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July 24, 2014
Day 13: Enraged Judge Goes Ballistic, Threatens Church Attorney, then Storms Out of Her Own Courtroom
Goodstein abruptly cancelled this afternoon's session just as Lawrence took the stand
ST. GEORGE - The trial in ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence's lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina came to an astonishing halt today when trial judge, Diane Schafer Goodstein, lost it in an ugly spasm of abuse and threats directed at one of the Episcopal Church's most esteemed attorneys.
With arms flailing, an enraged Goodstein lashed out at mild-mannered Church attorney Mary Kostel, when she objected to testimony by a rebuttal witness for Lawrence about the 2012 “Certificate of Abandonment” issued by the Church after a determination was made that he'd violated his consecration oath of loyalty.
Lawrence and 36 supporting parishes are asking Goodstein to award them diocesan assets and financial properties valued at $500-$800 million, including the Church's camp and conference center on Seabrook Island. These have accrued over the 225 years since the founding of the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina.
Both sides in the trial have rested their cases, so today and tomorrow appear to be reserved for rebuttal witnesses for Lawrence' side.
Meltdown began with Goodstein's flip-flop on key testimony
Goodstein has repeatedly sustained objections to testimony on actions taken by the Episcopal Church against Lawrence in 2012, and fussed at Church lawyers and witnesses who would bring it up during the trial. "I am not going into the hierarchical part... To what extent am I going into ecclesiastical law? I'm not," Goodstein told them again on Wednesday.
However, she appeared to have no problem with a pro-Lawrence witness doing it today.
That is when today's incident appeared to start. During the testimony of Lawrence's attorney Wade Logan, Kostel objected to questions by Henrietta Golding about the Certificate and the deposition of Lawrence on the same grounds as Goodstein had forbidden it previously.
In response, Goodstein explained to Kostel where she thought Lawrence's lawyers were headed with the testimony, and why it would be acceptable to her. "They are trying to show me that people have due process, right?” she said, with a glance at Lawrence's legal team.
Kostel explained that the document would not actually show what the judge was describing. However, as she spoke, the judge's face became beet red. Goodstein then focused her eyes squarely on Kostel, rose up in her chair, and shrieked at the astonished lawyer, threatening to have her sanctioned and removed from the courtroom.
Then, at the same decibel, Goodstein told the lawyers that she was calling a recess during which Ms. Kostel “had better have a talk with Mr. Holmes about Rule 3.1,” (sanctions against attorneys who run afoul of judges). Goodstein then abruptly spun around in her chair and bolted out of the courtroom, slamming the door in her wake.
Of the nearly fifty lawyers in the courtroom each day – yes, 50 – Kostel has easily been most respectful, even tempered, and accommodating. Physically slight of stature, she is widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost authorities on Church property law and serves as special counsel to the Presiding Bishop. “Mr. Holmes” is Allen Holmes, the Church’s in-state counsel at the trial, whose responsibilities include advising out-of-state lawyers about procedures in South Carolina courts.
After about five minutes, the still-agitated judge returned to the stunned courtroom, loudly closing the door and slamming her papers on her desk. “Let me see that exhibit,” she snapped. The courtroom froze as she took a few moments to review the certificate.
She then told Golding to proceed with her questioning. Kostel chose not to renew her objection.
During the meltdown, Kostel remarkably held her composure in the face of Goodstein's wrath. However, she was clearly very shaken and was seen receiving encouragement and support from fellow attorneys from both sides after the judge recessed the proceedings for the day.
Goodstein has been hostile to the Church & its legal team since the start of the trial
The trial continued for another hour, before Goodstein surprised everyone by announcing that she would not be available to continue the day's proceedings during the afternoon.
Goodstein’s temperament has been the unspoken elephant in the courtroom, as her moods swing from light-hearted and child-like to dark and angry. Her attitude toward Church attorneys has been up and down, since the opening of the trial when she actually instructed all participants not to use the words, “The Episcopal Church." Too confusing, she said.
She’s continued to make life miserable for them by overruling scores of their objections, intimidating their expert witnesses, and refusing to allow critical evidence they have needed for their defense.
Goodstein has also made a number of snide remarks about “how we do things in South Carolina,” a jab at out-of-state Church lawyers. She even announced how she was going to rule on the case, before they finished presenting their case.
During the second week of the trial, Goodstein similarly erupted at one of the attorneys for the continuing Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, when she claimed that he'd added too late the name of an expert to his witness list. The witness had conducted an expensive study on the extent to which Goodstein’s initial order, awarding temporary custody of the Diocese of South Carolina to Lawrence, had created tremendous confusion and trademark infringement.
After a bitter, public scolding, she refused to let the witness testify.
Today, Tom Tisdale, the lead attorney for the continuing diocese, objected to the plaintiffs' calling Mark Lawrence on the grounds that he had not been on the witness list, but Goodstein rebuffed him sarcastically saying, “I imagine it's some rebuttal over something you said.”
She then allowed Lawrence to be called.
Rebuttal witnesses for the breakaways try to discredit earlier testimony
Lawrence was not the only rebuttal witness called by the breakaway attorneys.
Bob Lawrence, the director of St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center, was called to the stand to rebut earlier testimony from Bishop Charles vonRosenberg that he did not feel welcome to use the diocesan retreat center on Seabrook Island. Lawrence (no relation to Mark) said it was untrue and that he was welcome anytime.
(Bob) Lawrence did not mention that in 2013 the camp instituted a policy of preferring applications from children of “Anglican” parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina in accepting summer campers. (In that context, “Anglican” meant pro-Lawrence, even though the Episcopal Church is the only province of the Anglican Communion recognized in the United States.)
He also did not comment on an incident that same year, when a parent from a continuing Episcopal Church parish asked a member of Lawrence's staff if her child would be mistreated at the camp since the parish did not support Lawrence. The staff member told her that their “children were getting what they deserved.”
Under Lawrence, the camp has rewritten its history, carefully cutting out all references to the Episcopal Church and the founding of the camp in the late 1930’s by the Episcopal Church. In fact, the first two sessions of the camp were held in the home of SC Episcopalians’ grandparents, according to the journal of the 1938 Diocesan Convention but not the revised history the breakaway group has produced.
Greg Kronz, a former priest in Hilton Head, testified at end of the day yesterday as a rebuttal witness. Kronz was the chairman of the Search Committee that nominated Mark Lawrence for Bishop of South Carolina in 2006, and coached him in revising responses on his candidate questionnaire the committee found troubling.
Kronz's primary role as a witness was to rebut prior testimony of a North Carolina priest who claimed that in late 2005 Kronz tried to recruit him as candidate for bishop to lead the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church. Kronz said it didn’t happen.
Kronz also tried to downplay a suggestion that the search committee actually got useful support and instructions on how to nominate and elect an Episcopal bishop from Bishop Clay Matthews of the staff of the Presiding Bishop in New York.
Kronz acknowledged that the committee did get some suggestions from Matthews, but he had no idea who he was or where he was from.
In fact, at the 2005 Diocesan Convention, Kronz reported to delegates (SC Episcopalians among them) that the committee had met with Matthews, and received very good guidance and instructions. At that time Kronz was very clear who Matthews was and where he worked. When some delegates showed concern at the mention of someone from the Presiding Bishop’s office, Kronz quickly assured them that Matthews “didn't try anything” while he was here.
Court resumes at 9:30 a.m. with Lawrence's testimony.
July 23, 2014
Day 12: Marathon Trial Limps toward Finish Line
Judge's comments suggest she's already decided the case for Lawrencians
ST. GEORGE - The trial of the lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his supporters against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina is likely to conclude on Friday but already there is a strange sense that, after nearly three weeks, nothing has really changed.
In January 2013 South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein awarded temporary control of the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated” (aka “The Diocese of South Carolina”) to Lawrence & company, even though they are not even Episcopalians.
At that time, Goodstein believed that under legal precedence in South Carolina the Diocese’s non-profit organization that holds between $500-$800 million in diocesan assets and parish properties was within its rights to secede from the Episcopal Church, wiping out 225 years of its ministry in the eastern half of the state.
Today, even before the defense rested its case, Goodstein seemed to be saying that none of the thousands of pages of evidence, expert witnesses, or dozens of hours of testimony had had much effect on her thinking. The content of her on-the-record comments from the bench have never really reflected much more than the PR spin of the Lawrence crowd. She volunteered again today that she thought the 36 parishes aligned with Lawrence had done what they needed to do to leave the Church under South Carolina law.
Perhaps the only thing Goodstein has given to Church attorneys is the opportunity to include evidence and testimony in the record that would allow for a meaningful appeal.
Goodstein out of her depth?
In many ways Goodstein was ill-equipped to handle a case of this complexity, and throughout the trial she's showed little understanding of the Episcopal Church, the Constitutional protections afforded it in the First Amendment, or its history of ministry in South Carolina. She seems to prefer simple answers to complex legal issues, and appeared somewhat intimidated by expert witness as well as Lawrence's 40-plus member legal team.
“I am not going there” she said to Church lawyers when they tried to explain how a diocese is a subdivision created by the Church as an extension of its work in a geographic area defined by the Church's General Convention.
Goodstein continues to suggest that the 2009 All Saints' case utilizing "neutral principles of law" dictates to her that she must find in favor of Lawrence and his parishes, but only in the last couple of days did she seem to understand that the All Saints' case concerned the unique circumstances of one parish, not an entire diocese. The All Saints' case was also not an issue of Church doctrine as much as one of conflicting claims on its parish property. That is not the case with this one.
Days earlier she completely eviscerated testimony of S.C. Historian Walter Edgar, who had studied all of the journals of Diocesan conventions since the founding of the Diocese, and identified numerous instances where the Diocese had affirmed its permanent ties to the Episcopal Church.
It would be nice to have him (Edgar) "read me a story," she said, but suggested that nothing about which he was going to testify seemed particularly relevant to her view of the law in the case.
At one point today, Goodstein asked Church attorney David Beers, “Why do I care?” when he tried to respond to her own questions about the absence of an exit clause in the Constitution and Canons of the Church.
Judge repeatedly excluded important evidence of doctrinal and theological differences
Throughout the trial Goodstein rejected evidence suggesting the case had anything to do with Lawrence's doctrinal or theological differences with the Church. If there was such evidence in the record, Goodstein would have been forced to step aside and allow the Church to resolve the case.
As in other cases like this in other states, local judges, especially those who must run for re-election, have generally sided with people they perceived as locals. Goodstein said she was impressed with the 36 “plaintiff parishes” that had expressed their devotion to Lawrence... but asked nothing about the effect of her 2013 ruling on the thirty parishes that had remained loyal to the Episcopal Church.
In fact, she through out an expert witness who would have testified about the extent to which that ruling had created public confusion and damaged the work of the Church.
The final witness for the Church was the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. VonRosenberg recounted how the Diocese reorganized after Lawrence and his Standing Committee left the Church in the fall of 2012. He and his wife Annie had been in court daily since the beginning of the case on July 9th, and played host to significant numbers of communicants who came to provide moral support each day.
"Nanny Nanny Boo Boo"
At one point Goodstein complimented both sides on their willingness to work together on rectifying confusion last year when two checks for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina were mistakenly sent to the Lawrence "diocese." She suggested that most adversarial parties she sees would never have been so cooperative. "They would just say, 'nanny nanny boo boo, I got your stuff," she said in a mock childish tone.
Kronz rebuts previous day's allegations
At the end of the day, Greg Kronz, a former Episcopal priest who guided Lawrence’s election as bishop, took the stand to rebut earlier testimony by the Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker, who Kronz and another priest had interviewed about becoming a candidate for Bishop of South Carolina toward the end of 2005. Kronz refuted testimony by Rickenbaker that they asked him if he would be willing to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.
July 22, 2014
Methodists, Presbyterians Back Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
The Episcopal Church in S.C. joins effort by Diocese of Fort Worth to bring an end to breakaways' lawsuits
An appeal to the United States Supreme Court by the besieged Diocese of Fort Worth got a significant boost yesterday with the announcement that the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches were joining its effort to turn back attacks from breakaway groups laying claim to their property and financial assets.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina led by the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg also joined in an amicus curiae brief ("Friend of the Court") filed with the Supreme Court.
