Many people nowadays feel confused and bewildered by the seemingly incomprehensible mess of the litigation surrounding the Church Insurance Company. I count myself among this group. We feel overwhelmed and lost among the forest of unfamiliar legal maneuvers and impenetrable, arcane legalese. People want to know simply, What is going on here and what does it mean for the schism? I will try my hand at a simple explanation. My usual disclaimer--I am not a lawyer or a legal expert and what I offer here is only opinion.
That said, here is what I see in basic terms:
(1) What is the Church Insurance Company?
The Church Insurance Company of Vermont is one of three insurance companies under the auspices of the Church Pension Group, a function of the Episcopal Church. Find their webpage here . CIC-VT provides a variety of insurance policies.
(2) What is the mission of CIC-VT?
CIC-VT's Corporate Charter states: to carry out the charitable and religious purposes of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America(the "Church")...
The Corporation shall accomplish these purposes by providing, or entering into arrangements with third parties who will provide insurance and reinsurance coverage for various property and casualty risks of the Church and its provinces, dioceses, parishes, missions, agencies, institutions and other entities connected with the Church.
In other words, the CIC-VT exists to provide insurance coverage for entities of the Episcopal Church. This makes it an in-house, or, "captive" insurance company. It does not exist for non-Episcopal Church entities.
(3) Does CIC-VT provide coverage for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina?
Yes. The schism occurred on Oct. 15, 2012 and was finalized by diocesan convention on Nov. 17, 2012.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina adopted its name in January of 2013 and its coverage by CIC-VT began.
At first, CIC-VT denied payments to TECSC. Then, TECSC went to court to force the CIC-VT to provide payments to TECSC.
In federal court, in Charleston, Judge Patrick Duffy ruled several times that CIC-VT was required to provide coverage to TECSC.
On December 3, 2014, CIC-VT and TECSC made a settlement. The terms were confidential. They have never been disclosed but obviously CIC-VT agreed to pay something for coverage to TECSC.
(4) Does CIC-VT provide coverage for the Diocese of South Carolina?
In 2013, some of the parishes in DSC that purported to be independent of TEC, claimed overage by CIC-VT. DSC kept this out of the news.
CIC-VT denied the coverage.
In 2015, the DSC parishes (apparently 17 of them) sued CIC-VT for breach of contract and bad faith claiming that they were covered by policies of CIC-VT. Again, DSC kept this out of the news (we learned of this only in 2019).
In November of 2015, CIC-VT made a settlement with these congregations. The terms were confidential. Under the non-disclosure, we do not know what CIC-VT agreed to pay but we do know they agreed to continue providing coverage to these parishes. Yet again, DSC kept this settlement secret. It was discovered by TECSC lawyers only this year.
So, yes, CIC-VT now says it is providing payments for insurance coverage to at least some of the DSC congregations.
(5) Why is TECSC now taking legal action against CIC-VT?
To recover damages that TECSC claims CIC-VT caused TECSC by making payments to their legal adversaries.
CIC-VT admits it has been paying money to some of the DSC congregations that are in court opposing TECSC.
TECSC points out that CIC-VT's actions are aiding and abetting entities not only outside of the Episcopal Church but in active legal opposition to the Episcopal Church diocese in eastern South Carolina.
(6) What does CIC-VT want from the court now?
This is where the matter turned really strange.
In their Complaint of June 14, 2019, CIC-VT does not dispute TECSC's Complaint of June 11. Instead, it asks the judge to tell the Company what its coverage should be concerning the 17 breakaway congregations: that it be granted a declaratory judgment advising it as to its rights and duties under each of the Policies, specifically whether it is required to provide a defense of the Underlying Action to any of the Disassociated Parishes...
Here's the problem. CIC-VT made a court settlement in 2015 in which it agreed to provide coverage for at least some DSC churches. At that time, CIC-VT refused to ask the court for a ruling on whether the Company was obligated to cover these congregations. They went ahead and made a (secret) legal deal with the DSC churches anyway. Now, the Company is asking the court to rule on whether it is obligated to cover these congregations that it has already agreed in a legal document to cover. This makes no sense to me. As I see it, CIC-VT is now asking the judge to tell them whether they did the right thing in 2015, four years after the fact. I do not see how the settlement of 2015, apparently a fully legal document can be undone at this time. To my knowledge, no one is now contesting the 2015 settlement. So, I do not understand on what grounds CIC-VT can expect the federal judge to rule on a settlement CIC-VT entered into four years ago.
