday from proclaiming, “The Diocese of South Carolina has been formally recognized as a member in good standing of the Global Anglican Communion.”

This is a lie that is either the product of a deeply delusional imagination, or intentional and dark manipulation by the leadership of the PECDSC Inc.

Where is the logic behind this move?

Lawrence's stated rationale for this move makes no sense. 

GAFCON leaders eventually want to leave the Anglican Communion, exactly the opposite of being “a member in good standing” as the PECDSC Inc. claims it now is.  Many GAFCON members say they have “broken communion” with the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Episcopal Church, which includes dioceses in Taiwan, Micronesia, the Carribean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Navajoland Area Mission
.  Many reject the theological tenets of Anglicanism, while some even claim the leaders of the Communion, which include the Archbishop of Canterbury, have abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ altogether.

So how does affiliation with GAFCON then bring the PECDSC Inc. closer to the Communion?

Even more enigmatic is that the Anglican Communion does not recognize Mark Lawrence as one of its bishops, nor does it consider the PECDSC Inc. in any way an Anglican body.

Even more, being Anglican "in good standing", as Lawrence claims he and the PECDSC Inc. are, would suggest that they are in agreement with the policies and practices of the Communion, which includes recognition of the Episcopal Church and its Presiding Bishop as the Anglican leadership in the United States. 

GAFCON always in controversy

It remains to be seen how people in South Carolina will embrace GAFCON's values.

-- A few years ago, a number of GAFCON Primates said that they would refuse relief efforts from the gay-loving Episcopal Church, even if they included food for starving communities and medical supplies for the sick in their provinces. (and they say the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Gospel.) 

--  In the past few months, prominent GAFCON
leaders loudly cheered the passage of anti-gay legislation in Uganda that made homosexuality punishable by life in prison in some circumstances.  One senior cleric in the Anglican Church of Uganda – a leader in GAFCON -- said that the Church preferred life sentences to capital punishment because it would keep imprisoned gays and lesbians around to demonstrate the torment similarly to be visited on Ugandans acting on same-gender attractions.

The Rev. Michael Esakan Okwi, a senior cleric in the Anglican Church in Uganda and professor at the Christian seminary, has said that not even “cockroaches” in the “lower animal kingdom” engaged in homosexual relations.

-- Last month the Primates even praised the work of those whose successful bloody coup d'état resulted in the ouster and imprisonment of the democratically elected President of Egypt in July 2012.

Read an excellent commentary on this by blogger Ron Caldwelll

Read Bishop Lawrence's address to the PECDSC Inc. Annual Meeting Saturday morning


March 15, 2014
Say what?

Lawrence explains to "confused" lay persons that they may be "Episcopalians" and "Anglicans" after all, sort of

MOUNT PLEASANT - In a lengthy and often rambling address to the Annual Meeting of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." Mark Lawrence seemed to suggest to "confused" lay people that they may or may not be "Episcopalians" and/or "Anglicans" even though they left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion eighteen months ago...

"The question of identity has been confusing to some lay persons in the diocese since our departure from The Episcopal Church in the fall of 2012.  They ask, “How are we to refer to ourselves now that we are not part of the national church?  Are we Episcopalians?  Are we Anglicans?”  A variety of answers can and have been given both by me and others.  This is neither the time nor the place for a thorough exposition of this question.  But, yes, we can and have referred to ourselves as “Episcopalians” but then one has to define what that means—though of course many of us have been doing that for years!  The simple truth is that the word “Episcopalian” is not the exclusive property of TEC nor has it ever been.  One might also say we are “Anglicans”—but this also needs to be explained to many within our parishes and even more to those outside.  But remember the identity in God has an even deeper origin for people of faith then such descriptive names.  God reminded Israel through the prophet Hosea that after a season judgment and suffering his restoring power would grant them identity..."

Clear as mud!   Read the entire address

March 13, 2014

Renegade ex-Bishop Wants Complete Control over Parishes, Clergy
Secretive and paranoid, Lawrence’s PECDSC Inc. operates in its own

Ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence will likely have no trouble convincing delegates to this weekend’s annual “diocesan” meeting to surrender to him what little is left of their parishes' independence. No one would dare object.

A few days ago, his lieutenants published a series of 
resolutions and bylaw changes that will, in effect, vastly reduce control lay people have over their parishes, property, clergy, and the direction of Lawrence's breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." 

Exhausted by financing of his legal adventures, declining parish revenues, and attrition of long-time stalwarts, PECDSC Inc. congregations are in no position to refuse Lawrence’s demands.

Read an excellent analysis of the proposals by blogger Ron Caldwelll

The PECDSC Inc., which describes itself as a non-profit religious corporation, is comprised of Lawrence and 34 parishes and missions who are suing the Episcopal Church for ownership of parish properties and assets of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina valued in the millions of dollars. For the heck of it, they are also suing 27 South Carolina parishes and missions, who've chosen to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church.

Rule #1: Lawrence is the final authority on everything. 
Rule #2. In other matters, refer to #1.

By actions of previous conventions, Lawrence is already the sole arbiter of the letter and spirit of the PECDSC’s Constitution and Canons, rendering the intent of the conventions that wrote them meaningless. 

However, Lawrence now wants more authority over parish rectors, who in turn can serve as his agents in keeping congregations in line.  While parishes are already required to seek Lawrence’s approval before hiring any clergy, his proposed new powers would allow him to fire any clergy without cause and without consent from their vestries.  In essence, rectors would work for the bishop, not the parishes.  The PECDSC Inc. Standing Committee apparently would have no say either. 

As a reward for loyalty, the measures before the convention would give rectors - not vestries -  total control over worship, staffing, administration, teaching, real and personal parish property, and parish records. Some rectors already have de facto power to decide who is and who is not a member in good standing in their parishes.

This proposal would also in effect give clergy control over who is allowed to be buried in parish cemeteries.  Recently, rumors have circulated in communities with new Episcopal Church missions that pro-Lawrence rectors want to deny former parishioners the opportunity to be buried with their families as a punishment for not supporting Lawrence’s schism.

The operations of the PECDSC Inc. make Crimea look downright democratic. 

Currently, governing bodies like the Standing Committee do not have to make public minutes of their meetings, nor does the super-secret “Board of Directors” of the PECDSC Inc.  The Standing Committee only has to produce a summary report of its minutes at each annual meeting while it is not clear if any records of the corporation’s meetings even exist. 

People in the Diocese of South Carolina got a rude awakening in October 2012 to just how far things have gotten away from them, when Lawrence announced that he and the Standing Committee had effectively negated their Baptism and Confirmation in the Episcopal Church through a secret resolution passed weeks earlier.  While no bishop including Lawrence has such power, the fact that Lawrence believed that he did and officials of the Diocese acquiesced is a fairly clear indication of what lay people in the PECDSC Inc. can expect in the future.

The convention is scheduled to be held at Christ Church in Mount Pleasant.  At the last such convention there, no media or non-delegates were allowed to be present in the convention.  They were even shooed away from rooms with sound systems that carried the audio from the convention, so that the only information anyone on the outside could learn was through Lawrence’s spinmeisters.


March 10, 2014 (rev. 3/12)
US Supreme Court Rejects Breakaways' Appeal in Virginia
Virginia Supreme Court:  The Episcopal Church owns the property

WASHINGTON, DC - A number of years ago, the historic Falls Church in northern Virginia was one of several congregations in the Diocese of Virginia announcing its intention to leave the Episcopal Church with its property. 

Last year Virginia's Supreme Court said not-so-fast, and ruled that individual communicants could leave, but the property would stay with the Episcopal Church.

Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision, in effect allowing the ruling of Virginia's Supreme Court possibility to become a new standard in cases around the country in which breakaway congregations are trying to leave their denominations with their property...

Click here for full story...


March 8, 2014
Breaking Up is So Hard to Do
Shmoos arrive to rescue PECDSC Inc. from loss of identity

Nearly eighteen months after announcing they were leaving the Episcopal Church, members of the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc.(PECDSC Inc.)” appear to be wondering if the bad ole times were really as bad as they thought. 

Turns out, there wasn't much of a plan for moving forward except to hire some of the most expensive lawyers in South Carolina.  The result has been a whole lot of public confusion that appears to be contributing to a decline in attendance and giving at a number of PECDSC parishes.

Today, some in the PECDSC Inc. are finding it difficult even to explain who they are.  Why, for example, do they call themselves "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" without actually belonging to the Episcopal Church or having official recognition from the Church as one of its dioceses? 

The same question comes up when they claim to be "Anglicans," since the Anglican Communion and its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, do not consider them to be Anglicans.

Of course, the biggest challenge for the PECDSC Inc. is that it is not actually a Church.  According to its lawyers, the PECDSC Inc. is a non-profit corporation, not a Church or any Christian denomination anyone has ever heard of.  This makes it really hard to keep dues-paying members and attract new people who want to belong to a real Church.

We've learned that some enterprising PECDSC Inc. parishes are taking the easy way out and just pretending that they are still in the Episcopal Church...  