VonRosenberg is likely to take the stand this week in the trial of a lawsuit by a breakaway group led by his predecessor, asking a South Carolina court to give him ownership of Diocesan assets and property valued at $500-$800 million. Hierarchical Churches, like the Episcopal Church, have been under attack for years by well-funded, rightwing groups utilizing the legal system to tear down religious organizations they don’t consider conservative enough.
In general, most cases around the country have been resolved by states' Supreme Courts in favor of the Episcopal Church, but in Texas that has not happened. Among those state's that have settled cases like this are Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and even California and Oregon.
The trial judge in South Carolina announced this week that that Constitutional protections afforded hierarchical Churches are not applicable in the state.
The primary focus of the Fort Worth appeal is the validity of the Dennis Canon, a 1979 church law establishing the Church’s legal property interest in all Episcopal Church properties. Last spring, the Supreme Court let stand a decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia, binding all Episcopal parishes to the Church, even if they were founded prior to the establishment of the Church in 1789.
Read a full report on this important story by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
July 22, 2014
Day 11: The Witness Who Wasn’t There
Deposition of 2005 candidate for Bishop of SC shows breakaway leaders were already looking for someone to “lead us out of the Episcopal Church”
Church attorneys likely to call vonRosenberg, as the end of the trial approaches
ST. GEORGE -- Today’s star witness in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein was not physically present for his own testimony, but a kind of dramatic reading of his deposition by trial attorneys gave new insight into how far disloyal clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina had come in 2005 when they were shopping for a new, like-minded leader.
The Reverend Thomas Rickenbaker, who was the rector of a 900-member Episcopal Church in Edenton, North Carolina at the time, said that that two clergy leaders of the search committee for a successor to retiring Bishop Edward Salmon flat out asked him if he'd be willing to lead the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church when they interviewed him for the job. The deposition was taken about five weeks ago.
The 58-year-old Rickenbaker, now retired in Spartanburg, said he told committee members Greg Kronz and Paul Fuener that he was “shocked and disappointed” when they opened their meeting by asking, ”What can you do to help us leave the Episcopal Church and take our property with us?”
After their motive became evident, Rickenbaker said he considered further engagement with the committee a “waste of their time and my time.”
In 2005, Kronz was the rector of St. Luke’s, Hilton Head and chairman of the search committee. Fuener was the rector of Prince George’s, Winyah. Both men have since been deposed as Episcopal priests, but continue to serve those congregations that are trying to break away from the Episcopal Church with their properties.
Both Kronz and Fuener have vigorously denied Rickenbaker’s version of events. According to the deposition, Lawrence attorney Henrietta Golding was present for the deposition during which she repeatedly quizzed Rickenbaker on why he continued the interview with the two priests through the next day, if he considered it pointless.
Goodstein blocked Church's efforts to expose conspiracy, fraud by breakaway group
Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina have attempted to defend their clients by alleging a conspiracy among Lawrence and three lieutenants to defraud the Church and make off with the financial and real assets of its Diocese of South Carolina valued between $500-$800 million.
However, Goodstein has repeatedly blocked efforts to use this defense including the introduction of nearly 1,200 emails between Lawrence and Standing Committee counsel, Alan Runyan of Beaufort. Lawrence was consecrated bishop in January 2008 after a tumultuous election. He was deposed as a Bishop after refusing to defend himself against charges that he had violated his consecration oath of allegiance to the Church. In fact, Lawrence has never disputed the factual evidence against him.
Lawyers testy as Lawrencians try to block admission of official Church documents
Meanwhile, today’s only other witness was Mark Duffy, Canonical Archivist and Director of Archives for the Episcopal Church, who produced volumes of Church records detailing the participation of the Diocese of South Carolina in the formation of the Church, support the Diocese received from the Church since 1798, and documents relating to the authority of the hierarchy of the Church over bishops who violate their oaths.
Duffy was on the stand for hours, Episcopal Church Chancellor David Booth Beers attempted to introduce the documents into the trial record as part of his defense. Runyan and Golding seemed to raise challenges to almost every document, including an IRS letter confirming the Church’s 501(c)(3) status they believe contained "hearsay."
At one point Beers became testy with the judge, who reprimanded him by instructing the Church’s in-state counsel, Allen Hughes, to tell his client that in South Carolina lawyers “do not argue with the Court.” Beers had sniped at Golding when she appeared to laugh after Goodstein sustain her objections to admission of a document.
The disturbing part of the admission of the documents was the extent to which Goodstein is still confused about the governing structures of the Church. During the first two weeks of the trial, breakaway attorneys were successful in blocking the admission of evidence that would have provided her a grounding in the “polity” of the Episcopal Church and its Constitution and Canons. At one point, she seemed to suggest that Lawrence's breakaway "diocese" was still part of the Church.
Duffy was not prepared to be an expert in Church governance, though he was asked repeatedly to explain how subdivisions of the Church work.
Goodstein doesn't seem to understand the Episcopal Church or laws governing hierarchical Churches
Goodstein seems determined to believe that Lawrence’ lawsuit has nothing to do with the Church hierarchy, but is purely a property matter governed by a 2009 state Supreme Court decision in the case of All Saints’, Waccamaw. She also doesn’t seem particularly clear that All Saints’ was a case about the unique circumstances of that parish and not the diocesan infrastructure of a hierarchical Church protected by the United States Constitution.
The trial is now in its third week, and could be headed for a close by Thursday. Lawrence’s successor, the Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, reportedly may take the stand as early as tomorrow. It appears Lawrence will not testify. Court resumes at 9:30 a.m.
Read daily summaries by Holly Behre for the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina here
Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent summaries here
July 21, 2014
Day 10: Courtroom Gridlock Prevents Church from Making its Case
Lawrence lawyers slow trial to a crawl, as judge shares where her "head is"
ST. GEORGE - It is difficult to get through a non-jury trial without undue focus on the trial judge. He or, as in this case, she is watched and scrutinized every moment for telltale signs of bias or insights on the eventual verdict.
The trial of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina is now in its third week, and Circuit Judge Diane Shafer Goodstein has provided no shortage of oddly endearing mannerisms and entertaining sidebars for the nearly standing-room-only crowds that fill her courtroom in this small, rural community every day.
Some in the courtroom on both sides have described her judicial temperament as occasionally “coquettish” and “girlish,” while others have been less kind using terms like “silly” and “bizarre”. Sometimes she’s tried to dumb-down the legal complexities of her rulings for non-lawyers using, what sounds like, a crude Gullah accent.
Today, from the bench, she even offered the state’s most famous historian, Dr. Walter Edgar, a cup of coffee after he was sworn in and seated. Of course, she asked him if he took cream and sugar.
While somewhat unorthodox, Goodstein’s quirkiness is probably forgivable. After all, a long trial like this can be very dull.
However, there is another question in the courtroom that is not so easily dismissed:
Is Goodstein even in control of this trial?
[Editor's personal note: About six years ago I was a character witness for a very young fellow in Judge Goodstein’s courtroom who was facing 15 years in prison. The young man, a high school dropout, claimed he had been set up, and only Goodstein considered the possibility that he was telling the truth. She was right. Thanks to her persistence, the prosecution had to admit there was no evidence or even witnesses to support the charges, and the young man was spared. I left the courtroom with a tremendous appreciation for her professionalism, temperament, and commitment to fairness. Now, more than two weeks into the trial of the Lawrence lawsuit, that side of the judge has yet to emerge.]
There is little doubt that the breakaways’ 40-plus member legal team is calling the shots in the courtroom. Why the Lawrencians chose to file this case in Dorchester County has never been made clear, but the ease with which they appear to have intimidated Goodstein is reason enough.
Her references to key legal precedents in the case are shallow echoes of Lawrence's spin doctors. She doesn't seem to understand the structure and governance of the Church but yields to Lawrence's lawyers who object to any evidence that might help her better understand.
The Church's defense team has provided an extraordinary agenda of expert witnesses, which Goodstein feels compelled to tie up in knots before they can even testify.
She completely threw out one witness who was to testify about the confusion she created 18 months ago by awarding the corporate identity of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina to its deposed ex-bishop and his supporters ... who do not even claim to be Episcopalians! She humiliated another expert witness for the Church by scolding her for failing to bring resource documents she was not asked to bring to court.
Dissing Walter Edgar
Of the dozen most important rulings in the case, only one appears to have gone the Church’s way… but, first thing this morning, Goodstein even did an about-face on that.
Since the start of the trial Lawrence’s team has strenuously objected to any evidence or testimony about the Church structure as they want the case to stay focused purely on the question of the ownership of property. The Church’s lawyers argue that the case is about theology and doctrine simply masquerading as a property issue. It matters because different standards in deciding the case apply depending on which perspective the court uses.
During Friday’s abbreviated session, the judge actually overruled objections from Lawrence’s breakaway diocese, and allowed 2,000 pages of documents on the structure and governance of the Church to be admitted into the record.
“One of the things that’s going to be extremely important to me is the organization (of the Church) in terms of authority,” she said. “The 2,000 pages go to show the state of the relationship, and it is relevant.”
Consistent with her sentiments, today’s sole witness was Dr. Edgar, who's been waiting since last Wednesday to testify about his review of the journals of the Diocesan Convention from 1840 to 2009.
As he took the stand, the judge began a monologue about what Edgar’s testimony would likely be and how it should be limited.
In what sounded like a reversal of Friday's comments on Church structure, Goodstein became dismissive of Edgar's efforts, saying the journals "speak for themselves.” While it might be nice to have him “read me a story,” she said, his research isn't really necessary.
She did say that Church attorneys were entitled to have Edgar summarize his findings, but it would not be permissible for him to opine on the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina. She said she was concerned that he was going to move from “this is what it said,” to “this is what it means.”
Concerning his testimony, she wondered aloud, “At the end of the day, what difference is it going to make? Because here is where my head is: if he is going to testify as to the hierarchical nature of the Church, I get that. I don’t need to hear any more about that. It’s not going to help me. We won’t enforce a hierarchical relationship in this case. You can take that up on your appeal… I mean, IF you appeal.”
Goodstein says she's made up her mind on key questions
Goodstein's comments then morphed into a discussion about the broader issues in the case, and conclusions she appears to have already made even though the defense is still presenting its case.
“If it’s about doctrine, Jones v Wolf says that doctrine can’t be used to settle property matters, and the Dennis Canon has no legal effect in South Carolina. All Saints’ Waccamaw settled that,” she added.
Then she lowered her voice to a stage whisper and told the crowded courtroom, " I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t agree with Professor McWilliams that the Constitution and Canons of the National Church effectively become neutral principles of corporate law.”
McWilliams, from USC law school, appeared as an expert witness for the Church last week and painstakingly walked the court through an analysis of the corporate history of the Diocese of South Carolina. He specifically pointed to a new corporate charter in 1973 that clearly restates the intention of the Diocesan incorporators to accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
Goodstein went on to offer more insights into her thinking: "On Friday Bishop Daniel said that the Church Constitutions and Canons do not specifically say that a diocese may leave. At the end of the day where does it say that parishes can’t change their mind?"
Lawrencian attorney Henrietta Golding of Myrtle Beach jumped in to add that this was the core issue in the case. Where indeed does it say that they can’t leave, she insisted. It was a First Amendment right to free association issue.
Then the judge continued, “It’s kind of like Oprah’s Book Club. Maybe some people in the group want to read Oprah’s books, but perhaps a minority want to read Dr. Edgar’s books. When they can’t agree, Oprah’s people stay together and read her books and Dr. Edgar’s people go their own way.” It infringes upon their First Amendment rights to keep anyone from leaving.
Golding agreed, “It’s like a country club. It’s an association."
At one point in all of this, the judge looked at Dr. Edgar (who had been sitting in the witness chair all this time) and said, “You’ve been sitting there a long time, would you like a cup of coffee? Big cup? Little cup? Cream? Sugar? We’ve got gooood coffee!”