So, TECSC is now in court asking the judge to make CIC-VT pay damages to TECSC because CIC-VT helped the opposition. Meanwhile, CIC-VT is in court asking the judge to tell them whether they are obligated to continue covering the 17 DSC congregations they are covering. In other words, TECSC and CIC-VT are not on the same page. TECSC is acting against CIC-VT and CIC-VT is acting against itself. This is hard for us non-lawyers to comprehend.
It seems to me there is a major problem in the Company. Its mission is clear: to provide coverage only for TEC. It has apparently failed in this as it is providing coverage for entities not in the Episcopal Church and is actually aiding and abetting these entities that are engaged in court actions against TEC. There is something wrong here, and the church authorities over this Company ought to find out what is wrong and put a stop to it.
The legal war between the secessionists and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has been going on for six and a half years. It has taken many twists and turns and involved countless numbers of court actions. The Church Insurance business is one of the strangest sub-texts of all. So much of it just does not make any sense, at least with what we know now.
In my view, the CIC-VT ought to be ashamed of itself. It is a function of the Episcopal Church whose very reason for being is to help the Episcopal Church. Yet, it has been helping those at war against the Episcopal Church. In a civic state, aiding and abetting the enemy in war is considered treason and treated accordingly. In the end, I suspect there is much more to this story and I only hope we learn what that is in time.
It is my hope that you understand the matter of the Church Insurance Company a little more now. As to why it matters, that should be a bit clearer too. TECSC is fighting hard to rebound in South Carolina after the disaster of the schism. This has been the most traumatic event in the life of the diocese since the Civil War. It has taxed all of the Church's efforts, strength, and stamina to weather this devastating hurricane. CIC-VT is supposed to be helping the Episcopal Church side, and it is. However, it is also helping the anti-Episcopal Church side. This is what is so hard to wrap our minds around. Anyway, the Insurance Company business is a curious sideline of the main features of the legal war, the battles for the local properties, in the state courts, and for the entity of the diocese, in the federal court. It is a distraction but it should not divert us from dealing with the crucial issues at stake.
The strange case of the Church Insurance Company of Vermont just gets stranger all the time. On June 21, I posted an article, "What's Going on with the Church Insurance Company?" Find it here . I noted then that TECSC had filed a "Complaint" against the CIC-VT, in U.S. District Court, on 11 June. On June 14, CIC-VT filed a complaint in the same court asking the judge to rule on its rights and duties in reagrds to the church parties in SC. According to its corporate charter, the CIC-VT provides insurance coverage for the various entities of the Episcopal Church as a "captive" company. Today we learned that yesterday, TECSC filed a new Memorandum in the federal court asking the judge to dismiss and deny the various motions that CIC-VT has entered in the court since its 14th of June Complaint (for a total of 4 motions, the Complaint and three subsequent motions for joinder and consolidation on July 5-6, 2019). Be sure to read the informative summary of yesterday's Memorandum in TECSC's press release, found here . TECSC's July 18 Memorandum contains explosive news. We learned that right after the schism, in 2013, some of the parishes that purported to leave the Episcopal Church made insurance claims, for legal expenses, to the CIC-VT (even though they claimed to be non-Episcopal Church parishes). At first, CIC-VT denied their claims. Then, in 2015, the disaffiliated parishes sued CIC-VT in federal court for breach of contract and bad faith. CIC-VT responded in court, on August 10, 2015, that "only affiliates of The Episcopal Church are eligible for coverage from CIC-VT." (p. 1). Strangely enough, CIC-VT chose not to seek a declaratory judgment from the court, but to make a settlement with the disaffiliated congregations which were suing the Company. Thus, the two sides made "Joint Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice," in the federal court, on Nov. 11, 2015. Apparently this was a confidential agreement and the terms have not been revealed. I assume that, if this case proceeds, we will discover the facts hidden in this peculiar non-disclosure agreement. At this point we have far more questions than answers. We need to know: Why did CIC-VT not plead for declaratory judgment? Why did CIC-VT agree to a settlement? How much did CIC-VT agree to pay each congregation and for how long? Why is CIC-VT now