Shrove Shmoos-day on Edisto

Fans of the Lil Abner comic strip will remember shmoos.  They are delightful and sometimes mischievous creatures with peculiar abilities to transform themselves into anything they think might be alluring and otherwise pleasing to unsuspecting humans.  

Never met a shmoo?

Earlier this week residents of Edisto Island were besieged by shmoos inviting them to a delightful pancake supper the night before Ash Wednesday at “Trinity Episcopal Church”.  Flyers for the event even featured the official seal of the Episcopal Church!  Loyal Episcopalians recognize the seal as a reminder that a parish belongs to the Episcopal Church and accedes to his Constitution and Canons.

Not mentioned on the flyer is that Trinity Episcopal Church does not consider itself part of the Episcopal Church, does not accede to its Constitution and Canons, and views its leader, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, as a heretic.  In fact, "Trinity Episcopal Church" has joined 34 other PECDSC parishes in filing a lawsuit against the real Episcopal Church indignantly claiming that it is trying to steal its historic and legal identity as a parish in the Episcopal Church.

Of course, the flyer
 doesn't even mention The Episcopal Church on Edisto Island just down the street, which seems to be quite robust these days with real Episcopalians every Sunday... but, hey, how 'bout them pancakes!

The Episcopal Church of Beaufort Welcomes You, Sort of

SC Episcopalians has recently discovered that parishes and missions of the PECDSC Inc. are quietly putting the word “Episcopal” back into their names to reassure longtime communicants that they are still sort of Episcopalians and to lure unsuspecting newcomers searching for an Episcopal parish their way. 

One of the clergy at Beaufort's St. Helena’s Episcopal Church (which now calls itself “The Parish Church of St. Helena”) once famously said that the parish had to change its name because the word “Episcopal” was scaring away potential new members who wouldn’t “touch the Episcopal Church with a ten-foot pole.” 

Today, an online search for "Episcopal," "Beaufort," and "SC" brings up – you guessed it – “St. Helena’s Episcopal Church!”  Welcome back, folks!  In fact, there are five separate listings for St. Helena's Episcopal Church before you get to the one for the real Episcopal Church down there, St. Mark's in Port Royal. 

We didn't even try searching for "ten foot pole".

A picture's worth a thousand ... Doh!

To promote its upcoming “diocesan” convention, the PECDSC Inc. website prominently features a photograph depicting what appears to be a Cathedral full of happy PECDSC Inc. conventioneers worshipping together.  

Strangely, on closer inspection, the only distinguishable faces in the crowd are those of loyal Episcopalians who belong to parishes that have rejected the rebellious PECDSC Inc. and decided to stay put in the Episcopal Church.

That's right.  Prominently featured in the photo is the delegation from Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, the largest parish in the continuing Diocese and now home to many who fled PECDSC parishes in downtown Charleston.  In fact, the single, most prominent face in the photo is that of the Ven. Calhoun Walpole, the Archdeacon of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina and probably its most visible leader next to its Bishop, Charles vonRosenberg (not pictured).

If you wanted to go to a good convention with those folks this year, you missed it three weeks ago in Hilton Head.

Of course, the photo evokes a little nostalgia since the last time the pews of the Cathedral of St. Luke & St. Paul looked like that was when the still-united Diocesan Convention was held there … in 2011, when the photo was taken.

Website, website on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Finally, we at SC Episcopalians can’t help but notice that the PECDSC Inc. website has undergone a little sprucing up to give it a more professional and appealing look.  PECDSC Inc. webmasters seem to have added a new color (this one) and included short, punchy subheadings to make its reports more engaging and easier for busy people to read. 

We instantly liked the new look probably because it makes their website look so much like ... well, this one!

March 5, 2014
Terry Star, 40-year-old Nashotah House Student, Found Dead
Native American member of the Church's Executive Council had promoted the seminary's controversial invitation to the Presiding Bishop

NASHOTAH, WISCONSIN - When Deacon Terry Star failed to show up for classes Tuesday morning, his fellow students at Nashotah House seminary knew something was wrong.  When they checked in his room, they were stunned to discover that he had died during the night.

The 40-year-old Star from the Diocese of North Dakota was well-known in the Church as a member of the Executive Council and advocate for the work of the Episcopal Church among Native Americans.  His tragic and untimely death from an apparent heart attack was mourned throughout the Church.

When informed of his death, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said, “We give thanks for his life and witness, his prophetic voice, and his reconciling heart. All his relatives are grieving, and we pray that his soul may rest in peace and his spirit continue to prod us all in continuing the ministry of healing we have from Jesus.”

Read more and see tributes to Terry Star

Star's name surfaced in last week's uproar over the seminary's plan to host Jefferts Schori as a guest preacher in May.  He was one of three students Dean Edward Salmon said had proposed the invitation to the Presiding Bishop, after she reportedly discouraged them from attending the school a few years ago. 

In the ensuing uproar, Star and the two others were among collateral damage from attacks on Salmon by the global Anglican fringe (GAF).  Some critics questioned why the 173-year-old school would even admit students who'd seek the advice of a "heretic".  See story below.

February 27, 2014

Church Dissidents Push for Salmon's Ouster over Invite to Presiding Bishop
Not content undermining his episcopate then destroying his legacy, Global Anglican Fringe (GAF)
now has its sights on his work as President and Dean of Nashotah House seminary  

If it is true that “they will know we are Christians by our love,” Nashotah, Wisconsin was ground zero for raging heathens this week as embittered ex-Episcopalians trained their sights on former SC Bishop Edward Salmon, currently the leader of historic Nashotah House seminary.

Apparently at the urging of three students and with the agreement of his Board, Salmon invited Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at the school May 1st.  Salmon said the students told him that she had once discouraged them from attending the 173-year-old seminary, known as "The House," and they thought inviting her for a visit would help her see the school in a more positive light.

When word got out last week that she had accepted, a rightwing mau-mau ensued.  Bishop Jefferts Schori is regarded by many of the Anglican fringe groups as a heretic and all-around bad person.

Almost immediately two of the seminary’s ultraconservative trustees resigned.  Ex-Episcopal bishop Jack Iker of Texas led the parade by reportedly telling the Board that he "could not be associated with an institution that honors her [Jefferts Schori]" and resigned his seat.  Check out the ruckus over his resignation.

Similarly, Iker's assistant bishop, ex-Episcopal Bishop William Wantland said he would not "take part in any functions at Nashotah" or “give financial support (to the seminary) as long as the present administration remains.”

Then David Virtue, a prominent rightwing blogger
lashed out at Salmon as well and demanded his resignation.  "In this latest debacle, Salmon has revealed himself to be a prevaricator, a fence sitter, and a useful idiot for the episcopal administration.”

The Very Rev. Robert Munday, who many believe was forced out of his job when he became too sympathetic to the Global Anglican Fringe (GAF), wasted no time lashing out at his successor in a five-part series of attacks, posted online by Salmon's former protégé, Kendall Harmon. 

At one point Munday even criticized the three students who had reportedly encouraged Salmon to invite the PB: “If you insist on attracting the kind of seminarians who can force you to invite a liberal bishop or presiding bishop to preach in your chapel, what are you leading your seminary to become?”  Munday has since said he didn’t mean to criticize the students.

At week’s end, even ex-Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan, Salmon's friend and a leader among critics of the Church, joined the melee, expressing his "disappointment" over the invitation.

Finally, yesterday, Forward in Faith of North America slammed Salmon and suggested the visit of the Presiding Bishop be turned into an academic lecture "by Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori."  FIFNA is a leading proponent of an all-male priesthood and cultural norms more typical of a century other than the one in which we are currently living.

"The House" has always been identified with Church's Anglo-Catholic tradition and all-male priesthood... but that may be changing, a little. 

Nashotah House is an Episcopal seminary that has long been identified with Church's Anglo-Catholic tradition, placing its emphasis more on Anglicanism's Catholic roots than its Protestant heritage. 

However, faced with declining numbers and finances a few years back, the school broadened its student body and governing structures to include evangelicals and more traditional, mainstream Episcopalians.  It claims a theologically diverse student body with 30-35% of its 100+ students coming from "Episcopal dioceses."

Since taking over the seminary in 2011, Salmon has tried to steer the school clear of rancor and bitter politics of schism.  According to Salmon, “Our call, regardless of those circumstances, is to raise up a strong priesthood for the church.”

Nashotah House apparently has female students, even though the school is strongly aligned with proponents of an all-male priesthood.  Many of its trustees are actively opposed to female clergy and, not surprisingly, a woman has never celebrated the Eucharist at the seminary (which the Presiding Bishop won't do either).  Twenty-four of the 26 voting members of the seminary's board are men.

Church critics like Duncan, who leads an organization of dissidents called the “Anglican Church of North America”, and Mark Lawrence, who claims to lead a non-profit organization called the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated” are listed as Board members.

Neither bishop nor the organization he represents is recognized by the Anglican Communion.  Both Duncan and Lawrence, are ex-bishops in the Episcopal Church.