Church attorney brings courtroom back to earth... briefly
Mary Kostel, who serves as a special counsel to the Presiding Bishop and is herself an expert in Church property law, scrambled to address concerns raised by Judge Goodstein and Golding:
-- Some individual parishes have left the Episcopal Church, by adhering to the prescription set forth in the Constitution and Canons.
-- There is a course of conduct going to back to at least the 19th century of how the Diocese of South Carolina has behaved with the Church that perhaps points to a “constructive trust.”
-- The All Saints’ case was not about a diocese trying to leave the Church, but a parish with a unique set of circumstances that led to the state's Supreme Court concluding that it was no longer bound by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. These two cases are different.
-- Regarding First Amendment issues, the free exercise clause protects everyone including the sovereignty of a hierarchical Church to govern itself in such a way as to protect its structure without interference by secular courts.
Oh yeah, and there was actually a trial going on, too
As noon approached, Church attorney Tom Tisdale began to question Dr. Edgar.
However, immediately Church attorneys disrupted the exchange claiming they didn’t have copies of all the documents that Dr. Edgar had studied, and demanded to have access to them before he proceeded. (Many of these are in the possession of Lawrence's "diocese" but courtroom rules require the defense to produce them if they want to talk about them.)
Rather than argue over it, everyone in the courtroom more or less decided to go to lunch.
Dr. Edgar eventually spent the afternoon providing insights gleaned from his study of Church records, but not without repeated interruptions. He testified to numerous examples of the Diocese of South Carolina affirming its loyalty to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, as well as its historic financial and administrative ties to the wider Church.
Tisdale managed to get Edgar's testimony on the record.
On cross-examination, Lawrencian lawyers attempted to fill the trial transcript with irrelevant yada yada. For nearly 25 minutes, Golding ridiculed Edgar's expert review of convention journals by demanding that he explain irrelevant numbers in the journals' financial reports in randomly selected years going back to 1866. Church attorneys made frequent objections to the questioning, but Goodstein overruled them.
Throughout the afternoon, Runyan and Golding tried to make Edgar's testimony in the record seem even more disjointed by taking advantage of his hearing loss.
On nearly a dozen occasions, he had to ask both lawyers to speak up or look at him when they were asking him questions. Runyan insisted on speaking in a very low quiet voice just steps from his microphone. Golding joined in the fun by frequently turning her back to Edgar when asking her questions, forcing him to repeatedly ask her to repeat her questions.
Goodstein made no attempt to control what eventually looked like a circus at the end of the day.
-- Special thanks to Wayne Helmly and others
July 18, 2014
Day 9: Episcopal Church 101 (updated 11 p.m. 7/19)
Former Bishop of East Carolina leads Court through Church's history, governance, & Lawrence's betrayal of his vows
Church's lawyers challenge judge's assumptions with mix of powerful experts and witnesses to parish takeovers
ST. GEORGE – In one critical aspect, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein does appear to be biased.
Her actions during the first two weeks of trial suggest a strong bias in favor of the assumptions about the Episcopal Church and legal precedents around Church property disputes that led her in January 2013 to temporarily award the corporate identity of the Diocese of South Carolina to ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and breakaway parishes supporting him.
In fairness to Goodstein, it is not unusual for judges to find themselves in agreement with their own rulings. It's probably illogical to expect otherwise.
However, it places a huge burden on the Church’s lawyers: Not only must they prove that the allegations in the lawsuit are factually wrong, they must also convince the judge that her entire approach to the legal issues is wrong as well.
Today was the fourth day in which the Church lawyers presented evidence trying to do just that.
Judge admits significant evidence about the Church's hierarchy
It appears now that the courtroom strategy of the Church's legal team is to mix powerful expert testimony with moving accounts of loyal Episcopalians whose lifelong spiritual homes were abruptly taken away from them by Lawrence’s allies. In this lawsuit, Lawrence and his followers are asking Goodstein to award them control of the 225-year-old "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and its properties and assets valued at $500-$800 million.
After a very difficult day yesterday, Church lawyers experienced a rare convergence of everything going their way today. Even the disposition of the judge, who’d bitterly lashed out at them only 24-hours before, was sweet today.
Goodstein opened the session by expressing her desire to better understand the language and structure of the Episcopal Church including General Convention, its organization, and how it relates to its 109 dioceses.
Mary Kostel, Special Counsel to The Episcopal Church, took the opportunity to provide an overview of thousands of pages of information about the history and organization of the Episcopal Church, its Constitution and Canons, and minutes of the General Conventions which she then asked to admit into evidence.
When Lawrence’s lead attorney, Alan Runyan of Beaufort, vigorously objected on the grounds that they are not relevant to the case, Goodstein overruled him.
“One of the things that’s going to be extremely important to me is the organization (of the Church) in terms of authority,” she said. “The 2,000 pages go to show the state of the relationship, and it is relevant.” She also told asked Church lawyers that she was a “verbal learner” and she would find it helpful to present witnesses to explain the documents and relationships.
This was a huge ruling for the Church in that Goodstein has never indicated that the case is about anything more than a property dispute between two rival in-state religious organizations. Lawrence's lawyers have consistently argued that the structure of the Episcopal Church is irrelevant to the case.
History of the Church and its governance is told ... finally
Today’s expert witness was The Right Rev. Clifton Daniel, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina, who voted to consent to the 2007 election of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina based on Lawrence’s personal assurance that he would remain loyal to the Episcopal Church.
It was not mentioned that Bishop Daniel was also the chief consecrator when Lawrence was made a bishop in January 2008.
Daniel led the court through an explanation of how the Episcopal Church is governed, what General Convention is, how often it meets, how many deputies attend from each diocese, and how it is comprised of a House of Bishops and House of Deputies.
He explained that the Church’s governing structure is analogous to the American form of government, equating the House of Deputies with the U.S. House of Representatives and the House of Bishops with the U.S. Senate, with a President of the House of Deputies and a President of the House of Bishops, known as the “Presiding Bishop”.
“The basic governing documents of The [Episcopal] Church are the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, the Canons of The Episcopal Church, and certainly implicit in that is the Bible,” Daniel explained.
Bishop: Lawrence lied to me
Daniel also explained to Goodstein the process by which bishops were elected by their dioceses, but could not be consecrated with less than a majority of “consents” from both the House of Bishops and the standing committees of the 109 dioceses of the Church.
Daniel said that as the Bishop of East Carolina (in North Carolina), he gave his consent to Lawrence’s election, though his standing committee did not. In fact, Lawrence failed to get a sufficient number of consents from the standing committees. A second election in the Diocese of South Carolina was held the following summer and Lawrence was elected again. After issuing written assurances that he planned to stay in Church, he was able to garner the necessary consents to be consecrated as a bishop of the Church.
“I believed, in the last result, that he would be a faithful and loyal bishop of The Episcopal Church and that he would be obedient to the canons of The Episcopal Church, and I gave my consent on that basis,” Bishop Daniel told Goodstein.
Under cross examination by Lawrencian attorneys, Daniel stated that there is no wording in the Church’s Constitution or Canons that forbids a diocese from leaving the church. However, he went on to say that “it is common sense” that the provisions of a Diocese’s constitution and canons (laws) cannot violate provisions of the Church’s Constitution and Canons.
He further told the court that the only way a diocese could leave the Church and become independent is if the General Convention agreed to it. In the Episcopal Church, diocese are created by the General Convention. They are not self-generating, as the Lawrencians claim.
Leaders of new parishes have their day in court ... at least the part no one objected to
Quietly seated in Judge Goodstein’s courtroom day after day are a small legion of loyal Episcopalians, who were forced out of their parishes when pro-Lawrence members voted to try to leave the Church.
For five days they listened to the rectors and lay leaders of their former parishes as they recounted canned testimony that their parishes were never in the Episcopal Church, never benefited from the Church in any material or spiritual way, and that their reasons for wanting to leave had nothing to do with same-gender blessings, heretics leading the Church, or literal understandings of the Bible.
Lawyers are always nervous about using lay people in a lawyer-intensive trial like this. Such was the case with the pro-Lawrence witnesses whose role was to recite carefully-orchestrated responses to a repetitious volley of soft-ball questions, even if they were not exactly truthful.
Many fumbled their testimony when Church attorneys pressed them for details and confronted them with conflicting evidence, to the point that one Lawrence attorney buried his face in his hands when a senior warden from a rural parish went rogue into honest, but forbidden, theological territory.
However, that was not the case with those for pro-Church witnesses, whose pre-trial coaching consisted of attorney Tom Tisdale’s instruction to “just tell the judge what happened to you.”
Church of Our Savior, Johns Island
Warren Mesereau, through a flurry of objections by Lawrence lawyers claiming his story was irrelevant, managed to tell Goodstein about his ostracism and eventual expulsion from the Church of Our Savior on Johns Island after sending a letter to fellow parishioners about the good work of the Episcopal Church.
St. Paul's, Conway
Rebecca Lovelace of Conway recounted her astonishment at being informed by her rector one Sunday that St. Paul’s, where she had been a life-long member, was no longer an Episcopal Church. “We had many conversations over the years and many representations that we were never leaving The Episcopal Church,” she said.
She told Goodstein that her mother's estate had provided nearly $360,000 toward the construction of the parish’s new church building that Lawrence’s followers are now asserting belongs to them.
St. John's, Florence
One Sunday morning in October 2012, Dr. Frances Elmore showed up at her home parish of St. John’s in Florence and was told by her rector that “we are no longer in The Episcopal Church, and you may not feel comfortable worshiping here anymore.”
Facing the loss of friends of many years, Dr. Elmore eventually left St. John’s and became one of the founding members of a new Episcopal mission, St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, which had now grown to include nearly 100 members.
(Oddly, just last week, St. John’s senior warden seemed to contradict the rector when she told Judge Goodstein under oath that the parish had never been part of the Episcopal Church. She also become somewhat confused when defense attorneys asked her about a $2.7 million trust that benefits St. John’s as long as it remains “an “Episcopal parish.”)
Trinity Episcopal Church, Edisto
Pat Neumann was a vestry member at Trinity Episcopal Church on Edisto and resigned when the rector announced that the parish had joined Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Church, after promising the parish a period of discernment before making a decision on whether to do so.
Neumann told Goodstein that loyal Episcopalians, who were no longer welcomed at Trinity, began holding services down the road at Bobo’s Po’ Pigs Barbeque, before being offered the historic sanctuary of the local Missionary Baptist Church.
St. Paul's, Summerville
Eleanor Koets sat in the courtroom every day during the testimony of the Lawrencians, including that of the senior warden of her old parish, St. Paul’s in Summerville, who said that the parish had never really thought of itself as part of the Episcopal Church. She recounted how the clergy of parish had carefully shepherded the parish in Lawrence’s direction, including making changes in the governing documents of their parish.
After days of wrangling over the admission of thousands of documents, the court was a bit flummoxed when Koets, still on the witness stand, began leafleting the courtroom, including the judge, with copies of the Summerville Scene-Journal. On its front page was a photograph, showing a proud marble plaque in front of the church, emblazoned with the words, “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.”
-- based in part on the excellent notes of Wayne Helmly
July 17, 2014
Day 8: Ruling Cuts into Key Component of Church's Case
Lawrence's legal team seems to be running the show, as an angry trial judge rejects testimony from Church's expert on trademark infringement
ST. GEORGE -- South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein today lashed out at lawyers for The Episcopal Church, accusing them of intentionally creating delays, ignoring pretrial scheduling orders, and trying to sneak disqualified testimony into the trial record “through the back door.”
Goodstein also said she had evidence of these "disturbing" tactics from a mid-April email she’d received, though she did not elaborate on what the email said or who sent to it.
The Judge’s tirade came after Church lawyers tried to call an expert witness on how similar trademarks can create confusion among the public. Goodstein angrily refused to allow the expert witness to be called on the grounds that neither she nor the breakaway groups attorneys had been given his name the first week of June when she was approving lists of expert witnesses. She said she would have approved him if is name had been submitted to her in a timely way.