asking the federal judge to tell the Company what its policies and procedures should be? How can the CIC-VT continue in flagrant violation of its corporate charter which requires it to cover only Episcopal Church entities? How can CIC-VT justify paying both sides of the same legal war? If CIC-VT entered into a legal agreement with the disaffiliated parishes, how can TECSC undo such an agreement? In other words, how can TECSC stop CIC-VT from paying money to the breakaways? Is it possible that the disaffiliated congregations can be required to reimburse the Company for moneys wrongfully paid to them? It seems to me this has the potential for becoming a scandal within the Church Insurance Company if it is true that it violated its own policies and made a legal agreement to continue that long term. At the very least, there should be an investigation into how and why the Company made payments to non-Episcopal Church entities. If the declared purpose of the Church Insurance Company is to help the Episcopal Church, it is going about it in a bizarre way in South Carolina. TEC is locked in a hard legal war in SC and has been for six and a half years. Although the state supreme court recognized that TEC owns 29 of the 36 parishes in question, the war is far from over. There are probably years to go and millions yet to spend before peace is declared. While CIC-VT is supposed to be helping TEC, it is actually making it harder by aiding and abetting the opposition. This needs to stop.
It is Friday, 19 July. There is nothing new to report today concerning the litigation of the schism. We are all awaiting the hearing on the Betterments lawsuit. It is to be next Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m., in the Calhoun County courthouse, in St. Matthews SC. I expect to attend.
At this point, what can we expect of the hearing? Not much given Judge Edgar Dickson's history. He was assigned the church case by the first circuit's chief administrative judge, Diane Goodstein in December of 2017, effective in January of 2018. In the eighteen months since then, he has done nothing at all to enforce the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision of August 2, 2017 recognizing Episcopal Church ownership of 29 parishes that purported to secede from the Episcopal Church. And, now that the SCSC has denied TECSC's petition for a writ of mandamus, Dickson is free to drag his feet as long as he likes. He is under no time constraint to effectuate the SCSC decision.
In addition to his inactivity, Dickson has jumped from one topic to another without explanation. In November of 2018, he held a hearing on the independent diocese's petition for clarification of jurisdiction that essentially asked the judge to discard the SCSC decision and decide the issues on his own. He said then he would address this petition alone and take up the other five petitions/motions before him later.
Then, all of a sudden, he announced he would hold a hearing on the Betterments lawsuit that DSC filed in the circuit court on Nov. 19, 2017, two days after the SCSC denied a rehearing on its Aug. 2 decision and the SCSC sent a "remittitur" to the circuit court to implement its decision. Under the Betterments suit, DSC recognized TEC as the owner of the parish properties and demanded money reimbursement for the "improvements" the secessionists made on the said properties.
DSC entered the Betterments suit even though they had no standing to do so. Under the SC Code of Laws, only the defendant may enter a suit for reimbursements. DSC was the plaintiff, not the defendant in its suit against TEC.
TECSC entered a motion to dismiss DSC's Betterments suit. The fact that Dickson is now holding a hearing on DSC Betterments suit should give the TEC side pause. Dickson could well have dismissed the suit on his own. He did not do that. Instead, he is holding a hearing, and doing so after telling everyone he was going to consider DSC's clarification of jurisdiction alone. Why Dickson changed his mind is a good question. Why he did not dismiss the Betterments suit is another good question.
If Tuesday's hearing is anything like last November's hearing on clarification of jurisdiction, this is what we can expect to happen next Tuesday:
---Dickson will ask both sides' lawyers to present their arguments on the Betterments suit.
---DSC lawyer Alan Runyan will make an hour-long presentation throwing together everything imaginable into the mix. Last November, his Power Point presentation was so convoluted and verbose, I for one could not keep up with what he was talking about. After all, in the hearings, the lawyers are talking to an audience of one, the judge. My impression in last November's hearing was that the judge was left scratching his head over all of it ("looking through a glass darkly" as he said then). In this regard, Runyan won the day by preventing the judge from focusing on the enactment of the SCSC decision.