Salmon explains himself, blames Presiding Bishop for giving bad advice to seminarians

For his part, Salmon took to YouTube to explain the invitation to "Bishop Schori".  For a guy who once described the internet as "pure evil", he did a credible job explaining the origins of the controversial invitation and why it would be helpful for the seminary to have the Presiding Bishop see people of different theological stripes living and worshipping together. 

In an interview with the VirtueOnline blog, Salmon said, “I invited Katharine Schori [sic] to The House because three students that she told ‘not to come’ wanted her to see a place where people were from ACNA and TEC and all kinds other places and we weren’t suing each other, and we weren’t mad at each other, and we were living in a Christ-centered community… I don’t know how it will affect her.  That is the message she needs to hear from us. I want her to see a place where all kinds of people from different ecclesial bodies are living in harmony with each other.”

During the interview Salmon's nose was reported to have grown several inches when he suggested that Nashotah House is a place where people "live in harmony" and don’t sue each other.

Trustee Mark Lawrence is suing loyal Episcopalians in Salmon’s former diocese for property and assets valued in the millions of dollars.  Similarly Iker, along with ex-Episcopal Bishops and Board members Robert Duncan and ex-Bishop Keith Ackerman have been involved in a series of multimillion dollar lawsuits with the Church over Church property and Diocesan assets. 

Ackerman is the vice-chair of the Board and indicated that the matters would be reviewed at its next meeting.  However, he and others left little doubt that their phones had been ringing constantly since the story went public.  Salmon is highly influential with the Board, so it is unlikely that his job is in danger.  However, the episode once more reminds the public of the ugly, political underbelly of the fringe groups in global Anglicanism.

As the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, Salmon was constantly under pressure to move more to the right and in the direction of secession from the Episcopal Church.  He held the Diocese together and kept even its most hotheaded clergy in the Church.  After his retirement though, the GAF succeeded in installing Mark Lawrence as Salmon's successor.  Under Lawrence's leadership 34 parishes and missions aligned with him are suing the Episcopal Church and the 27 parishes and missions continuing in the Church for properties and Diocesan assets valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

February 22, 2014
Diocesan Convention Sets New Course; Reverses Errors of Lawrence Era

Breakaway 'Diocese of South Carolina' barely mentioned as five new missions open

HILTON HEAD ISLAND – In less than a minute this morning, delegates to the 223rd Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina officially reversed five years of rebellion and anger as they unanimously rejected all changes to the Constitution of the Diocese during the disastrous episcopate of former Bishop Mark Lawrence.  Lawrence “abandoned” his ministry in the Episcopal Church nearly 17 months ago, and has sued the Episcopal Church for possession of its property and Diocesan assets valued in the millions of dollars.  

constitutional changes were only a small part of the convention that celebrated the rebirth of the Diocese with the arrival of five new missions, new postulants for the priesthood, and a bare bones Diocesan budget completely funded by its own parishes and missions.  While Lawrence's legal team has learned from the mistakes of their comrades in other breakaway dioceses, leaders of the continuing Diocese have learned how to rebuild.

electrifying address by North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry Friday evening, along with a number of official visitors from other dioceses, reminded conventioneers of the extraordinary support they've received from fellow Episcopalians after Lawrence’s “abandonment” of his ministry. 

Enthusiasm for rejoining the mainstream of the Church was evident throughout the convention.  Easily the most crowded field of candidates was among those seeking seats on the Diocese’s delegation to the 2015 General Convention, a role that was consistently denied traditional Episcopalians by right-wingers even before the arrival of Lawrence.  It was the first convention in years that elected delegates who did not complain about how much of a burden it would be to them to have to attend.

After 14 months as Lawrence's successor, Charles vonRosenberg was clearly in control of a diocese that bears the imprimatur of his leadership.  

In his
convention address, vonRosenberg told the crowd of nearly 300 that “the Spirit of God moves through history in the direction of unity. To be sailing within the stream of the Spirit necessarily involves us in efforts toward church unity. In faithfulness to our Lord, therefore, we work and pray and live in anticipation that one day we all may be one, in Christ’s name.”

VonRosenberg made frequent references to a report on the potential for closer ties with the Methodist Church along the lines of those currently shared by Episcopalians and Lutherans.  However, there was never any doubt that for him the study was a metaphor for his hopes for eventual reconciliation with those who left the Episcopal Church with Lawrence. 

Standing Committee Chairman Wilmot Merchant of North Myrtle Beach reminded the delegates that, when pro-Lawrence clergy left the Church, vonRosenberg chose not to depose them, but rather released them from their ministry in the Episcopal Church – an option that leaves open the possibility for reconciliation.

Longtime participants in Diocesan convention noted that delegates left the convention with enthusiasm and good spirits, in contrast to the anger and bitterness they took away from the conventions under Lawrence.  Next year's convention will be held at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston. Many of those at today's convention said they plan to attend the Episcopal Forum's upcoming event on May 3rd with the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings Clark in Pawleys Island.

February 22, 2014
Pain, Sacrifices Fueling 'Rebirth' of SC Diocese
Episcopal Church in South Carolina adds six new missions over 14 months

HILTON HEAD ISLAND – The only dark cloud over this weekend’s convention was the slow death of Callie Walpole’s car.   After logging thousands of miles crisscrossing the Diocese over the past year, the venerable Archdeacon had to borrow a friend’s car to get to the convention as her own car languished in her mechanic’s garage in Charleston.

However, the car was not on her mind Saturday morning, as she, Bishop vonRosenberg, and a robust convention repeatedly joined in standing ovations for each boisterous procession of new mission congregations that have formed since the departure of the Diocese's former bishop. 

The processions were comprised of nearly 100 representatives of the Diocese’s five new missions, who marched into All Saints’, Hilton Head singing hymns, bearing banners and hand-held signs, and outfitted in colorful hats and specially-made tee-shirts. 

The new missions included St. Catherine's Episcopal Church (Florence), St. Ann's Episcopal Church (Conway), The Episcopal Church on Edisto (Edisto Island), The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (Summerville), St. Francis' Episcopal Church (Charleston).  A sixth new mission, St. Mark's in Port Royal, was similarly celebrated at last year's convention.

The noisy processions were a turning point for many in the Diocese who have experienced the sting of rejection by their former clergy and open hostility from fellow parishioners over their loyalty to their Baptism in the Episcopal Church.  Many marchers shed tears of joy as entered the convention with all agreeing that they had found a new spiritual “home”.

Very few, if any, mentioned former Bishop Lawrence or his loyalists among the clergy who turned their backs on them.  None complained about the months they had painstaking pulled together their fledging mission congregations, found worship space, recruited clergy, and faced repeated warnings that they were wasting their time.

If Bishop vonRosenberg, “Mrs. Bishop vonRosenberg” or any of the clergy and lay people who'd supported these efforts had any complaints about their sacrifices, it was not obvious. 

The Archdeacon never complained about the toll her travels had taken on her car.

In his address, VonRosenberg summed up the feelings of many when he said, "Your sacrifice has provided an inspiration to all of us here ... and to others far beyond South Carolina. Such sacrifice has led to possibilities of liberation and rebirth, and your witness is powerful indeed.”

February 19, 2014
Diocesan Convention to Grapple with Growth, Congregational Development this weekend
Five worship communities seek mission status as vonRosenberg's turbulent first year ends with optimism

HILTON HEAD - A year and a half after their bishop walked out on them, Episcopalians in eastern South Carolina are celebrating a miraculous story of survival and new life this weekend, as their 223rd Diocesan Convention embraces the challenges of growing numbers and a spirit of unity they have not known in years. 

The opening Eucharist will begin Friday afternoon at All Saints Episcopal Church with the frequently electrifying preaching of the Rt. Reverend Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina.

The high point of Saturday's business meeting is likely to be the welcoming of five new missions in the Diocese --
The Episcopal Church on Edisto; Good Shepherd (Summerville); St. Anne's (Conway); St. Catherine's (Florence); and St. Francis' (Charleston).  They will join St. Mark's in Beaufort, which finally received mission status at last year's convention after years of opposition from Lawrence supporters at nearby St. Helena's.  There are three other worship communities in the Diocese that will likely apply for mission status at a future convention.

Currently there are 22 parishes and missions in the Diocese. 

The Right Reverend Charles vonRosenberg was elected to lead the battered diocese 13 months ago at a noisy convention that basked in the attention of visiting Church leaders including the Presiding Bishop and President of the Church's House of Deputies.  VonRosenberg used the convention to get the Diocese back on track and focused on the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  While his first year has been rocked by legal challenges from ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence, vonRosenberg's vision seems to have taken hold.

February 9, 2014
Renegade 'Diocese of SC' Tries a Hail Mary to SC Supreme Court to Prevent Disclosure of Lawrence-Runyan Emails
Lawrence legal team says Church's appeal to the S.C. Court of Appeals is a deliberate waste of time... but is there another reason for their anxiety?

COLUMBIA - The extent to which former Bishop Mark Lawrence was involved in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Episcopal Church of parish property and Diocesan assets may well lie in years of electronic communications between the renegade cleric and a controversial Beaufort attorney. 

This could explain why Lawrence and his 40-member legal team have gone into overdrive to keep them secret.