Church attorney Jason Smith told Goodstein that at the time the Church had not decided which experts in this field they would use, but when it did, the witness was available to give a deposition. Smith angered the judge further when he used a pretrial exhibit that included the banished expert's pre-trial report as an attachment.
Trademark infringement is critical to both sides
In January 2013, Goodstein temporarily declared that the corporate marks of the Diocese of South Carolina – The Diocese of South Carolina, Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese, along with the Diocesan seal – belong to Lawrence and his followers who claim they and the Diocese have seceded from the Church.
Nothing in the trial suggests that Goodstein has changed her mind on the issue of corporate marks. During the afternoon, she told Smith that "You have some, and they have some." Smith then added that the issues was that the ones the breakaway group had also belonged to the Church.
Church lawyers had wanted to bring in an expert to demonstrate that public confusion and loss of identity that can result from the inappropriate use of the marks in question. Lawyers for the breakaway "diocese" are contending that it was the Episcopal Church that infringed on its name when it was formed, arguing that the Diocese of South Carolina was using the words "Protestant" and "Episcopal" in its name at that time.
Control of the courtroom
Even more worrisome for the Church is the extent to which Goodstein appears to have yielded control of the trial to Lawrence’s attorneys. At one point, nearly every question and attempted answer by the Church’s experts was challenged by one of the Lawrencian attorneys.
Not only did Goodstein overrule objections from the Church, she seemed to encourage more objections by looking over at Lawrence’s lawyers when they failed to stand to speak during the expert’s testimonies.
When she scolded Church attorneys for not providing the name of the expert in a timely manner, she said suggested that such behavior had created a terrible “burden” for the breakaways' 40-plus legal team that had the right to review and question him.
Will the Episcopal Church be able to get its case into the record?
Church attorneys did manage to get a second expert on the legitimacy and legality of trademarks on the stand for most of the afternoon.
Florida attorney Leslie Lott, an expert on trademark law, said that the use of the marks of the Church, including its name or even the word 'episcopal', by an unaffiliated organization would constitute illegal infringement on based largely on whether it was confusing the public.
She said that would also be the case if a diocese or parish had used the name even before it was registered by the Church. "If it is used in such a way as to create confusion by the public, it is definitely trademark infringement," Lott said.
As with its other experts, Lott's testimony ran into a buzz saw of objections from the Lawrence crowd, which seemed to be more about rattling Lott than anything else. Not only did Goodstein allow the objections, the judge herself lost it when she discovered that Lott did not bring her notes and source documents to court. Over a break, SC Episcopalians asked a few of the lawyers if there was such rule about research materials, and the consensus was that they needed to be in the courtroom only if the judge or attorneys had requested them.
July 16, 2014
Day 7: Expert Testimony Devastates Claims by Breakaway Diocese
Lawrence, Standing Committee had no authority to amend corporate charter taking Diocese out of the Episcopal Church
Lawrence is leasing Bishop's residence for a $1 a year from the Diocese's Board of Trustees, which he chairs; 10-year deal continues even if he retires
ST. GEORGE - University of South Carolina Law Professor Martin McWilliams offered expert testimony today stating that neither ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence nor his standing committee had authority to amend the corporate charter of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 2010, eliminating the Constitution and Canons of the Church as its governing "neutral principles of corporate law".
McWilliams also said that the Bishop of the Diocese is the only legal member of the Board of Directors of the Diocese's property-owning corporation, created in 1973 by Bishop Gray Temple. However, according to McWilliams, even Temple's successors are not empowered to change the overriding purpose of that corporation as a diocese of the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence and 34 parishes loyal to him are attempting to leave the Episcopal Church with property and diocesan assets accrued by the Church over 225 years and valued between $500-$800 million. They are angry over the Church's inclusion of gays and lesbians into its common life, women in spiritual authority over men, and the failure of the Church to adhere to a strictly literal approach to the Bible.
McWilliams, who is an expert in non-profit corporate law, said that in his opinion Charles vonRosenberg, who is recognized by the Episcopal Church as duly elected Bishop of South Carolina, is currently the sole member of the governing structure of the Diocesan corporation that Lawrence and the breakaway group claims it controls.
The testimony is important because it gives Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein a fairly significant legal road map to find that the Diocesan corporation cannot separate itself or parishes aligned with it from the Episcopal Church. It also establishes that the current case in which Lawrence and parishes loyal to him claim independence from the Church is very different from the 2009 case of All Saint's Parish in Pawleys Island.
McWilliams was effective, but breakaway lawyers scored points as well
There was little doubt that McWilliams testimony was effective and changed the momentum in the courtroom, such that during the afternoon, attorneys for the breakaway "diocese" wasted little time trying to discredit his reasoning.
After lunch Myrtle Beach attorney Henrietta Golding, known for her aggressive courtroom style, immediately lit into McWilliams, intimating that he was trying to hide the fact that he is an Episcopalian and a member of parish in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Despite repeated objections that she was being rude and abusive toward McWilliams, Judge Goodstein allowed her to continue.
Golding and lead counsel Alan Runyan were somewhat effective in eating away at various minor points McWilliams made and some of that appeared to register with the judge.
However, his central premise - that the purpose of the non-profit corporation known as "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina" was and is to operate under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church - was still standing at the end of the day. He also succeeded in making a very credible case that at some point in the past few years Mark Lawrence and his supporters lost their authority or "good standing" to take many of the actions they did.
The goal of Church lawyers today was to enter into the trial record a plausible, legal framework through which they could argue appeals to higher courts that vonRosenberg, not Lawrence, is the rightful bishop and leader of the Diocese of South Carolina. They achieved that.
Trustees 'wasting' the property of the Diocese with Lawrence's sweetheart housing deal
According to a ten-year lease made public at trial today, Lawrence continues to live in the downtown Charleston residence acquired by the Diocese for its Bishop. He appears to be paying $1 a year in rent, and is entitled to stay in it for the life of the lease, even if his lawsuit goes south or he retires.
Lawrence is chairman of the Trustees.
The breakaway diocese's 2014 budget also provides a $15,000 utilities and housing allowance, $39,640 for his pension, and $35,000 for his travel. He receives a full salary of $105,590 and apparently is receiving his full pension from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund.
July 15, 2014
Day 6: Lawrence Lawyers Disrupt Opening Day of the Church’s Case
Judge restricts testimony of key witnesses for the Church, while John C. Calhoun gets more courtroom mentions than Jesus
ST. GEORGE - Loyal Episcopalians from across eastern South Carolina found their way to rural Dorchester County this afternoon to finally get their day in court, after years of turmoil at the hands of followers of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence.
Unfortunately, they left without much satisfaction.
Almost as soon as Church attorney Tom Tisdale called his first witness, attorneys for Lawrence’s breakaway “diocese” pelted Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein with objections to nearly every aspect of his testimony... even before he could offer it.
The same was true with his second witness, Warren Mesereau of Kiawah, who was kicked out of his parish by its pro-Lawrence rector and vestry when he sent a one-page flyer to members of the congregation about the good work of the Episcopal Church.
Finally, Dow Sanderson, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, took the stand and was allowed a good ten minutes of testimony before Lawrence attorneys, Alan Runyan and Henrietta Golding, started up with the objections again.
At one point, Church attorney Allen Holmes suggested that the Church’s witnesses should get at least as much time as was given to John C. Calhoun’s tombstone. The former Vice-President’s grave was featured in an earlier slide presentation by St. Philip’s Church in Charleston that mentioned a number of prominent dead people in and around their church building.
Church's case was strong when witnesses were allowed to speak
The best part of Tisdale’s opening was that it did not appear to be scripted. After days of obviously rehearsed testimony from an endless parade of pro-Lawrence witness, Tisdale introduced witnesses who seemed more more thoughtful and straightforward. Even the judge seemed to appreciate that the case had moved to a more substantial level and took more time with her rulings, especially on complicated objections.
Tisdale's opening witness was Charleston attorney Armand Derfner, a nationally-recognized expert and professor of Constitutional law, whose expertise includes cases directly relevant to this one. It was a shame that Derfner’s presentation was interrupted by repeated objections from the Lawrencians, and that the judge limited his responses. Lawrence's attorneys, and even the judge, seemed to fear that Derfner might say something that might improperly influence the judge's ruling in the case.
Mesereau is a thoughtful and articulate layman whose love of the Episcopal Church exposed the arrogance and shallowness of Lawrence’s five-year regime. His story of courage in the face of ostracism by the leadership of the Church of Our Savior on Johns’ Island is a compelling one. Sadly, Goodstein limited the extent to which he could tell his story, and clearly demonstrated that witness for the Church would not be allowed the kind of limitless rambling that accompanied those for Lawrence.
Sanderson, a former chairman of the Diocese’s Standing Committee just prior to Lawrence 2008 consecration, provided insight and details on three years of secret scheming that went into the eventual public split with the Church.
He confirmed a report, that first appeared on this website nearly two years ago, that Lawrence and his inner circle plotted to move the Diocese’s financial assets out of Wachovia Securities (now Wells Fargo) to a “friendlier bank” that would not freeze them when Lawrence abandoned the Church, as had been the case in other dioceses with renegade leaders.
He also testified that he had received in a phone call in 2009 from Jeffery Miller, the hardline rector of St. Helena’s in Beaufort, in which Miller bitterly complained that Lawrence was dragging his feet on leaving the Church and seemed to have forgotten that “we elected him to take us out of the Episcopal Church.”
Along with Lawrence, Miller, Lawrence lieutenant Jim Lewis, and Paul Feuner are considered by the defense to be at the heart of the schism and the breakaway’s claim to $500-$800 million in parish properties and assets belonging to the Church.
Gays? What Gays? Team Lawrence wants the case to be about property without doctrinal implications
At its core the Lawrencians’ legal strategy is to keep the judge focused narrowly on the corporate and property elements of the case and away from doctrine, theology, and the suffering Lawrence’s schism has created among those in the Diocese who do not support him. In six days of presenting their case, Lawrence's attorneys have barely mentioned Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and avoided 'Jesus' like the plague.
The Lawrence crowd is so disciplined that they even held their tongues this week when SC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg announced that parishes in the diocese had his permission to conduct same-gender blessings for committed couples in their congregations.
Bad legal advice from pro-Lawrence blogger cost rural parish $20,000-$30,000
The opening of the Church's case was preceded in the morning by final testimony from senior wardens of pro-Lawrence parishes that had not yet made their presentations.
One senior warden from a small rural parish got completely tangled up trying to explain why his pro-Lawrence parish paid between $20,000 and $30,000 for a lawyer to create an unnecessary land trust to “protect (our) property from lawsuits.”
David Beers, Chancellor of the Episcopal Church, gently asked him who he thought would be suing his parish, and the warden said he didn't have anyone in mind, he just thought it was a good idea to have a land trust. Eventually, he admitted that he had heard that “Bishop Schori” was going after the property of parishes that did not agree with her on issues like same-gender blessings, and the parish wanted to be ready.
Beers asked him if he knew of a single case in which a loyal parish had been sued for its property by the Church and he admitted he didn’t. Under follow up questioning by Beers, he then went on to say that the parish decided it needed the trust based mostly on information about the Presiding Bishop, gleaned from a pro-Lawrence website called the Anglican Curmudgeon authored by A.S. Haley.
Trial will likely continue next week
To no one’s surprise, Judge Goodstein announced that the trial would mostly spill over into next week. Court resumes at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.
July 14, 2014
Day 5: Lawrence Lawyers Close to Wrapping Up Testimony
13 parish leaders struggle through another day of an implausible party line
ST. GEORGE – In honor of its high school, this small rural town is often known as the “Home of the Wolverines.” Today, though, it was the undisputed “Home of the Whopper.”
The fifth day of testimony in the trial of a lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence against the Episcopal Church was filled mostly with senior wardens of another 13 congregations variously claiming that they have never been part of the Church, even though…
Their founding charters say they are a parish of the Episcopal Church
They reside on property given to them for the purpose of establishing an Episcopal parish
They have never had a rector who wasn’t an Episcopalian
They participated in the Church’s pension plan for their clergy and lay employees
They brought property and casualty insurance through the Church
They sent delegates to the Diocese’s Annual Meetings
They voted to send deputies to the Church’s General Conventions at that Annual Meetings
Clergy and members of their congregations attended General Conventions of the Church
They benefit from financial trusts created on the condition that they be part of the Church
They advertise themselves publicly as “Episcopal”
They use the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of the Episcopal Church
The parishes are trying to convince S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein that they should be free to leave the Episcopal Church with their parish property and the financial assets of the Church's Diocese of South Carolina.