---From the TEC/TECSC side, I expect we will hear the lawyers ask for dismissal of the Betterments suit with lengthy explanations of the reasons for this.
---The hearing will go on for an hour and a half or so and will result in nothing definitive. Dickson will tell the lawyers he will continue the discussion via email and leave it at that.
---If this hearing goes as the last one did, there will be no decision or action. The judge will retire to consider the arguments with a vague sense of where we go from here.
Bottom line---do not expect much to come of Tuesday's hearing.
I expect to be present at the hearing and to post a report as soon as possible afterwards, as I did last November.
DSC's present overall strategy in the litigation between the two dioceses is deny and delay. So far, this has been effective. In a couple of weeks, it will be two years since the state supreme court recognized the Episcopal Church ownership of 29 parishes in question. How many have actually been returned to the Church? You know the answer to that. I expect that next Tuesday's hearing will do nothing to change this. If so, DSC will "win" again by prolonging the return of the properties. Justice delayed is justice denied; and the judges should know this as well as everyone else. NOTE. It is Friday but I have no new garden picture to post. It has rained all morning long at my house. No chance to get a picture. However, as a gardener, I would rather have the rain than another picture, especially in July.
Judge Edgar Dickson has rescheduled the hearing on the Betterments lawsuit. It is now to be on Tuesday, July 23, at 10:30 a.m., in the Calhoun County courthouse, St. Matthews SC.
I expect to attend the hearing and to post a report on this blog asap afterwards.
Meanwhile, my garden flourishes. Here is a foot wide bloom of Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos 'Lord Baltimore').
As always, I encourage everyone to send letters to the editor that I can share on this blog (of course, you are always welcome to send me your thoughts by email that you do not want published). The ones I have posted before have been very well-received and popular. I suppose the big topic right now is the litigation. It seems to be dragging on forever. So, send me your thoughts on any topic appropriate to the schism and, if suitable, I will post them for all to read. It might make you feel better and the rest of us too. I think people get a little tired of what I have to say and would like to hear from someone else once in awhile. So, go ahead and send me your thoughts to the email address above.
On 2 August 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court recognized the Episcopal Church as the legal owner of 29 of the 36 parishes in question. The 29 included all of the large churches in the Beaufort-Hilton Head area:
St. Helena's, Beaufort --- 580 communicants (in 2016)
Church of the Cross, Bluffton --- 1,790
St. Luke's, Hilton Head --- 581
St. Jude's, Walterboro --- 221 (Data from DSC annual journal of 2017, p. 149.)
The SCSC decision was remitted to the circuit court for implementation on Nov. 17, 2017. When the SCSC denied rehearing and the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert, the SCSC decision became the final law. The enforcement of the law is now pending in the circuit court of Judge Edgar Dickson. The DSC refused to accept the SCSC decision and is delaying its enforcement, but it is just a matter of time before the churches listed here return to the authority of the Episcopal Church bishop.
Therefore, as a way of helping local parishioners understand what is happening and what the changes will mean for the congregations in these returning parishes, the Episcopal Church diocese is offering an "Open Conversation" in Beaufort.
It is to be on Thursday, July 11, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., at St. John's Lutheran Church, 157 Lady's Island Dr., Beaufort SC. (In Beaufort, take BUS U.S. 21 S across Woods Memorial bridge; turn right on US 21 [Lady's Island Dr.], 1/2 mi on left across from fire station.)
Present for discussion will be Bishop Skip Adams, the archdeacon, the Ven. Callie Walpole, and the missioner for returning congregations, the Rev. Bill Coyne. The format will be informal conversations, in large or small groups, and one-to-one. The floor is open to any and all topics of concern to local people and everyone is invited to participate without any conditions or commitments. People who seek private conversations with the diocesan authorities will be able to have them.
This is an excellent way for people in these parishes to find out what will be happening in their local churches in the near and distant future as they return to the Episcopal Church.
There have been two recent court actions concerning the schism. The first, I addressed yesterday in Part I. It was the state supreme court's denial of TECSC's petition for a writ of mandamus ordering Judge Dickson to implement SCSC's August 2, 2017 decision. The justices said Dickson would resolve the issue in an "expeditious manner." This was a thinly veiled direction to Dickson to get on with it.