The question of the emails has surfaced in pretrial motions in the lawsuit filed last year by Lawrence and parishes aligned with him against the Episcopal Church and those in his former flock who've chosen to remain loyal to the Church.  In the lawsuit the ex-bishop and 34 parishes are seeking ownership of millions of dollars in parish properties and financial assets of the Episcopal Church in eastern South Carolina.  They claim they are trying to prevent the Episcopal Church from "seizing" their parish properties, even though there is no evidence that such was even a potential threat.

Last Thursday the Lawrencians asked the SC Supreme Court to prevent the Episcopal Church and continuing Diocese from appealing pretrial rulings, which they consider "primarily for the purpose of delay." 

Actually, the only pretrial ruling Church lawyers have appealed is one in which the judge in the case refused them access to what are estimated to be 1,200 emails between Lawrence and attorney Alan Runyan.  Church lawyers argue that any communications between the two must be disclosed since they were both employed by the Episcopal Church when the communications took place and such communications are work products. that belong to the Church. 

Their appeal to the state's Court of Appeals has had the effect of halting pretrial proceedings in the case.  Lawrence's lawyers in the case were apparently frustrated with the trial judge in January when she refused their request to move forward with other aspects of the case until the appeal could be resolved.

 served as legal counsel to the Diocese's Standing Committee when Lawrence was an active Bishop in the Episcopal Church. The Beaufort lawyer is the architect of legal theories which seem to have influenced Lawrence and his rebellious allies in four other dioceses.

Are Lawrence lawyers looking to the Chief Justice to be their ace in the hole? 

Lawrence's legal team maybe especially anxious to get the case to the state's highest court because it thinks the Court maybe biased in their favor. 

In 2009 the Court overturned a well-reasoned lower court ruling favorable to the Episcopal Church in a
 lawsuit in which All Saints, Pawleys Island challenged the extent to which the Church and Diocese of South Carolina had a legal property interest in its land and buildings.  

A circuit judge found in favor of the Church, but the state Supreme Court, apparently influenced by Chief Justice Jean Toal, overturned the decision. 

Lawrence and his team believe that Toal's opinion opened the way for other parishes to leave the Church with their property, but the opinion was vague on whether that was its intent.  There were also many circumstances of the case that were unique and specific to that parish.

High courts in other states - like Georgia and Oregon -- have mostly rejected the logic of Toal's opinion.  The same is true in most Federal courts in which the issue has been litigated. 

Lawrence's legal team filed its appeal with the Supreme Court last week barely 24 hours after Toal was re-elected Chief Justice following a contentious vote in the Legislature.  She plans to leave her job in 2015, which may account for their jitters about lengthy appeals in the case.

February 6, 2014
Presiding Bishop, President of House of Deputies at Pawleys May 3rd

PAWLEYS ISLAND -  Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings will visit the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina on May 3rd at a one-day conference sponsored by the S.C. Episcopal Forum, according to conference coordinator Warren Mersereau.  Read more about the conference here.

The conference will be held at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church.

Both Church leaders visited the Diocese last January, when Charles vonRosenberg was elected to succeed Mark Lawrence who abandoned the Church only two months earlier.  Both were welcomed by cheering, standing-room-only crowds.

This will be a different visit as the Diocese has re-established itself and moved on beyond the chaos of the Lawrence episcopate.  Both women have been exceptionally supportive of South Carolina Episcopalians during the past few years, and have significant personal followings here.

According to vonRosenberg, "The Presiding Bishop’s presentation, Connecting to the Wider Church, will provide an inspiring pathway for each of us to actively participate in God’s work, while President Jennings’ talk, Leadership in Challenging Times, will address practical aspects of church leadership for both clergy and lay people.”

February 6, 2014
Legal Cases Moving at Snail's Pace

The last four weeks have demonstrated that
Lawrence's lawsuit set off costly chain of entanglements that will take years to resolve

Any expectation that the lawsuit filed by renegade former bishop Mark Lawrence and his allies would be resolved quickly were dashed over the past four weeks as it became apparent that the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina have the means and intention of fighting back regardless of how long it takes to prevail.

State courts.  In state court, any movement on the lawsuit came to a halt in January as the Church's lawyers (the defendants) filed an appeal of a critical pretrial ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to the state's Court of Appeals. 

Goodstein denied a request that some 1200 emails between Lawrence and his controversial lawyer, Alan Runyan of Beaufort, be made available to the Church's lawyers.  The Church's defense team argues that the emails were work product by Runyan when he was employed as counsel to the Diocese' Standing Committee when Lawrence was a legitimate bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The appeal effectively shut down every forward-moving aspect of the case in Goodstein's court until the Court of Appeals rules.

Federal Courts.  Meanwhile the Church's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals this past week to overturn a decision by U.S. District Judge Weston Houck not to hear its case that Charles vonRosenberg, not Mark Lawrence, is the rightful bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.  The Church argues that the Episcopal Church -- not the government -- has the Constitutional right under the First Amendment to name its own spiritual leaders, including diocesan bishops.

Neither appellate court has indicated when it will rule on either appeal.  Read the full story.

Insurance coverage.  In an important development, last month a Federal Judge in Charleston ruled that the insurance carrier for the continuing Diocese under vonRosenberg would have to cover its legal expenses since it had been sued by Lawrence.  This would not have been the case if the continuing Diocese had sued Lawrence.  Having access to these funds ensures that the continuing Diocese can withstand years of additional  legal attacks by Lawrence and his allies.

January 21, 2014
There They Go Again!  Lawrencians Still Using Discredited Propaganda to Raise Millions for Lawyers

Renegade "Diocese of South Carolina" hoping to fatten its bank account to underwrite future legal attacks on the Church and Episcopalians in South Carolina

CHARLESTON - Last Monday readers of Letters to the Editor in Charleston’s Post & Courier were treated to yet another dose of the Alice-in-Wonderland logic behind ex-Bishop Lawrence's claim to millions of dollars in parish property and financial assets belonging to the Episcopal Church.

This time, it comes from Peter Mitchell of Georgetown.  Dr. Mitchell is Lawrence’s point man for raising $2,000,000 to pay an army of lawyers to keep suing the Episcopal Church and those among his former flock who've chosen to remain Episcopalians. 

Mitchell:  "The Dec. 30 court ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein... is the fourth victory for the original and continuously functioning Diocese of South Carolina founded in 1785, four years before the founding of the Episcopal Church (TEC)."

SC Episcopalians:  Dr. Mitchell is confusing procedural rulings with outcomes based on evidence presented at a trial.  The trial in this case is not scheduled until the summer.

Pretrial rulings are seldom indicative of the outcome of a trial, unless Dr. Mitchell is suggesting that such "victories" demonstrate a bias by the judge that might affect the outcome of the trial.

Before he brings out the champagne, Dr. Mitchell should be aware that, in complicated legal cases of this nature, pretrial rulings favoring one side have an unhappy way of becoming "victories" for the opposing side should they provide grounds for successful appeals to higher courts. 

In general, most appeals courts been more supportive of the interests of hierarchical denominations over those of breakaway groups.  For example, after six years of legal wrangling in which it had many such "victories", Lawrence's former parish in California was just returned to the Episcopal Church by higher courts less than six months ago.

Dr. Mitchell's reference to the founding of the Episcopal Church alludes to the Lawrencians' argument that the Diocese of South Carolina has some vague right to secede from the Episcopal Church because it was an original founder of the Church and an independent, diocesan-like structure existed prior to the adoption of the Church Constitution in 1789. 

John C. Calhoun made the same argument about the rights of states in the 1850s ... and it didn't make any more sense then than Dr. Mitchell's does today.  It's like saying South Carolina created the United States, and consequently can walk away any time it would like.

There is no right of secession in the Church Constitution any more than there is one in U.S. Constitution.  Duly elected representatives of the parishes in South Carolina signed that original Church Constitution knowing full well there was no exit clause.  Subsequent diocesan conventions affirmed that understanding.

By definition, a
"diocese" is an administrative unit of a larger ecclesiastical entity led by a duly consecrated bishop in the line of apostolic succession. It can also be called a "see" or "bishopric", and it is created by the ecclesiastical entity to carry on its work in a specific geographic area. 

In other words, a
Church creates a "diocese," not the other way around.   

Historically, the concept of dioceses can be traced to the Roman Empire, when they were created by the emperor to administer activities of local government on his behalf.  However, when the Empire imploded, Church hierarchies stepped in to fill the void, combining the functions of secular government with their traditional religious activities. 

The King of England used a similar model in administering local government in colonial South Carolina, utilizing parishes that were part of the Diocese of London in the Church of England.

After the Revolutionary War and a formal break with the English Church, these parishes began to work with similar parishes in eight others states to create a new ecclesiastical authority in their new country.  They were not a diocese in any sense nor did they claim to be

Since the Episcopal Church was not created until 1789 and the parishes in South Carolina did not get a bishop until 1795, it would have been impossible for the Diocese of South Carolina to have "pre-existed" the Church.  It is not clear that the South Carolina parishes even began using the term "diocese" to refer to themselves until the early 1800s.