Among the testifying parishes were: Holy Cross (Statesville), St. Paul’s (Bennettsville), St. Jude’s (Walterboro), Church of the Good Shepherd (West Ashley), Church of our Savior (John’s Island), St. Matthew’s Parish (Fort Motte), St. Michael’s (Charleston), St. Mathias (Summerton), Prince George Winyah (Georgetown), St. Paul’s (Summerville), St. Paul’s (Conway), Church of the Cross (Bluffton), and Christ Church (Mount Pleasant).
Lawrencian soldiers struggle in rewriting parish histories
One of the most memorable, jaw-dropping moments occurred when the senior warden of St. Paul’s in neighboring Summerville emphatically denied that his parish was ever part of the Episcopal Church, even as he faced a courtroom filled with its former vestry members, Bible study leaders, and Sunday School teachers. Making his claims look even more ridiculous was a local newspaper circulating in the audience with an extra-large, front page photograph of the parish, prominently featuring the name “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church” engraved in marble at its main entrance.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Ann Willis, the senior warden from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston and a key diocesan supporter of Lawrence. She is an engaging Charleston businesswoman and attorney, who many, even among the loyalists in the audience, thought would more credibly articulate what had become a mind-numbing repetition of the Lawrencians' party line.
The first part of her testimony was pitch perfect as she explained the history of her parish, and narrated a slide show tour of its historic building. While she eagerly mentioned the parish's memorials to American forefathers, John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (while omitting their prominent role in the formation of the Episcopal Church).
Under questioning from Church attorney Tom Tisdale, she suddenly couldn’t remember prominent memorials in the church for other famous Episcopalians including two bishops. There were just so many plaques, she complained.
Willis did insist, somewhat implausibly, that St. Michael’s was never part of the Episcopal Church, but after recurring memory issues, admitted that the parish paid into the Church Pension Fund for years and that such participation was limited to Episcopal parishes only.
Lawrence clergy seem less credible than lay people
Some former Episcopal clergy took the stand in lieu of absent wardens. Tripp Jeffords from Conway asserted that his parish had never been a part of the Episcopal Church, before admitting on cross-examination that the Diocesan Standing Committee on which he served was responsible for giving consents to bishops elected in other dioceses.
Then there was David Thurlow who claimed his parish in Summerton never had a relationship with the Episcopal Church and that none of his parishioners had ever been deputies to the Church's General Convention. General Convention is the principal governing authority of the Church to which each diocese send representatives every three years.
Unfortunately, his emphasis on the word "parishioners" was just a little too strong, prompting a defense attorney to ask if he himself had ever been a deputy to the General Convention. He was then forced to admit that he himself had been a deputy to the Church’s General Convention. He also seemed to draw a blank when he was asked about key parts of the Diocese's efforts to secede from the Church, even though he was a member of the Standing Committee.
It is possible that, barring any surprises, Lawrence's legal team will wrap up its case tomorrow afternoon. Court begins a 9:30 a.m. at the new Dorchester County Court House of Highway 78, just beyond downtown St. George in the direction of Summerville.
Read an account of today's proceedings from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina
July 11, 2014
Day 4: First Week of Trial Produces No Knock-out Blows, No Change in the Status Quo
Judge startles the courtroom, suggesting she's made up her mind on a critical issue
ST. GEORGE -- The 'Parade of Parishes' supporting ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church apparently became even too much monotonous for the trial judge, who delicately told lawyers late this afternoon to speed it up. She apparently wants the trial over by the end of next week and, using a somewhat awkward analogy to farm animals, told the lawyers to figure out what evidence they could mutually agree on and put it into the record.
Lawrence and 34 parishes supporting him are insisting that they have left the Episcopal Church and want South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein to give them the property and financial assets of the Diocese of South Carolina valued at between $500-$800 million dollars.
Testimony during today’s session was not all that different from the previous day. Mostly lay leaders from pro-Lawrence parishes took the stand to insist that their parishes never had anything to do with the Episcopal Church and they wanted to leave the Church because of “the way Mark Lawrence was treated” by the Church when he was found to have violated his consecration oath.
Cookie cutter questions yield cookie cutter answers
After consistent and predictable questioning by Lawrence’s legal team (usually a friendly lawyer from their own parish), Church attorneys cross-examined witnesses in, what one audience member described as, the “deer-in-the-headlights” phase of their testimony. This was the time that the witnesses would admit they knew very little about their parishes’ past history with the Episcopal Church and didn’t have a clue what they meant by “the way Mark Lawrence was treated.”
Most seemed aware that Lawrence did something for which a Church disciplinary Board found him culpable, but none seemed to know what the allegations were or that Lawrence does not dispute that he did what they alleged. They also seemed to have no idea that the complaints were made by communicants in the Diocese of South Carolina.
All the witnesses appeared to have been coached and, in some cases, over-coached.
A senior warden from Myrtle Beach testified that his parish decided to try to leave the Episcopal Church and align itself with "The Diocese of South Carolina" because of “what happened in the All Saint’s’ case.” When Church attorney David Beers asked him what happened in the case that was of concern to his parish, he admitted he really didn’t know. He also seemed somewhat surprised when Beers reminded him the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina were on the same side in that case.
Nearly all the witnesses suggested that they pressured to make changes in their bylaws and other governing documents by lawyers, whom they apparently believed understood what they were doing. Nearly forty pro-Lawrence lawyers were in the courtroom today.
Lawrencians' case presented as they wanted it
However, after four full days, Lawrencian lawyers appear to have been able to present the case they wanted to Goodstein, even though Church lawyers have held their own in repeatedly punching holes in the testimony of pro-Lawrence witnesses. Whether Lawrence will testify for his own side or be called as a witness for the Church seems to be the only outstanding question to be resolved before the plaintiffs rest their case. Court resumes in St. George at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Has Goodstein already made up her mind?
In this very rural part of South Carolina, it is not unusual for judges to be somewhat casual in their interactions with others in their courtrooms, and Goodstein’s manner the past two days has been quite light-hearted and sometimes even playful.
Late this afternoon as court was ending, Goodstein in essence admitted that she hasn’t changed her approach to the case since she awarded the “Diocese of South Carolina” to Mark Lawrence and his followers 18 months ago.
“All Saints’ speaks for itself and at the end of the day, we are a state, not one of hierarchical … (garbled) or court, but of neutrality,” she blurted out to a startled audience. The timing of the statement seemed a little odd, as none of the lawyers had actually brought it up.
Among the key issues to be decided in the case is whether Lawrence’s case is purely a property dispute, or whether the divisions are more of a theological or doctrinal nature. If property, the case can be decided using a standard known as “neutral principles of law”, which Lawrence’s lawyers believe favors their side. If not, the case would have to be decided according to a standard that would favor the Church, known as “hierarchical preference.”
Goodstein seemed to be saying afternoon that she had already decided to use neutral principles in deciding the case, even before the Church lawyers have even had a chance to present their case.
In fact, Goodstein has insisted that evidence of doctrinal or theological dispute is not something she is particularly interested in hearing about, and has ruled it out when Church lawyers have tried to bring it up. On Wednesday, she actually banned the lawyers and witnesses in the case from even mentioning the name of the defendant in the case, “The Episcopal Church.”
We’ll explore what that means over the weekend in another posting ….
July 10, 2014
Day 3: Pro-Lawrence Parade of Parishes Exposes Congregations' Vulnerabilities, Ties to the Episcopal Church (revised 7/11)
Did St. John's, Florence "disaffiliate" itself from a $2.7 million trust?
ST. GEORGE - Carefully-coached lay leaders from breakaway congregations continued their procession through the courtroom of Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein today, taking the stand one after another to say that that their parishes were never part of the Episcopal Church and that theological differences were not the reason they are trying to leave with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence.
Today's witnesses included senior wardens from Sumter, Surfside Beach, Orangeburg, and Florence, all primed to tell the court that they never really had any connection to the Church and were only motivated to leave because of "the way Mark Lawrence was treated."
The parishes have joined Lawrence in a lawsuit against the Episcopal Church in an attempt to seize $500-$800 million in Church properties and financial assets on their way out the door.
This is the first week of the trial of the lawsuit, in which Lawrence' legal strategists are trying to back away from years of angry rhetoric about flawed theology and Biblical interpretations they allege have been embraced by the wider Church.
Instead they are trying to set the stage for Goodstein to decide the case using a legal concept known as "neutral principles of law", which they believe would favor their position. If it appears that the nature of their disaffection for the Church is more theological and doctrinal, Goodstein must defer to the Constitutionally-protected authority of the Episcopal Church.
"The way Mark Lawrence was treated" does not appear to have theological implications in their thinking. Lawrence's description of the lawsuit as "a tempestuous battle against the spiritual forces of evil" probably does.
However, it became apparent as the day wore on that the well-orchestrated legal charade was wide, but not very deep.
One senior warden from Sumter got tangled up when he contradicted his deposition on why his congregation was angry with the Church. Others, after claiming their parishes had no ties to the Church, were embarrassed when Church attorneys produced documents showing financial support over the years and original charters still in force identifying them as part of the Episcopal Church.
None of the witnesses could explain why, if their parishes were never part of the Church, they had to take a vote on whether to leave. One confused parish leader tried to explain away numerous references to the Episcopal Church in his parish's governing documents as "accidental."
None of the witnesses seemed especially sure what they meant in claiming Lawrence was mistreated by the Church. Several others said they joined the suit because someone was attempting to take their property away from them, though it wasn't clear they knew who or why.
Trust fund debacle
Perhaps the most eloquent witness for the Lawrencians was the senior warden from St. John's, Florence, who explained that her breakaway parish had no real ties to the Church and never received any benefit from being a part of it.
Under questioning by SC Chancellor Thomas Tisdale, she was asked why the parish continued to use the word "Episcopal" in its name after it voted to leave. She explained somewhat airily that it was such a generic term that it is not particularly understood as indicative of membership in the Episcopal Church.
Tisdale then asked her about a $2.7 million trust that benefits St. John's, and if she was aware that the parish could only receive funds from it if it was an Episcopal parish and in communion with the Church of England. She said that she was, but when he pressed her on how the parish met the requirement of being in communion with the Church of England, she said she didn't know but Lawrence had told her they were.
Ex-Bishop and deposed priests are out of the Anglican Communion
In fact, neither Bishop Lawrence nor his breakaway "diocese" is in communion with the Church of England. The leader of that Church is the Archbishop of Canterbury who only recognizes Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg as South Carolina bishops in communion with the Church of England.
To claim to be "in communion" with the Church of England, a person, priest, parish, or diocese must be part of one of the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and its only province in the United States is the Episcopal Church.
The only parish in Florence that meets the criteria of the Trust, including recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury, is St. Catherine's Episcopal Church.
July 9, 2014
What the heck happened to 'Jesus'?
Goodstein bans 'The Episcopal Church' from her courtroom, but it's the Lawrencians giving 'Jesus' the heave-ho
ST. GEORGE - Early last year, S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein ruled that the legal names of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belonged to its ex-Bishop and his followers, even though none of them claim to be part of the Episcopal Church. The real diocese, recognized by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, would have to come up with a new name.
Yesterday, Goodstein said the frequent mention of the word 'Episcopal' in the names of the parties in her courtroom was complicating things, so she announced that, for the duration of the trial, no one was to use the term, 'Episcopal Church'.
However, SC Episcopalians was less concerned about that than the fact that no one in the courtroom has even mentioned our favorite person ... Jesus. That's right, nobody is talking about Jesus. Two days of testimony from pro-Lawrence witnesses about the wonders of his breakaway "diocese" and Jesus gets barely a mention.