Now, I will turn to the second recent court action. On July 2, Judge Dickson announced he would hold a hearing on the Betterments suit, at 9:30 a.m., July 25, at the Calhoun County courthouse, in St. Matthews SC.
The Hearing on the Betterments Suit
Dickson was assigned the "remittitur" of the Aug. 2 SCSC decision in January of 2018. In the year and a half since, he has taken no action to effectuate the SCSC order. Actually, Dickson has six petitions and motions before him, three from each side. For a detailed explanation of them, see my blog post here . These are the six: 3 from DSC: 1-The Betterments suit. November 19, 2017. 2-"Motion to Establish Complex Case Designation." Dec. 27, 2017. (Relates to Betterments suit.) 3-"Motion for Clarification of Jurisdiction and for Other Relief." Mar. 23, 2018. (Asks court to settle issues DSC said were not resolved by SCSC.) 3 from TECSC/TEC: 1-Motion to dismiss Betterments suit. Dec. 15, 2017. 2-Petition for the execution of the SCSC decision and for appointment of a special master. May 8, 2018. 3-Petition for an accounting. July 11, 2018. In all the months Dickson has had the church matter, he has held one hearing, on November 19, 2018. At that time he said he would be considering only one petition, DSC's motion for clarification of jurisdiction, of Mar. 23, 2018. He said then he would put the other five on hold for the time being. Then, out of the blue, on March 19, 2019, Dickson set a hearing on DSC's Betterments suit, for Mar. 27. Immediately thereafter, TECSC filed its petition for a writ with the SCSC and Dickson cancelled the hearing. Now, he is resetting it for this month. He is addressing Betterments even though he said last November he would deal with clarification of jurisdiction first. Dickson has issued no decision on clarification of jurisdiction and he has given no explanation of why he is moving on to Betterments at this time.
What is the Betterments Law?
The Betterments law is found in Title 27 of the South Carolina Code of Law. Find it here .
The first section, 27-27-10, says that after a final judgment in favor of the plaintiff in an action to recover property, the defendant is entitled to recover the full value of the improvements he made on the property.
This provision in the law should end the suit immediately. The fact is DSC was the plaintiff in its suit against the Episcopal Church. TEC and its diocese were the defendants. This was the suit that went all the way from the circuit court to the state supreme court. The law in 27-27-10 explicitly states only the defendant is entitled to recover the value of the improvements. Since DSC was the plaintiff and TEC/TECSC the defendant, DSC has no standing to enter a Betterments suit under the SC Code. It cannot claim reimbursements.
However, if the judge chooses to ignore this or to explain it away, we move on to section 27-27-30. It says that within 48 hours after the judgment, the defendant has to file a complaint "for so much money as the lands and tenements are so made better." DSC did not file its suit withing 48 hours after the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 nor did it list a sum of money for the improvements. The suit should be dismissed for this as well.
It seems perfectly clear to this layman that under the explicit provisions of the SC Code of Laws, DSC has no standing to enter a lawsuit under the Betterments statute. The case should be dismissed.
The Betterments Lawsuit
DSC's Betterments suit itself is interesting. It is officially entitled "Complaint (Jury Trial Demanded)," filed in the circuit court on November 19, 2017. Find it here .
The Complaint ignores inconvenient Betterments law details and freely lists DSC as the plaintiff and TECSC/TEC as defendant, as they in fact were. However, as we have seen, only the defendant can claim reimbursement. Moreover, the paper does not list a money amount to be recovered nor a time period.
A major point here is that if DSC is claiming betterments reimbursement from TEC, it is acknowledging that the Episcopal Church owns the property and has owned it all along. The ownership of the local properties is the whole point of the dispute between the two dioceses. If DSC is recognizing that TEC owns the property, this, in effect determines the outcome of all of the cases before Dickson. It renders moot DSC's motion for clarification of jurisdiction, of March 23 in which DSC in effect sought to discard the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017. The Betterments suit accepts the SCSC decision that TEC owns the properties. It seems to me the DSC lawyers are arguing contradictory points, that DSC congregations own the properties and that TEC owns the properties. I will be fascinated to hear how lead lawyer Alan Runyan explains this oxymoron to Judge Dickson at the hearing this month.