It's true that prior to 1789 when the Episcopal Church was founded, the government of newly-independent South Carolina fostered an effort to organize these parishes as administrators of local government in much the same way they had done under the British.  This included collecting taxes, holding elections, and maintaining public records.  In Charleston, St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s were even given the authority to levy taxes.

However, the life of the “The Protestant Episcopal Churches in the State of South Carolina” was short-lived as the U.S. Constitution evolved with a consensus that Church and State should be separate.  Ironically, it was the South Carolina representatives to the U.S. Constitutional Convention who were the most ardent advocates of this idea... and they were Episcopalians. 

It is also worth noting that the "Protestant Episcopal Churches in South Carolina" did not call themselves a "diocese."

  "Yet again, efforts by TEC and TECSC to distort the truth and to harass Episcopalians loyal to the diocese that preceded the national church have been found without merit."

SC Episcopalians:  It is hard to raise money when you don't have an enemy, real or imagined. There is no evidence that the Episcopal Church or the continuing Diocese has harassed anyone among the Lawrencian parishes or distorted the truth.  Consequently, it is hard to understand that they were found to lack merit.

Mitchell:  "How sad that TEC continues to spend millions of dollars trying to attack the legitimate diocese, the one that more than 80 percent of Episcopalians in the diocese chose to remain loyal to."

SC Episcopalians:  This is a particularly oddball statement since Lawrence and parishes allied with him are the ones who've filed suit against the Episcopal Church and are costing everyone millions of dollars. 

The logic of the statement becomes even more pretzel-like since Dr. Mitchell is the person leading the campaign to raise millions of dollars for Lawrence's army of lawyers to pursue lawsuits against the Church.  Dr. Mitchell offers no evidence to support his claim that The Episcopal Church is spending millions of dollars fighting the breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina". 

(Scroll down to read how the continuing Diocese is relying on its insurance carrier to defray much of the cost of its defense against Lawrence's lawsuit.)

By the way, there has never been a vote among the laypeople of the Diocese about leaving the Episcopal Church.  The 80 percent number is pure fiction.

Mitchell:  "Now seems to be the time to stop. Leave us to worship in the churches our forefathers built and that we have maintained. Leave us to use that wasted money we’ve had to spend on frivolous court filing so we might continue to provide free medical clinics, community assistance to the poor, Christian education for our children, and to spread the gospel through missions."

SC Episcopalians:  This is the heart of the myth that Dr. Mitchell, Lawrence, and their allies are reviving to raise money.  There is no evidence that anyone in the Episcopal Church is bothering him or his congregation. The Episcopal Church or its leaders have never threatened him or his parish.  No one is trying to prevent him from worshipping God in any way he chooses. 

The only "frivolous" lawsuit out there is the one filed by the ex-Bishop and his allies. 

With respect to the social outreach activities of the Lawrence "diocese", the most extensive is his current "ministry" to the legal community.  For a number of years. Lawrence has steadily cut funding for Diocesan ministry so that he can pay lawyers. (Click to read analysis of Lawrence's spending priorities.)

Dr. Mitchell appears to be from Michigan and only in the past few years has he retired to Georgetown.  In fact, it seems he moved there about the time Mark Lawrence moved here from California. 

His forefathers did not build the parish to which he belongs.  The forefathers at Prince George’s, Winyah were early American colonists who were Anglicans.  After the Revolutionary War, they became Episcopalians and their descendants remained full and faithful communicants of the Episcopal Church for nearly two and a half centuries

If Dr. Mitchell loves his new parish and enjoys worshiping there, he has only Episcopalians and the Episcopal Church to thank.

(The editor's  late grandmother would occasionally complain about all the people from "off" who came to live in South Carolina.  "They move here, and they think they own everything," she'd say. Given Lawrence's lawsuit and Dr. Mitchell's claims to the parish in Georgetown... it looks like Grandmother was actually on to something.  -- SS)

January 17, 2014

Judge says Lawrence Lawyers Can't Go Forward with Depositions
Breakaway "Diocese" wanted to depose SC Episcopalians on MLK Day

ST. GEORGE - South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein today denied a request by lawyers for Mark Lawrence's breakaway "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc (PECDSC Inc.)" to move forward with a plan to quickly depose leaders and clergy of the continuing Episcopal Diocese, and critics of the former Bishop.

Earlier in the week, attorneys for the continuing Diocese, known presently as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, appealed a recent pretrial ruling by Goodstein to the state's Court of Appeals.  Such an appeal effectively shuts down all proceedings in a case until the higher court rules.

However, the PECDSC Inc's legal team, led by Beaufort Attorney Alan Runyan, petitioned the judge this morning to allow them to proceed with an aggressive schedule of depositions, even though other proceedings in the case had been stayed.  Goodstein said no.

The depositions are part of pretrial preparations in the lawsuit brought by the ex-Bishop against the Episcopal Church and those parishes in his former Diocese who are continuing on in the Church.

Runyon's deposition list is extensive and includes the Bishop and Archdeacon of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina, officials of its Standing Committee and Diocesan Council, and even former leaders of the Episcopal Forum, the via media organization in the Diocese.

Runyan wanted to lead off his parade of depositions with the editor of this website on Monday morning, Martin Luther King Day.  He gave him only a handful of days to prepare, but Goodstein's ruling makes that moot.

The case has stalled over a request by lawyers for the continuing Diocese to gain access to hundreds of emails between Runyan and Lawrence when Runyan was working as a lawyer for the Diocese prior to Lawrence's leaving the Church nearly 15 months ago.  They argue that, during that time, Lawrence was a bishop in the Episcopal Church and Runyan was legal counsel to the Standing Committee, and consequently all work products and electronic communications belong to the Church.

However, Goodstein ruled that the continuing Diocese could not have access to the emails to defend itself when Lawrence's lawsuit goes to trial this summer.

There is no indication when the Court of Appeals will rule.

January 13, 2014

Lawrence Lawsuit Stalls as Episcopal Church Appeals Goodstein's Ruling
on Runyan Emails

Appeal to SC Court of Appeals stops all proceedings in the case ... for now

Hundreds of emails between former Bishop Mark Lawrence and Beaufort attorney Alan Runyan are proving to be a critical piece of a conspiracy puzzle lawyers for the Episcopal Church are constructing in response to a lawsuit filed against the Church last January by Lawrence and his supporters. 

Runyan, Lawrence's chief legal strategist and architect of his attempt to leave the Episcopal Church with all its financial resources and property, served as legal counsel to the Diocese prior to Lawrence's quitting the Church. The Church is arguing that the emails are the result Runyan's work for the Church and that it is therefore entitled to have them.

Last week Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein ruled that the Church cannot have access to them, but today Church attorneys announced that they are appealing the ruling 
the South Carolina Court of Appeals. 

The appeal automatically stays proceedings in the case.  Read the full story here

January 6, 2014
Federal Judge Rules Church Insurance Company Must Cover Legal Expenses
of the Episcopal Church in Lawrence Lawsuit

CHARLESTON - The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina won a small but important victory today when a Federal judge in Charleston ruled that the Church Insurance Company of Vermont is obligated to help pay their legal fees in a lawsuit brought against them by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his “Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSC Inc.)”.

The insurer had questioned its obligation to pay legal fees, since the PECDSC Inc. is laying claim to being the legal Diocese of South Carolina.  The ruling was issued by U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy.

The insurance policy was apparently purchased pre-schism when Lawrence was the legitimate Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.

December 30, 2013 (rev. 1/1)

Goodstein Denies Motion to Add Individual "Conspirators" to Lawsuit

Affidavit:  Bishop's Search Committee leaders tried to recruit me to take the Diocese of South Carolina and its property out of the Episcopal Church

Fuener:  Witness' account "seriously in error, if not worse"

ST. GEORGE -- Dorchester County Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein ruled today that she would not grant a motion by Episcopal Church lawyers to add individual allegations of conspiracy to its defense in ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence's lawsuit laying claim to millions of dollars in Church assets and property.

Goodstein seemed to feel that the conspiracy issues raised by the Church's motion (described in the story below this one) are already part of the substance of the lawsuit
Read the full story hereGoodstein also turned down two other motions by the Church asking that she revisit earlier pre-trial rulings.

At today's hearing, Church lawyers argued that a conspiracy to defraud the Church of its rightful property and financial assets was well underway in 2005 when the Diocese was looking for a successor to retiring Bishop Edward Salmon. Much of the development of that conspiracy, they argue, had to do with bad acts by Lawrence and three confederates.  

Today's hearing focused on an affidavit by a retired clergyman who said he'd been approached in 2005 by Greg Kronz, Chairman of the Search Committee, and Paul Fuener, a member of the committee, about becoming a candidate for bishop in the Diocese of South Carolina. 

Both Kronz and Fuener are former priests in the Episcopal Church and have been instrumental in orchestrating the current attempt by pro-Lawrence parishes to breakaway from the Church with its assets and property. 

According to the Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker, the two asked him directly if, as bishop, he would "help us leave The Episcopal Church and take our property with us."  Rickenbaker said in his affidavit that he was subsequently dropped from consideration after refusing to go along with the scheme. 