Lawrence's team maybe feeling a little awkward bringing it up in the courtroom of a Jewish judge. After all, they left the Episcopal Church because they convinced themselves that the woman who leads it is going to hell in a hand basket ... because she doesn't believe in Jesus.
July 9, 2014
Day Two: Craziness Returns
Lawrencian Clergy: Heretics? What heretics? Leaving the Church has nothing to do with Church doctrine after all
ST. GEORGE - If you miss the alternate reality of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence’s “war” on the Episcopal Church, you need not worry. It's making a comeback in the trial of his lawsuit against the Church this week. Today, a parade of ex-clergy took the stand to deny under oath that they left the Episcopal Church for theological or doctrinal reasons.
No. it was never about wrong-headed interpretations of Scripture by heretics who lead the Church. They left, they now claim, because of the way the Episcopal Church “treated Mark Lawrence”.
In this trial, witnesses for Lawrence are being careful not to describe their exit from the Church as a doctrinal dispute, even if it means contradicting everything they have been saying about it and its "doctrine of indiscriminate inclusivity."
The problem is that Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein is on very thin ice even taking this case, and Lawrence's crowd is trying to help her out.
Under a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, secular courts can take jurisdiction over Church lawsuits only if the issues deal exclusively with non-doctrinal issues. Disputes over property can be considered as such. However, if the case in any way involves doctrine or religious beliefs, secular courts have to step aside and defer to decision-making authorities in the Church. It's the doctrine of separation of Church and State at work.
Of course, anyone in South Carolina with half a brain knows this case is all about doctrine and Lawrence’s claims that Church leaders have abandoned Scripture and Christian beliefs entirely.
If there is any doubt, go to Lawrence’s website where you can read this account of Lawrence’s charge to a group he named to raise money for his lawyers:
"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.
"In accepting the charge, committee chair, Dr. Peter Mitchell noted, “If we believe God has a plan for everything and everyone – and we do – then it is God’s plan for this diocese at this time to engage in this mighty battle – a battle to proclaim the truth of Scripture, a battle to espouse a Christ-centered lifestyle, a battle to preserve religious freedom.”
Jim Lewis goes rogue
Lawrence’s top lieutenant, Jim Lewis, appeared to slip up on the witness stand yesterday, when told the Court that Lawrence and company indeed left the Church because it purportedly violated the teachings of Scripture. This assertion was significantly at odds with the testimony of the parade of ex-preachers taking the stand today.
On cross-examination, David Booth Beers, Chancellor of the Episcopal Church, asked Lewis what violations he was talking about, but Lawrence’s attorney, Mr. Alan Runyan of Beaufort, blew a gasket and objected to the question, saying that it wasn’t relevant and violated Lewis’ religious freedom.
Beers responded, claiming that Lewis had brought the matter up, and he was trying to get a better understanding of what he was talking about.
Judge Goodstein sustained Runyan’s objection. With that Beers told the judge that he profoundly disagreed with her and cited two cases by the U.S. Supreme Court that speak to his position.
In Pearson v. Church of God, for example, the guidelines for this questioning were clear, and he read them to Goodstein:“
The Pearson rule establishes that where a civil court can completely resolve a church dispute on neutral principles of law, the First Amendment commands it to do so. Nonetheless, where a civil court is presented an issue which is a question of religious law or doctrine masquerading as a dispute over church property or corporate control, it must defer to the decisions of the proper church judicatories in so far as it concerns religious or doctrinal issues. See Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese, 426 U.S. at 709 (finding that the controversy before the Court “essentially involve[d] not a church property dispute, but a religious dispute the resolution of which… is for ecclesiastical and not civil tribunals.”)
Displeased over Goodstein's ruling Beers told her, "This is a profound moment in this case."
July 8, 2014
Day 1: Trial is Long on Details, Short on Fireworks (revised 10 p.m.)
Lawrencian attorneys lay claim to Camp St. Christopher, parish properties, and financial assets belonging to the Episcopal Church
Lawrence followers pray "pleasant aroma of Christ" will fill Goodstein's courtroom
ST. GEORGE - The opening day of what is expected to be a two week trial got underway in Dorchester County this morning with both sides forgoing opening statements in their bitter and protracted battle over ownership of parish properties and financial assets of the 225-year-old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 34 breakaway parishes that support him are suing the Episcopal Church, claiming that they own the parish properties, and want the courts to protect them from an imaginary threat by the Episcopal Church to throw them out of their church buildings. Lawrence and his associates say they are also entitled to the financial assets of the Diocese which were given to the Episcopal Church by their "ancestors", but now also need court protection from the Church. Neither Lawrence or any of his top lieutenants are actually from South Carolina or have "ancestors" here.
The value of the property and assets Lawrence and company want is estimated to be between $500-$800 million, and includes Camp St. Christopher, a spiritual home to generations of loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina.
Both sides are committed to appealing the outcome of trial to higher courts, if it doesn't go their way.
Myrtle Beach attorney Henrietta Golding led this morning's session, questioning Wade Logan, legal advisor to ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence. The 64-year-old Lawrence left the Episcopal Church in 2012 but claims he did not surrender his position as leader of the Church's diocese in eastern South Carolina. Golding was attempting to lay the groundwork for subsequent arguments by breakaway lawyers that the Diocese is more or less independent and without particularly meaningful ties to the governing structure of the Church.
Golding was instrumental in the 2009 case of All Saints' Episcopal Church, Pawleys Island in which the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the property claims of its breakaway congregation.
After a relatively routine cross-examination of Logan by Church lawyers, Lawrence's lead attorney Alan Runyan of Beaufort called Jim Lewis, a former Episcopal priest and current Lawrence's chief lieutenant. One observer described Lewis testimony as "canned" and "predictable party line," but it did give Lawrence's team an opportunity to conduct a kind of show-and-tell presentation suggesting that the breakaway "diocese" is flourishing under Lawrence.
It was clear that the courtroom was full of people who were familiar with the Episcopal tradition. Not unlike a big wedding, Lawrence and his successor, The Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, sat on the front rows of spectators seats on the right and left sides of the courtroom respectively. Their supporters filled in the seats behind them.
All 40+ members of Lawrence's legal team seemed to be present throughout the courtroom, though Golding and Runyan were setting the agenda. The Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina were represented by a legal team led by Diocesan Chancellor Thomas Tisdale and Episcopal Church Chancellor David Booth Beers. Clerical collars were numerous on both sides.
South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein, who in recent weeks appeared to be irritated by delays in getting the trial moving, took copious notes and appeared to be listening intently to the witnesses and the lawyers.
At one point, Goodstein startled participants when she interrupted Logan's testimony and ordered a recently-arrived observer, standing in the back of the courtroom, to take a seat. She complained that the arrivals and departures of spectators during the trial was distracting her and ordered a nearby bailiff to physically control access to the courtroom.
Later in the afternoon, Goodstein apparently became frustrated by the lawyers usage of the various names of the plaintiffs and defendants. At one point she told attorneys not to refer to the Episcopal Church by its name, but simply as "the national Church." When one of the Church attorneys objected, the judge responded, "Do you know how many of these I've got?".
In January 2013, Goodstein temporarily ordered that the name "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" belonged to Lawrence and his followers, even though they claimed they were no longer Episcopalians. The continuing diocese loyal to the Episcopal Church had to come up with a new name which turned out to be, "The Episcopal Church in South Carolina".
Breakaway groups in other dioceses have found it useful to select names for themselves that sound like the are officially part of the Episcopal Church, partly to satisfy traditional Episcopalians in their congregations and partly to confuse the courts.
The Episcopal Church is actually an international Church with 109 dioceses covering 17 countries.
The Lawrencians will continue to present their case throughout the week, with the defense likely to begin next Monday. Court will resume tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. at the Dorchester County Courthouse on Highway 78, just east of St. George. The trial is open to the public.
Read excellent pretrial commentary by Dr. Ron Caldwell
July 8, 2014
VonRosenberg: Parishes May Bless Same-Gender Unions
Congregations in both SC dioceses can now conduct authorized blessings
CHARLESTON - After months of discernment by laity and clergy, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina joined its in-state neighbor today in granting permission to parishes to bless committed, monogamous relationships between people of the same gender. Bishop Andrew Waldo, leader of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, made the same announcement several months ago.
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg planned to make his decision public today prior to learning that the trial of a lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence would open on the same day.
Read Bishop vonRosenberg's announcement here
July 3, 2014
Judge Orders Trial to Go Forward on Tuesday
Church lawyers say they've not had time to depose dozens of pro-Lawrence witnesses or inspect thousands of new documents
ST. GEORGE - South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein ruled this afternoon that the trial of the lawsuit brought by Mark Lawrence and 34 breakaway parishes against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina will begin Tuesday.
The judge insisted that the trial proceed, even though Church lawyers have not been able to depose numerous potential witnesses for the breakaway group or review nearly 7,000 documents recently made available by the Lawrencian lawyers.
Proceedings in the case had halted since June 23rd, when lawyers for the Church appealed to the state’s Court of Appeals to overturn one of a series of key pretrial rulings by the judge that had favored Lawrence. It is not clear at this moment if or when the appeal was decided, but Goodstein said that the outcome of the appeal was irrelevant to the issues in the case.
Lawrence and his supporters want Goodstein to declare that they are the rightful owners of the property and assets of the Episcopal Church in eastern South Carolina even though they are no longer Episcopalians.
The trial could go on for a couple of weeks.
June 25, 2014
Church Appeals Goodstein Ruling on Lawrence's Inner Circle
Appeal may cause postponement of July 7th trial
Once again forward movement on the lawsuit filed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 34 breakaway parishes against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina has ground to a halt pending the outcome of an appeal to the state's Court of Appeals by the Church.
The appeal will likely delay the scheduled July 7th start date of the trial indefinitely.
Church attorneys want Lawrence and his three top lieutenants - Jim Lewis, Jeffrey Miller, and Paul Fuener - named as parties in the lawsuit because actions they took to try to “withdraw” the diocese from the Church were outside the scope of their legal authority and violated state law. The attorneys claim that these acts are critical to their defense, and have suggested that their actions may constitute a conspiracy to defraud the Church of its property and financial assets.
Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein ruled against the Church when the matter was raised in her courtroom months ago, but only recently did she actually issue a written ruling, which is the basis of the appeal.
All four men are former Episcopal priests who walked away from their ordination vows. They are currently working freelance without the authority of any recognized Church. Lawrence was Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the eastern half of the state from 2008-2012. He says he is still an Episcopal Bishop even though he is not an Episcopalian.
SC Episcopalians is aware that last week the circuit court in Dorchester County had developed an alternate schedule of cases that could go forward if such a delay occurred.
Read the entire statement of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina here
June 19, 2014
PECDSC Inc. Lawsuit Downgraded to Tropical Storm Status
Episcopal Church's appeal of a Texas case to the U.S. Supreme Court would preempt most issues raised in South Carolina
FORT WORTH - The Episcopal Church today appealed to the United States Supreme Court to intervene in the case of breakaway parishes in Texas that are laying claim to the property and assets of its Diocese of Fort Worth. If the justices agree to take the case, legal proceedings in the other four breakaway dioceses, including South Carolina, will largely become sideshows until the high court issues a ruling that would likely affect all pending cases.
The appeal gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to clarify a confusing 1979 decision in which it awarded property belonging to the Presbyterian Church to a Georgia congregation trying to leave over issues of race. That decision has given a glimmer of hope to breakaway groups in the Episcopal Church, who are angry over its inclusion of gays and lesbians and the role of women in positions of authority. They also believe modern understandings of Scripture have run afoul of their own stricter, more literal interpretations.
Some Constitutional experts have suggested that as the breakaways' legal challenges move into the Federal courts, the more likely they are to be decided in favor of “hierarchical” denominations like the Episcopal Church.
Generally speaking, this is proving to be the pattern in most places. However, the Fort Worth case has taken the opposite course. Over the last year, the Texas Supreme Court, by a narrow majority, sided with breakaway parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth and ordered the retrial of an earlier lower court case that was resolved in favor of the Church.