Fuener subsequently told the Post & Courier that "I am confident that his [Rickenbaker's] recollection of our interview is seriously in error, if not worse."

During the subsequent election process that resulted in Lawrence becoming bishop in 2008, traditional parishes and their leaders were repeatedly frustrated by Lawrence allies, who appeared to have rigged the search process in favor of candidates who shared their secessionist views.  Dozens of well-qualified candidates, loyal to the Church, appeared to have been rejected by the search committee.

The search process eventually yielded three nominees, all of whom vowed to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church.  A handwritten note on Mark Lawrence's candidate questionnaire suggests that someone in the search process - possibly Kronz - appeared to have been coaching him on his responses to the search committee.

Church lawyers maintain that individual actions by Lawrence, Fuener, former Standing Committee President Jeffrey Miller, and Lawrence deputy Jim Lewis, amounted to a conspiracy to defraud the Church.   

Goodstein's ruling does not appear to bar Church attorneys from introducing evidence of a conspiracy when the lawsuit goes to trial next July. Tom Tisdale, lead attorney and Chancellor to the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, has promised as much.

November 25, 2013

Courtroom  Shocker! 

Continuing Diocese:  Evidence shows Lawrence and three cohorts repeatedly broke the law in conspiracy to defraud the Episcopal Church

Multiple causes of action against Lawrence, his top lieutenant, and two Standing Committee chairmen allege breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy

New documents may be shedding light on secretive Lawrence episcopate

ST. GEORGE -- In a stunning and unexpected move in court today, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina ("The continuing Diocese") formally accused ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and three of his top lieutenants of engaging in a widespread, illegal conspiracy to defraud the Church of its financial assets and property.

Attorneys for the continuing Diocese told SC Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein that the plot was likely underway before Lawrence’s 2008 consecration and even as he was telling bishops and standing committees that he intended to remain in the Church and loyal to his ordination vow to conform to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”

The allegations were contained in a motion today by the continuing Diocese, asking that the four men be added individually as parties in the lawsuit brought by Lawrence, his allies, and 34 parishes last January.  In that lawsuit they claim they are entitled to the financial assets and property of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, even though they say they are no longer Episcopalians

The allegations include 18 causes of action against Lawrence, former Canon to the Ordinary Jim Lewis, and Paul Feuner and Jeffrey Miller, former chairmen of the Diocesan Standing Committee under Lawrence and signers of quitclaim deeds that purported to relinquish the Church’s property interest in millions of dollars in parish properties.  See the entire filing

Specifically, the allegations against various combinations of the four include breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy.  The lead attorney for the continuing Diocese and its bishop, Charles vonRosenberg, is a former Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina.

It is important to remember that these allegations are as yet unproven.  Attorneys for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina will need to do that when they go to trial.  As yet, Goodstein has not ruled on whether they can even be considered during the trial of Lawrence's lawsuit.

Fear of allegations may have prompted frantic $2 million fundraising effort. 

The new allegations were likely generated by documents requested by the continuing Diocese as part of its defense in the lawsuit.  The documents included minutes of Standing Committee meetings which were not available to communicants of the breakaway Lawrence "diocese."  (The documents have only been available to the lawyers for the continuing Diocese and not available for public viewing.  SC Episcopalians has not seen them.)

As part of a pretrial process known as "discovery", Goodstein ordered that the documents be handed over to the lawyers for the continuing Diocese last summer, about the time that Lawrence and his team began a new round of pressuring parishes for more funds

If the allegations against them are proven, the four men could be held personally liable for any civil or criminal activity in which they engaged as leaders in the Diocese
Earlier this month, they and their supporters launched yet another fundraising effort aimed at securing $2 million for an ill-defined "Legal Defense Fund."  The name of the Fund was peculiar since the breakaway "diocese" was suing the Episcopal Church and not defending itself from anything.

The legal team supporting Lawrence and the other plaintiffs includes 40 lawyers.  The legal team defending the continuing Diocese is currently comprised of two lawyers.

Parishes jeopardized their properties and buildings by joining the lawsuit.

SC Episcopalians has long maintained that the 34 pro-Lawrence parishes that joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs with Lawrence were duped into believing that they were about to lose their parishes properties.  In fact, none of the parishes was ever in such danger until they joined the lawsuit, an action that now puts the future of their properties in the hands of judges.

Today's motion by the continuing Diocese makes no mention of wrongdoing by the 34 parishes, only further demonstrating that their role in the lawsuit is to create a distraction from alleged misconduct by Lawrence and his lieutenants.

More detailed summary of this story is available on the 
website of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

November 18, 2013
Show Me da'Money:  Lawrence Launches $2 Million Fundraising Blitz 
to Sue Imagined Foes

Ex-Bishop likens defendants in his lawsuit to the 'Devil' and 'Spiritual Forces of Evil'

Faltering support for his legal adventures prompts need for more cash in the bank

Who will dole out the money? Who will get the money?  What’s happened to the money already raised?  Why $2 million?

Even the most naïve of Mark Lawrence’s followers are finally beginning to comprehend the full costs and consequences of leadership that lives in an alternate universe.

Last week they got another bizarre fundraising missive from the deposed Bishop and his “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc.” -- pressing for more money for lawyers in their shadowbox “war” against the Episcopal Church and local Episcopalians who refuse to abandon the Church with them.

This past summer they were asking for $1 million.  Now, only a few months later, they want $2 million.

All of that is on top of another nearly $1 million of Diocesan funds Lawrence spent on lawyers during his five years as the legitimate Bishop of South Carolina... even though the Diocese was not facing any significant legal problems. 

There is no available public documentation of who received any of these funds.

The $2 million Lawrence wants now is for a “Legal Defense Fund”, whose sole purpose is to underwrite lawsuits against Lawrence’s imagined foes in the Church.  It has nothing to do with defending anything.  It's about suing other Christians, and it certainly has nothing to do with serving God.

Dressed up as a special edition of the Jubilate Deo, last week's passing-of-the-hat is solely for legal bills over the next 24 months. The PECDSC Inc. is not being sued, but Lawrence claims he needs the money anyway because the PECDSC Inc. is "under attack from the Episcopal Church."

According to its account of the first meeting of the fundraising committee of the PECDSC Inc., "He (Lawrence) urged the group to acknowledge that our legal suit is a tempestuous battle against “the spiritual forces of evil” and advised the members to “put on the full armor of God” trusting in His righteousness and believing in His justice and judgment.

Last January Lawrence’s lawyers convinced him to file a lawsuit, apparently in part to embarrass his perceived archnemesis, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and prevent his successor, the newly elected Bishop of South Carolina, from ministering to those who did not join him in abandoning the Church. 

Lawrence and his lieutenants say that Jesus would be okay with this. On the other hand, they have said repeatedly that the lawsuit makes them "sad." 
In that lawsuit Lawrence asks the courts to allow him to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church along with millions of dollars in accumulated property and financial assets given for the work of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  Most likely, this would make he and his colleagues less "sad." 

Lawrence -- whose rhetoric is often a peculiar mix of narcissism, paranoia, and military bluster -- claimed in last week’s fundraising foray that his lawsuit is all about getting the jump on ill-defined legal actions yet to be initiated by the “spiritual forces of evil”.  

No kidding.  He did say that.

Then, in what has to be one of the most disgusting perversions of the Gospel in South Carolina since Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Lawrence actually equated raising money for his high-priced lawyers with “putting on the full armor of God".  

Now that really is "sad."

Lawrence v. Satan:  Extreme rhetoric is all PECDSC Inc. has left, as the continuing Episcopal Diocese moves ahead  in spite of Lawrence's continued legal attacks.  

Among these dark "spiritual forces" appear to be 22 parishes and missions that elected Lawrence Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and actually supported his ministry for five years.  They chose to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church and thus, in the world according to the Lawrencians, “evil”. 

The PECDSC Inc, of course, is not happy that eight new Episcopal parishes-in-formation have sprung up to replace those that are trying to leave to join Lawrence.  The established parishes remaining loyal to the Church have experienced as much as 20-30% growth in their congregations.  Not so "evil."

Also among Lawrence's perceived enemies is the Episcopal Church itself, whose "unbiblical" House of Bishops and diocesan standing committees consented to his election as Bishop of South Carolina in 2007

And, of course, there’s the truly wicked Presiding Bishop who, according to former Bishop Edward Salmon, “bent over backwards” to help Lawrence gain necessary consents in his controversial election to become Bishop of South Carolina.  Pure "evil," for sure. She probably even wears her "armor" 24/7.

Parishes were duped. 

Over the long haul, it’s the 34 incredibly naive parishes that were stampeded into joining Lawrence’s lawsuit that stand to lose the most.  By stupidly signing on as plaintiffs last winter, they needlessly put the ownership of their parish properties in play in the courts. 

If they had done nothing, they could have continued on with the work of Jesus Christ just as they believe they’ve been called to do.  If Lawrence prevailed in court, they then could have simply left the Church at no charge.