The Episcopal Church's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is risky since the retrial of the Fort Worth case is not likely to be completed until the end of the year. The justices could simply reject the Church's appeal on the grounds that it is premature while that retrial is ongoing. On the other hand, the current Court has been nearly unanimous in its support of the authority of hierarchical churches in recent cases, and may be anxious to put an end to the confusion created by its 1979 ruling.
Could this affect the South Carolina case further?
Based in many ways on the Fort Worth case, a lawsuit filed by the breakaway "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." last year claims that it is an entirely separate and independent entity from the Episcopal Church, and consequently owns all Episcopal Church property and financial assets in eastern South Carolina. The group, technically a religious non-profit corporation, is led by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and claims to include nearly two-thirds of the parishes and missions in the 225-year-old Diocese of South Carolina.
The PECDSC Inc. lawsuit is scheduled for trial on July 7th in a state court in Dorchester County.
Unfortunately for the South Carolina breakaways, the appeal of the Fort Worth case may not present the legal questions to the high court in ways that address all of their lawyers' concerns.
Among its arguments, the PECDSC Inc. says that the status of the Diocese of South Carolina as one of the original dioceses of the Episcopal Church and the pre-Revolutionary War existence of some of its parishes means that it has always been free to leave the Church if it so chose.
Of course, those issues would not be relevant to the Fort Worth case, leaving the Supreme Court's recent refusal to consider an appeal in a similar Virginia case -- rejecting those arguments -- in tact.
June 12, 2014
San Joaquin Court Ruling is Devastating for Breakaways
Will South Carolina judges see it? Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent review here
June 8, 2014
PECDSC Hopes to Rebuild Momentum after Delays in SC, & Legal Setbacks in Virginia, California
Deposition marathon has lawyers on both sides scrambling, as July 7th trial date looms
Pretrial interrogation of Lawrence & vonRosenberg concludes, as dozens of loyal Episcopalians await questioning by breakaway lawyers
ST. GEORGE – Attorneys for both sides of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church are spending the next three weeks, scrambling to take pretrial depositions from dozens of potential witnesses who may or may not have anything relevant to say about issues in the case.
The case, scheduled for trial on July 7th, is in a “discovery” phase during which each side tries to learn more about what the other side’s potential witnesses might say if called in court.
The two star witnesses, Lawrence and South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, completed their depositions last week without any publicly disclosed gaffes or fireworks. Lawrence’s top lieutenants, including Paul Fuener (Prince George’s, Winyah) and Jeffrey Miller (St. Helena’s, Beaufort), gave depositions during that time as well.
Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole, the first female priest to hold diocesan office in the history of the Episcopal Church in the state, and famed S.C. Historian Walter Edgar, are scheduled to be questioned, as is the editor of this website.
Lawrence and 34 congregations comprising his "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." (PECDSC) filed the lawsuit in January 2013 only weeks after he announced that he'd left the Episcopal Church instead of responding to findings of a disciplinary board that he'd “abandoned” the sacred vows he took when he became a bishop.
Lawrence has never challenged the validity of any of the findings.
Lawrence and his followers subsequently left the Church over its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and those whose theology is inconsistent with Biblical literalism. More than half of the clergy of the diocese followed them. Eventually, they were released from their ordination vows and are no longer recognized as priests.
Lay leaders loyal to the Church get subpoenas
The deposition schedule also includes dozens of loyal Episcopal laypeople, who formed worship communities and missions after pro-Lawrence factions in their home parishes forced them to leave. Those receiving subpoenas have heart-rending stories to tell about their treatment and the suffering they experienced when they had to leave.
Still others among the loyalist group are those who signed complaints to the Church’s House of Bishops in 2011 and 2012 about Lawrence’s conduct as the spiritual leader of the Diocese of South Carolina. It is not clear what, if anything, the PECDSC Inc. attorneys expect to learn from them.
The signers were tricked two years ago when Lawrence complained that the Church's disciplinary process afforded them anonymity that made it impossible for him to confront his accusers and engage them in dialogue. The group then decided to reveal their identities in anticipation of giving the bishop such an opportunity. However, Lawrence never reached out to them when their names were made public, but instead his top lieutenant issued a bitter public statement, personally ridiculing and demeaning them.
PECDSC Inc. optimism vaporized after high-profile start
When PECDSC Inc. lawyers filed their lawsuit 17 months ago, they were well-prepared with a strategy that had been in the works for a very long time.
Their pre-emptive strike on the Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina gave them a head of steam just days before the visit of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to Charleston to preside over the election of vonRosenberg as Lawrence's provisional successor. They even convinced Judge Goodstein to issue an order that effectively banned Jefferts Schori from even using the name “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” to refer to those South Carolina Episcopalians who'd remained loyal to their Church.
However, since that time, a series of setbacks has eroded the confidence of the PECDSC Inc as it heads to trial next month:
Emails. The case became bogged down last fall when Church attorneys demanded access to nearly 1,200 emails between Lawrence and the legal counsel to his Standing Committee, when both were officially employees of the Church.
Former Diocesan Chancellor Thomas Tisdale, who leads the Church’s legal team, suggested that the emails support a defense theory that Lawrence and his top lieutenants engaged in an illegal conspiracy to defraud the Episcopal Church of its rightful property and financial assets.
Attorneys for the PECDSC Inc. cheered Goodstein’s eventual ruling denying Tisdale access to the emails, but the dispute resulted in months of lost time as Church attorneys unsuccessfully sought the intervention of the state’s Court of Appeals.
The email flap may turn out to have been short-term victory for the breakway group, as the Appeals Court did not deny Tisdale’s appeal on its substance, but simply its timing during the pretrial phase of the case. The appeal can still be brought, just later in the trial.
Legal Fees. Under Lawrence's leadership between 2008 and 2012, the Diocese of South Carolina shelled out nearly $1 million on legal fees … even though it was not involved in a single substantial court case. To manage its current lawsuit, The PECDSC Inc. has hired nearly every high-priced law firm in the state, routinely listing between 40 and 50 lawyers working on the lawsuit. By comparison, the continuing Diocese under von Rosenberg only recently expanded its legal team ... to three.
Fundraising efforts among PECDSC Inc. parishes last summer apparently went south as the extent of PECDSC spending on lawyers became known. Some members of PECDSC parishes were turned off when it became apparent that Lawrence's "legal defense fund" was actually being used solely to initiate legal attacks on the Church.
Last winter, the PECDSC launched a more glitzy campaign to raise another $2 million for what is essentially a legal slush fund to pre-fund PECDSC lawsuits in the future in case PECDSC parishes get tired of funding them. It is not clear how much of the goal has been raised, where the fund is being kept, or who makes decisions on how it is doled out.
Legal victories for the Church. In many ways the Lawrencians were hoping to regain momentum this spring with at least one favorable ruling for their breakaway allies in courts in other states.
However, just the opposite has happened. Adverse decisions for rebellious groups in Virginia and California, combined with earlier unfavorable rulings in Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan, and Oregon, suggest that as lawsuits against the Episcopal Church and other "hierarchical" denominations have been appealed to higher courts, the authority of the Church has been strengthened.
Virginia. For example, the costly legal battle between breakaway parishes and the Diocese of Virginia ended up in a complete rout of the rebels and their property being returned to the Church.
One of the breakaway congregations in Virginia stubbornly appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of whether the Dennis Canon, which formalized the legal basis of the Church’s claims to parish property, could be applied to parishes that pre-existed the formation of the Episcopal Church as the Virginia Court had ruled. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, in essence allowing the Virginia ruling to stand and firing the equivalent of a Confederate minie ball from Richmond to St. George, SC.
California. The most recent loss, in Lawrence’s home Diocese of San Joaquin in California, was a heart-breaker that breakaway groups had once thought would be their first big win. They'd hoped that such a victory might encourage Judge Goodstein to see her way clear to go against the tide in other states.
Attorneys for this breakaway “diocese,” under the late John-David Schofield, Lawrence’s former bishop and mentor, raised almost all the same issues set forth in the PECDSC Inc. lawsuit. As in South Carolina, the breakaways eagerly hoped the judge would rule that their Diocese, embodied in its Diocesan corporation, could leave the Church with its property and financial assets.
However, the San Joaquin case proved to be a disaster at every point. The judge completely dumped the corporate arguments, stating that dioceses of the Episcopal Church are created by its General Convention and are not free to leave without its consent, much less take their property. According to the judge, diocesan corporations, created by the dioceses, exist solely for the purpose of promoting the work of the Church.
Last summer another court ordered that Lawrence's former parish in the Diocese of San Joaquin, St. Paul's in Bakersfield, be returned to the Episcopal Church.
May 31, 2014
Judge Goodstein Insists July 7th Trial will Proceed... ready or not
Outcome at circuit court level unlikely to mean much since both sides intend to appeal to the state Supreme Court
ST. GEORGE - In spite of numerous delays, S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein told attorneys last week that the trial of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence’s lawsuit against the Episcopal Church will go forward as scheduled in St. George on July 7th... ready or not.
She has good reason to want to get the entire matter out of her courtroom.
The case is certain to be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, where its five justices will most likely use it to clarify what has been a very muddled intersection of state property laws with the United States’ Constitutional protections for churches like the Episcopal Church. In 2009 the state’s high court created that muddle when it awarded parish property to a breakaway congregation in Pawleys Island, but issued an opinion that was not especially clear about how it should be understood in future cases like it. The meticulous and extensive work done by the trial court judge in that case was completely overturned.
There are few expectations that the trial in St. George will produce anything that has not already been laid out in pretrial filings by all sides. Some lawyers have suggested privately that a way should be found to bypass Goodstein’s courtroom entirely and go straight to the high court.
The lawsuit contends that Lawrence’s “diocese” – "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc.”- is free to secede from the Episcopal Church since it was a “founding diocese” that joined the Church voluntarily, and did not surrender its supposed right to leave if it so chose later on. Lawrence’s followers also claim that any of their parishes pre-existed the formation of the Episcopal Church after the Revolutionary War, and that somehow that means that they can leave the Episcopal Church if they want to.
In January 2013, the renegade ex-bishop, who left the Church two months earlier, was joined by 34 congregations loyal to him in filing the lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina claiming ownership of hundreds of millions of dollars in parish properties and Diocesan assets belonging to the Episcopal Church.
They are angry that the Church has adopted policies treating homosexuals the same way as heterosexuals, promoted women to positions of spiritual authority, and interpreted the Bible in ways other than the most literalFew of those congregations joining Lawrence realized at the time that by joining the Lawrence’s lawsuit, they were needlessly putting the ownership of their parish properties at risk. Now, like those in others states who followed Lawrence-like bishops, they risk losing everything.
May 10, 2014
California Courts Slam Breakaways in Two Dioceses
San Joaquin: Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church with or without their property; Ex-bishops have no authority over Diocesan assets
Los Angeles: Episcopal Church property belongs to the Episcopal Church
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA - According to their bishops, Episcopalians in California are moving forward with reconciliation and rebuilding this month after state courts rejected efforts of breakaway groups in two dioceses to peel away parish property and other Episcopal Church assets.
The most high profile of the cases is one which challenged the efforts of the late ex-Bishop John-David Schofield to lay claim to breakaway parish properties and even pull his entire Diocese of San Joaquin out the Episcopal Church.
The case in various forms has been ongoing for nearly seven years, and this new ruling is consistent with previous decisions from the state's Supreme Court, making a successful appeal by the breakaway group unlikely.
The San Joaquin case is a disappointment to ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his 40 plus-member legal team since it rejects any legal argument that a diocese can leave the Church, change its Constitution and Canons in ways that are inconsistent with those of the wider Church, repeal accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Church, or lay claim to parish or diocesan property in ways that are inconsistent with the Church’s Dennis Canon.
The most devastating part of the decision is that it is based on the relatively new legal concept of “neutral principles of law,” which is exactly the premise on which the lawsuit filed by Lawrence and his supporters against the Church is based.
Even without the neutral principles approach, the judge said he would have come to the identical decision utilizing the older method of "deference" to canon laws of the Church.