Many of these parishes since have lost loyal members and had to cut back on their ministries.  In addition to underwriting Lawrence’s quixotic legal adventures, they could also be on the hook for legal fees incurred by the Episcopal Church in defending itself against their frivolous lawsuit.

Lawrence knows the course he has chosen will take much longer than two years, which means his followers need to keep their wallets open.  Prior to becoming Bishop of South Carolina, he was rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, California ... which only this summer began to recover from nearly six years of legal proceedings in which parishioners tried to leave the Episcopal Church with the parish property.  

Fortunately, the California courts refused to sanction greed and larceny disguised as the Gospel, and affirmed that the parish property belonged to the Episcopal Church.  The congregation at St. Paul’s will be remembered as only one of many victims of Lawrence’s strange and destructive brand of churchmanship

Support for legal adventures wanes.

The ongoing challenge facing Lawrence and the PECDSC Inc. is to convince people with deep pockets that his legal attacks against the Church are more than arrogant gestures of an egotistical ex-Bishop with authority issues. 

This summer's fundraising got lots of pushback from the parishes and raised concerns about the willingness of laypeople to provide endless financial resources for a lawsuit that will probably go down the tubes once it hits the Federal Courts. The tone of the latest appeal for money is markedly more shrill and less substantive than in previous times.

The leadership of the PECDSC Inc. is largely comprised of angry, old white men who are used to running their own show.  They seem unconcerned that there has been no public accounting of how money they raised this summer was spent.  They appear to have made no commitment to publicly disclosing precisely where and how the next $2 million will be spent.

At this point it seems that the PECDSC Inc. is trying to raise far more money than it needs, so that it will be able to continue its lawsuits even when most of its parishes and followers have no interest in seeing it continue. 

As evidenced by last week's faux-Jubilate Deo, there is also no apparent logic for how the $2 million figure was arrived at -- as opposed to $1 million or $3 million.  No one has given any reason why the PECDSC Inc. feels it needs this amount of money or why it feels it will be adequate for 24 months. 

And, why 24 months?  The PECDSC Inc. knows that this case will go on for years until it gets to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sad. Sad. Sad.

November 3, 2013
Lawrence "Diocese" Stokes Imaginary Fears to Raise Funds for Quixotic Lawsuit

St. Michael's is asked for $150,000 for lawyers in addition to $50,000 it just kicked in

Former Bishop Lawrence's chief legal strategist told communicants of St. Michael's in Charleston that they need to come up with another $150,000 to help with the legal fees the Lawrence "diocese" is racking up in its quixotic lawsuit against the Episcopal Church. 

The parish has already coughed up $50,000 this year to help pay a phalanx of lawyers who have latched onto a major cash cow that shows no signs of going away.

SC Episcopalians believes that the Lawrence "Diocese" is pressuring parishes aligned with him to pony up as much as $2 million dollars to cover anticipated legal bills over the next two years.

In his remarks at St. Michael's on Sunday, Beaufort attorney Alan Runyon suggested that the Episcopal Church will evict the congregation from its historic building if he and about two dozen other lawyers are not successful in their current lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.  In that lawsuit, Lawrence and 34 parishes of the Diocese claim that they are no longer part of the Episcopal Church but believe they are entitled to walk away with millions of dollars in parish properties and financial assets belonging to the Church.

There is absolutely no evidence that anyone wants to toss the thriving congregation at St. Michael's out of its buildings. This is purely the invention of lawyers and the manipulative leadership of the "diocese."

Unfortunately, the parish has made no attempt to have any conversation with SC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg to explore ways that their concerns with the Church can be resolved without going to court or without paying outrageous legal fees.  The Presiding Bishop, whom they view as their sworn enemy, has twice visited the Diocese and on neither occasion did anyone from St. Michael's ask to meet with her.

VonRosenberg has said repeatedly that his goal is reconciliation with the pro-Lawrence parishes, but clergy in those parishes -- and now their lawyers -- have prevented that.  In August vonRosenberg chose not to formally depose those clergy who have followed Lawrence, but rather "released" them from their ministry in the Episcopal Church.  In doing so, he allowed these clergy to avoid the stigma that accompanies deposition, and left open the possibility that they could return if they so chose.

In the view of SC Episcopalians, parishes like St. Michael's were hood-winked into joining the lawsuit last January before vonRosenberg was elected.  Such a move prevented them from working with vonRosenberg to figure out how they could amicably resolve their concerns before turning everything over to lawyers. 

October 12, 2013

Finances of Breakaway "Diocese" Troubled even before Attempted Split

Declining income, legal fees, and uncontrolled costs overwhelmed  PECDSC Inc. in 2012

During the five-year episcopate of Mark Lawrence, members of his inner circle carefully studied the failed legal strategies of four dioceses, whose renegade leadership had attempted to take down the Episcopal Church only a few years earlier. 

They were determined not make the same mistakes when South Carolina's opportunity came.

However, they were far less studious in planning for the nuts-and-bolts of operating a fairly awkward corporate entity in rebellion against its parent company, especially if it takes years to resolve. 

According to an independent audit of 2012 financials, the breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc. (PECDSC Inc.)” seemed to be on very thin ice, even before it took steps to leave the Episcopal Church.

Last year PECDSC Inc. expenses exceeded revenues by $562,980 in what appears to be the largest deficit in Diocesan history.  Income from parishes and missions was nearly $230,000 short of that which was pledged.
Financial trouble began long before secession try.
Even before former Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers launched their scheme to secede last October, there was trouble on the horizon.  Five years of declining income and membership, budget-busting legal expenses, and costly management policies were coming home to roost. 

Much of the problem was the nature of the Diocese of South Carolina.  Its' polity has always been an uneasy marriage of evangelicals and mainstream Episcopalians, and its bishops have had to gingerly walk a fine line to keep both groups under the same tent… and writing checks. 

However, when he was consecrated, Lawrence showed little interest in keeping the marriage going.   He was clear that God called him to lead conservative evangelicals – which he re-branded as “orthodox” – in what he described as a “war” against the Episcopal Church. 

Mainstream Episcopalians, who had generously supported his predecessors, appeared to have no place in his vision for the future.
   Full story

October 11, 2013
Judge Goodstein says She'll keep Controversial Injunction in Place
Judge leaves possession of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the hands of those who have left the Church   Read more

September 28, 2013

Anglican Shmanglican, Part I

Are worried secessionists engaging in deceptive advertising to attract new members?

Alarmed by an exodus of members and declining revenues, secessionist parishes in Mark Lawrence’s Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSC Inc.) have decided that maybe being known as “Anglican” and Episcopal” is not such a bad thing after all. 

Since early summer, many PECDSC Inc. parishes have quietly slipped those two words back into their printed materials, websites, and public signage, along with tag lines in search engines that might be used by people searching for a real Episcopal parish. 

For example, St. Michael's in Charleston is among several pro-Lawrence parishes claiming to be a "constituent member" of the Anglican Communion, even though that would be news to the leadership of the Communion.  Individual parishes cannot independently belong to the worldwide Communion, anyway.

An online search with the words “episcopal” and “Beaufort” brings up "St. Helena’s Episcopal Church", somewhat surprising since it claims it has left the Episcopal Church.

If you are looking for a parish in Georgetown, you'll discover one named “The Episcopal Church of the Parish of Prince George Winyah”, also known on its website as "Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church", even though its corporate board of directors claim they have left the Episcopal Church.

This sudden change of heart seems particularly disingenuous since all of these parishes are currently spending millions of dollars in legal proceedings that, if successful, will permanently sever their ties to the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church.   
  Full story 

September 17, 2013

Self-Proclaimed “Anglican” Groups in the Carolinas Try to End Rivalries
Meeting at Episcopal Church Center hopes to bolster shared fundamentalist, anti-gay, anti-women agenda

SEABROOK ISLAND - Representatives of five renegade groups claiming to be Anglicans with “overlapping jurisdictions” in North and South Carolina met at an Episcopal Church Center south of Charleston last week to smooth over reported rivalries and internecine sniping to advance their shared theological and political agendas.
The groups, all with an axe to grind against the Episcopal Church, are primarily bound by their embrace of Biblical literalism and opposition to gays and lesbians, and women in positions of spiritual authority over men.  Over the past few years, the strong personalities of their leaders has caused bruised egos and schisms-within-schisms.

Participants at the all-male meeting included:

   - Mark Lawrence, deposed Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

   - Robert Duncan, deposed Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and leader of the erstwhile “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA); and 

   - Steve Wood, ex-Episcopal priest and current ACNA Bishop of the Carolinas

Also included were representatives of Forward in Faith, an international movement to keep women out of the priesthood, and a missionary group to the United States from Rwanda. 

None of these groups is actually “Anglican” as in being part of the Anglican Communion.  

However, faced with financial troubles, declining numbers, and confusion about their identities, leaders of these schismatic groups have had no trouble poaching names like “Anglican,” "Orthodox" and “Episcopal” in attempts to legitimize themselves and convince followers that their fundamentalist views are actually mainstream.

In North America there are only two provinces of the Anglican Communion – the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.  Neither individuals, parishes, nor dioceses can be part of the Communion without belonging to one of its provinces. 

The only two bishops in South Carolina recognized by the Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury are named Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg.  Neither was invited to the meeting. 
  Read statement of the participants 

    September 16, 2013
    Episcopal Forum of South Carolina Reconstitutes Mission

     Ten-year-old via media organization has been valuable source of information for Episcopalians

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, the ten-year-old via media organization in the Diocese of South Carolina, has reconstituted its mission and committed itself to supporting the work of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  The EFSC filled a critical role in holding Diocesan leaders accountable during the episcopates of Edward Salmon and Mark Lawrence, while providing loyal Episcopalians and the public with accurate and reliable information.  full story

September 15, 2013
Charleston Post & Courier Profiles Former Bishop Mark Lawrence

full story

September 11, 2013
Charleston Post & Courier Profiles SC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg

full story

September 10, 2013

Local Judge Rules Against Church's Claim to Property of Breakaway Parishes
in the Diocese of Quincy

Decision leaves Lawrence supporters hopeful

After a lengthy trial this summer, an Illinois Circuit Court Judge ruled against the Episcopal Church in its long-standing property dispute with breakaway parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy.  The ruling almost certainly will be appealed, but it has given encouragement to breakaway parishes around the country.

Those in South Carolina were cheered because the judge used a legal concept known as "neutral principles of law" to arrive at his decision. This same approach was taken by the South Carolina Supreme Court in the controversial case of All Saints', Pawleys Island a number of years ago. 

Followers of former Bishop Mark Lawrence hope S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein will do the same thing next year when she rules on their pending lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.

In certain circumstances, states can use this approach in deciding Church property cases instead of "hierarchical preference," an older approach that generally holds that religious organizations with hierarchical governing structures -- like the Episcopal Church, Presbyterians, Methodists, and many others -- have the Constitutional right to manage their own affairs, including matters of property and leadership, without intrusion by the courts.

Some state courts like the "neutral principles" approach because it allows them to apply their own laws to Church disputes.  In recent years a handful of courts in those states employed the neutral principles approach to justify outcomes that mostly favored breakaway groups. 

In the All Saints' decision, the state Supreme Court used the neutral principles framework but was clear that it final decision was based on historical factors unique to that parish's situation.  The Court's decision was not a free exit pass to congregations that wanted to leave hierarchical Churches and grab up property on the way out.

Beaufort attorney Alan Runyan, a lead attorney for the Lawrence "diocese", appears to have participated in the trial in support of the breakaway parishes.  It is not known if parishes in South Carolina were paying his bills.

For more than four years, the Diocese of Quincy has been led by the Rt. Rev. John Buchanan, retired bishop of Western Missouri and interim bishop of Southern Virginia, who now lives in his native South Carolina.  This summer, the dioceses of Quincy and Chicago voted to merge, and Bishop Buchanan became the Assistant Bishop of Chicago.
Read the
 pastoral letter issued by Bishop Jeffrey Lee of the Diocese of Chicago on the judge's ruling.  Read additional comments by affected EpiscopaliansPermalink for this story ...

August 30, 2013
More than 100 Diocesan Clergy Officially Out of the Episcopal Church
VonRosenberg "released and removed" anti-Church priests in a way that might allow future reconciliation

CHARLESTON - South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg today signed a "Notice of Removal" for more than 100 clergy who've chosen to leave the Episcopal Church with former Bishop Mark Lawrence. 

For nine months vonRosenberg has attempted to keep Diocesan clergy in the Church, even if they were sympathetic to the rightwing schism promoted by Lawrence and others.  Their removal means that they are no longer recognized by an ecclesiastical entity that embraces apostolic succession or the Anglican Communion.

Under the canons (laws) of the Church, vonRosenberg could have "deposed" them.  However, an action of that nature would have made it much more difficult for them to seek reconciliation with the Church.  Reconciliation does not mean that they'd be entitled to resume their previous positions in the Diocese or local parishes. 

VonRosenberg acted with the agreement of the Standing Committee of the Diocese.  The names of the affected clergy were not released but the list most likely is the same as that of clergy whose ministries were "restricted" in June.  Nearly 90 clergy have chosen to stay with the continuing Diocese under vonRosenberg

Read news release by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina

August 23, 2013
Federal Judge Punts
Houck says it is "inefficient" for Feds to take on the case when a state court is already considering it

CHARLESTON - U.S, District Judge Weston Houck this afternoon granted a motion by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence to dismiss a legal action brought against him by Charles vonRosenberg, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. VonRosenberg claimed that Lawrence is interfering in the ministry of the Church by falsely representing himself as an Episcopal Bishop and the leader of the Diocese of South Carolina, and asked Houck to enjoin him from doing so. 

The legal issues in the matter will be addressed in a trial in state court, probably early next year.

Generally, state courts are thought to be better for Lawrence's breakaway "diocese" since its lawyers convinced state court Judge Diane Goodstein in January to award him temporary control of the corporate entity known as "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc."  Along with that went the rights to official names -- like the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" -- and the official corporate marks of the Diocese.

It may be the first time in history that a judge anywhere has essentially installed an individual as an official of a "hierarchical church" who does not even claim to be a member of that Church.  The ruling prompted SC Episcopalians to refer to the Lawrence "diocese" as the Diocese of Diane, since the "diocese" has no other legal authority to operate. 

Lawrence left the Episcopal Church in October 2012 over its inclusion of gay people and women in the full life of the Church, and Biblical literalism. 

Lawrence's lawyers are also hoping state courts will be a better venue for their cause because of the case of All Saint's, Pawleys Island a number of years ago, when the state's Supreme Court said the parish was free to leave the Episcopal Church.  The Court appeared to limit its ruling to unique factors in that case, but Lawrence's team claims it applies more broadly ... even to an administrative unit of a Church like a diocese.

Lawyers for the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina under vonRosenberg would probably have been happier if Houck kept the case in Federal Court.  Federal law strongly affirms the Constitutional right of hierarchical churches to manage their own affairs including selecting their own leaders, controlling their own property, and hiring their own employees.

The 81-year-old judge held a hearing on vonRosenberg's request for an injunction on Aug. 8th.

See vonRosenberg's response and the Judge's full rulingg

August 8, 2013
Federal Judge Promises a Ruling in VonRosenberg v. Lawrence in a Few Days

Judge Houck left little doubt that he'd like to dump the entire case in the state courts

CHARLESTON -- If there was any agreement in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Weston Houck today, it was that the legal duel between the current and former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is likely drag on for years.

Today's hearing was focused on a lawsuit brought by The Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, who wants Lawrence to stop acting like he's still the Bishop of the Diocese.  Lawrence left the Episcopal Church last fall, but continues to claim that he is its Bishop, even though he was formally deposed as a priest of the Church in December 2012. 

VonRosenberg was elected Lawrence's successor in January of this year, but Lawrence acts as if he is still in charge, even paying himself a very generous salary, living in the official Bishop's residence, and occupying the Diocesan headquarters in downtown Charleston.  He also claims that the Diocese's multimillion dollar assets and parish properties belong to him.

VonRosenberg’s lawyers claim in their lawsuit that Lawrence is engaging in "false advertising" in ways that are illegal under Federal law, and that this has led to confusion that prevents vonRosenberg from being a spiritual leader and exercising the ministry to which he was elected.

Lawrence's attorneys responded to them by asking that Houck dismiss vonRosenberg's lawsuit, and allow a state court currently considering Lawrence's lawsuit against the Episcopal Church over property issues to handle the case. 

Unfortunately for vonRosenberg, the nearly 81-year-old Houck appears to have little interest in taking on an extraordinarily complex case, and today he seemed singularly focused on finding justification for granting Lawrence's motion, and not especially clear on the issues raised in the lawsuit.

At the beginning of the hearing, for example, Houck said that he would first listen to oral arguments on Lawrence's motion to dismiss, followed by arguments on the substance of vonRosenberg's lawsuit.  However, that didn't happen.

Lawrence's legal team made its opening presentation for dismissal that included a rambling 25-minute monologue from one of Lawrence's lawyers who repeatedly bungled the pronunciation of vonRosenberg's name, appropriate form of address, and even the name of The Episcopal Church. 

However, when vonRosenberg's lead attorney, Matt McGill, began his response, Houck cut him off and proceeded to badger him with questions about how the issues raised by vonRosenberg could eventually be addressed by the state court.  Houck seemed unconcerned that vonRosenberg is not a party to that case, and that any state court was unlikely to address issues over which only a Federal Court has jurisdiction.

After about an hour of arguments on Lawrence's motion, the judge asked if anyone had anything else to bring up, and left the startled courtroom without ever hearing arguments on the merits of vonRosenberg's lawsuit. 
Not a good sign for the vonRosenberg team.

Houck promised that he would issue a ruling within a week.  The state case is being handled by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein.

Houck, who is from Florence, was appointed to the Federal bench in 1979 by President Carter upon the recommendation of Senator Fritz Hollings. His nomination was something of a head-scratcher as the more experienced Florence attorney and former state senator, E.N. "Nick" Zeigler, was widely considered a shoo-in.  The late Mr. Zeigler went on to become the Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina.

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