According to California Superior Court Judge Donald Black:
“The fact that the diocesan Bishop may be the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese does not mean that the bishop speaks for, acts on behalf of, or is authorized to bind the Church itself. As set forth above, only the General Convention as a whole, or the Executive Council can speak for, act on behalf of, or is authorized to bind the Church. Nor does the diocesan Bishop have "plenary" authority within his or her diocese, but rather must perform his or her duties subject to the Church's Constitution and Canons…
"Diocesan bishops are at all times subject to and bound by the Church's Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. None of these documents authorizes a diocesan Bishop to waive, to declare null and void, or modify or amend any of the Church's Constitution and Canons.”
Lawrence was a priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin before his election as Bishop of South Carolina. After a long and costly battle, courts ordered that his former parish in Bakersfield be returned to the Episcopal Church last summer.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Bishop Jon Bruno announced last week that court in his Diocese had returned another parish to the Church and that reorganization of a handful of recently returned parish properties was underway." read more
The best news for the Lawrence crowd is that these decisions were handed down by state courts in California, not South Carolina. They have no binding effect here. However, they do provide a blueprint for lawyers for the Episcopal Church to use in proceedings in other states.
May 8, 2014
Diocese of Upper South Carolina to Allow Same-Gender Blessings
Bishop Waldo: "The fruits of righteousness can be as manifestly evident in the lives of partnered Christian gay and lesbian couples as they can in the lives of married heterosexual couples."
COLUMBIA - Acknowledging that he would likely "ignite a flood of reaction," Bishop Andrew Waldo told the clergy of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina today that they have his permission to bless same-gender couples, if they so choose.
Waldo said his decision comes at the end of two-year discernment process in which he was profoundly moved by the struggles of gay and lesbians couples. "There are, in my view and the view of many others, Biblical and theological reasons to listen to those cries," he said.
Bishop Waldo is generally considered moderate-to-conservative in a diocese that encompasses all of Midlands and Upstate of South Carolina. Without Waldo's support, the 2012 General Convention of the Church gave individual bishops the option to allow such blessings in their dioceses.
Waldo said today that no clergy would be required to bless same-gender relationships, if they did not agree with his decision.
In the eyes of the Church, "blessings" are not the same as marriage, which is a sacrament. Since South Carolina does not permit same-gender marriage, "blessings" by a Church do not have the force of law as does heterosexual marriage.
Read Waldo's entire statement
The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, Waldo's counterpart in the eastern part of the state, has not indicated whether he will approve such blessings, even though there appears to be a general acceptance among his congregations that it will happen.
May 7, 2014
Pretrial Proceedings in Lawrence Lawsuit Resume
State Supreme Court will not consider email controversy before the trial in July
COLUMBIA - South Carolina's Supreme Court announced this afternoon that it would not hear an appeal of a controversial pre-trial ruling by state Circuit Judge Diane Schafer Goodstein in the lawsuit brought against the Episcopal Church by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and parishes and missions loyal to him.
Lawyers for the Church and its continuing diocese have been trying to gain access to approximately 1200 emails between Lawrence and Beaufort Attorney Alan Runyan, when Lawrence was the legitimate Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and Runyan was legal counsel to its Standing Committee.
Last fall Goodstein ruled that the two did not have to release the emails, and attorneys for the Church have appealed that ruling. In their announcement today, the justices did not address the substance of Goodstein's ruling only the timing of the appeal so early in the process.
The Church attorneys argue that the emails are a "work product" to which they are entitled since both men were employed by the Episcopal Church at the time they were written. They also believe the emails will prove that the attempt by Lawrence and others to have the Diocese secede from the Church "was the result of a long-held scheme by several individuals to gain control of the diocese and take it out of The Episcopal Church."
The refusal of Lawrence and his legal team to release the emails has delayed pretrial proceedings by at least four months. Today's announcement clears the way for pretrial discovery and other motions to move forward in the case which Judge Goodstein insists will go to trial in early July.
May 3, 2014
Presiding Bishop Urges Episcopalians in SC to "Restore Right Relationships and Justice" in God's Creation
House of Deputies President Jennings, former Provisional Bishop Kenneth Price of Pittsburgh join vonRosenberg and the Episcopal Forum of SC to celebrate the rebirth of the Diocese
Holy Cross Faith Memorial & Rector Wil Keith shine in the spotlight
Participant: "It's just great to finally go to Diocesan events where people are not all bent out of shape and angry"
PAWLEYS ISLAND - Once the scourge of the Diocese, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina today was at the epicenter of the Episcopal Church as it played host to its Presiding Bishop, President of its House of Deputies, and the Bishop of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina at its annual conference.
Special guests also included The Right Rev. Kenneth Price, former provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh, and four of his leadership team that turned that Diocese around after the traumatic tenure of ex-Bishop Robert Duncan.
The mission of the Forum, founded as a via media group during the episcopate of former SC Bishop Edward Salmon, is to promote unity in the Episcopal Church, a somewhat daunting task during the years when Diocesan leaders saw their role as promoting dissention. Via media literally means "middle way" and has been used for centuries to describe Anglicanism as a tradition rooted in both Catholicism and Protestantism.
Today's gathering at historic Holy Cross Faith Memorial was as much a workshop on the future of the Episcopal Church as a celebration of the rebirth of the Episcopal Church within the Diocese of South Carolina.
In October 2012, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence announced that he had left the Church and was laying claim to hundreds of millions of dollars in parish property and diocesan assets, including the name the legal name of the Diocese. He was subsequently joined by nearly two-thirds of his parishes and nearly half of the active clergy, who'd hoped their actions would have left the Church in eastern South Carolina in ruins.
Those remaining in the Church reorganized as the continuing Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina under the leadership the Right Reverend Charles vonRosenberg, who was conveniently retired and living in the Charleston area.
Unexpected high points of conference included a brief scene from Truth in Cold Blood, a new play on the life and death of martyred South Carolina Bishop William Alexander Guerry and a sermon by Will Keith, the rector of the host parish. At no point was there any mention of Lawrence, his followers, or their multimillion dollar lawsuit.
Jefferts Schori: Restoring creation is God's mission... and ours
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used her keynote address to remind the 250-300 participants that the mission of God is "restoring right relationships and justice" in his Creation. She repeatedly argued that, as the people of God, we are called to that same mission as individuals and as a corporate body.
She sees that message in the very first verses of Genesis through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. She went on to say that God is a God of love, peace, and justice and that his people must seek to replicate those qualities in all relationships.
VonRosenberg: The foundation has been laid, as opportunity and possibility abound
During his 15 months as bishop, vonRosenberg has overseen a remarkable transformation in a diocese torn for years with fear and dissention fostered by Lawrence and his followers.
In his first address to his new diocese last year, vonRosenberg pressed parish leaders to be about the business of reconciliation and an openness to rebuilding broken relationships. He has never publicly criticized his predecessor or those who are trying to leave the Church with him, nor did he do that when he spoke to the Forum's conference today.
On Saturday vonRosenberg proclaimed that the foundation for the future of the reorganized Diocese has been laid, and urged leaders of its nearly thirty parishes, missions, and worshipping communities "to resist rebuilding according to old models ... Opportunity and possibility abound like at no other time in history." He was greeted as always with a sustained standing ovation.
Jennings: Jesus' ministry was always pointing toward unity
House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings used her keynote to remind participants that they are part of a wider Church that recognizes differences within a universal mission to do the work Jesus Christ has given it to do. Unity, she insisted, was at the heart of Jesus' message of reconciliation.
She went on to explain that the nature of the Episcopal Church is one that empowers and values lay people as leaders in the same ways as it does it bishops and clergy.
In many ways, Jennings is a workhorse for the laity. She generally answers her own mail and email, and travels extensively on behalf of the Church in addition to her responsibilities as a priest in Ohio.
Price: Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ
Bishop Price served for three years as the provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh, following the 2008 departure of ex-Bishop Robert Duncan, who like Lawrence left those under his pastoral care in shambles. Price brought along four of his former staff and clergy leaders to provide support and encouragement to those in South Carolina who are rebuilding their parishes.
Like those in South Carolina, Price said the congregations in Pittsburgh had grown tired of relentless negativity and attacks on the Church. They immediately began to recover after Duncan's departure, he said, when they once again "could hear the Gospel instead of tirades against the Church.
He reminded those in positions of parish leadership to "keep your eyes on the prize, and that prize is Jesus Christ."
Holy Cross Faith Memorial and its Rector were standouts
With prefect weather, it was heard to imagine a better day or better organization than that provided by the host parish on its beautiful Lowcountry campus. A small children's choir opened the Eucharist with a lengthy anthem without missing a word, while an enthusiastic adult choir boosted the already boisterous mood as the Presiding Bishop celebrated.
In spite of many recognized names in the congregation, the preacher at the opening Eucharist was the Rev. William J. Keith, the youthful rector of the host parish. With an easy manner and well-timed sense of humor, Keith provided a thoughtful and provocative sermon, reminding the congregation that as Christians they were called by their founder to work that often required them to move beyond safe and comfortable boundaries.
Truth in Cold Blood: Bishop Guerry Returns
Between keynote addresses, participants were treated to a brief excerpt from the upcoming premiere of Truth in Cold Blood by Diocesan Chancellor Tom Tisdale. The racial overtones surrounding the murder of Bishop Guerry in what is now the Parish House at St. Philip's in Charleston have kept that part of Diocesan history on a back shelf until now.
The play is scheduled for presentation at Charleston's Dock Street Theatre during the middle of July, but key actors are well along in rehearsing under the professional direction of Richard Futch, a member of Grace Church, Charleston.
During Saturday's conference, actors portraying Bishop Guerry and his successor, Albert Sidney Thomas, did a credible job of portraying the two dynamic personalities that led the Diocese during the turbulent early decades of the 20th century.
The revival of interest in Bishop Guerry was initiated several years ago by Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole, who conducted the initial research that inspired the play. Read more here
May 1, 2014
Presiding Bishop Preaches Unity in the Body of Christ at Nashotah House during Controversial Visit
NASHOTAH, WISCONSIN - Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori visited Nashotah House seminary today, touring the campus and speaking to students about reconciliation and unity in the Body of Christ. It was her first visit to the conservative Anglo-Catholic school, the governing structure of which is comprised of many of her sharpest critics and opponents of the Church’s embrace of women, gays, and lesbians in the full life of the Church.
President and Dean Edward Salmon had invited the Presiding Bishop at the urging of students who thought they and she would benefit from a first-hand, personal visit. The announcement sparked an outcry from those critics and calls for Salmon’s resignation. One member of the seminary’s Board of Trustees, renegade ex-Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, resigned in protest.
Jefferts Schori told associates that she was “very pleased” with the way the visit went. Apparently, according to bloggers, the seminarians were elated with the visit, the access they had to Jefferts Schori, and her interest in their work.
Part of the controversy surrounding the visit of the Church’s “Chief Pastor” to the venerable seminary was mitigated by the unexpected death of 40-year-old Terry Star, a native American deacon in the Episcopal Church an popular member of the student community.
Star, who was also a member of the Church’s Executive Council, was one of three students who’d suggested that Jefferts Schori be invited to visit the campus as a step toward reconciliation. According to one of his classmates, "Terry was a great conciliator and he would have loved every second of this."
Jefferts Schori used her visit with students to pay tribute to Star. During her sermon at evensong, she said "This place has such a long tradition in The Episcopal Church. I value that, and I want to see that it continues. The witness of this place is important to who we are as Episcopalians."
Nashotah House prides itself on the idea that members of diverse theological traditions can live and learn in unity in a single community. The high-profile attacks on Salmon and Jefferts Schori after she agreed to speak at the school gave this concept of "Pax Nashotah" a bit of a black eye.
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
SC 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
ST. GEORGE -- After 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
ST. GEORGE - Attorneys 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 summer. That 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:
2012 $1,852,032 *
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 2008. Last 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
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
Are Lawrence Lawyers Using Depositions to Go 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, many 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
March 15, 2014
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 reality
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
Popular 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.
However, 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.
An 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.
Runyan 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."
Mitchell: "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 here. Goodstein 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
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
September 11, 2013
Charleston Post & Courier Profiles SC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg
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 Episcopalians. Permalink 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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