However, the DSC lawyers tried to provide for themselves a too clever by half escape from this dilemma. On page 4 of the Complaint of Nov. 19, they say: "The Plaintiffs [DSC and parishes] widely vary on evidence as to such agreement ("accession") and do not by this suit or otherwise admit to such agreement. To the extent, however, that a Plaintiff is determined by the Court to have so agreed, these betterment claims are made." In other words, we own the properties, but if we do not own the properties, we will change our minds and demand reimbursements on the properties we claim we own but really do not own. It is an absurd argument. Anyway, this layman has never heard of a conditional demand in court. Either it is a demand or it is not. It defies common sense otherwise.
My opinion on DSC's Betterments lawsuit of Nov. 19, 2017---it has no standing and is poorly conceived, constructed and argued. It is a nuisance suit I suppose pursued to delay the inevitable.
On December 15, 2017, TECSC/TEC filed with the circuit court a motion to dismiss the DSC suit on Betterments. Find it here .
I find it curious that Judge Dickson is going on to the Betterments suit before rendering a decision on DSC's motion for clarification of jurisdiction. It seems to me a judgment on the Betterments suit will essentially settle all six of the petitions before him because it will determine who owns the properties. But then, his ruling on his first matter, DSC's petition for clarification would have had the same effect.
As I see it, either way the judge goes with DSC's Betterments suit means bad news for DSC. If he grants their complaint, he, and DSC, are recognizing that TEC owns the properties and always have. If he rejects their complaint, DSC will get no reimbursement from TEC for "improvements" and would still face the SCSC Aug. 2, 2017 decision recognizing TEC ownership of the parishes. So, I do not see how DSC comes out well in this suit.
If Judge Dickson were to grant DSC's complaint for reimbursements, he would face the daunting task of deciding the time period for betterments and the amounts for each of the 29 parishes listed. This would be a mind-boggling undertaking that no one would welcome, least of all a judge with a hefty backlog. It seems to me common sense requires Dickson to dismiss the Betterments suit. Granting it would open up a Pandora's box of problems that would require the wisdom of Solomon and ages of time to resolve. Not a happy prospect for any judge.
If all goes well, I will attend the hearing on the 25th and post a report on my blog toute de suite.
After hearing nothing from the courts for weeks on end, we received two important announcements from them in recent days. On June 28, 2019, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an order denying the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the Episcopal Church's petition for a writ of mandamus to order Judge Edgar Dickson, of the circuit court, to implement the SCSC decision of August 2, 2017. On July 2, 2019, word came that circuit court Judge Dickson had scheduled a hearing on the Betterments suit. It is to be held in the Calhoun County courthouse, in St. Matthews SC, on July 25, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. Let us consider what these announcements might mean for the schism, and take them one at a time. (My usual disclaimer---I am not a lawyer or legal expert and what I offer here is opinion.)
SCSC Denial of the Petition for a writ
The denial came in the form of a three-page Order of the SCSC dated June 28, 2019. Find it here . The Court said:
Petitioners [TECSC/TEC] state they filed a petition to enforce the judgment that has been pending in the circuit court since May 2018.
Because Respondent [Judge Dickson] is in the process of scheduling hearings on the matters filed in the circuit court, we are confident that Respondent will resolve the petition to enforce the judgment, as well as any related matters that are pending, in an expeditious manner.
It is crucial to note the wording here. In the first quote, the SCSC justices pointed out the Church's petition to the circuit court, of May 2018. In the second quote, the justices referred back to this petition as they said they were confident Dickson "will resolve the petition to enforce the judgment." This implied very clearly that the SCSC justices recognized that Dickson would implement the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017.
Thus, the TECSC/TEC "petition to enforce," of May of 2018, to which the justices referred, is the issue at stake here. Let us return to this petition. On May 8, 2018, TECSC and TEC filed, in the circuit court, "Defendants' Petition for Execution and Further Relief on Declaratory Judgments of the South Carolina Supreme Court and for the Appointment of a Special Master." Find it here . In essence, the Church lawyers asked Judge Dickson to carry out the SCSC decision of August 2, 2017:
The Episcopal Church and the Associated Diocese [TECSC] seek the intervention of this Court to effect an orderly transition of possession and control of the property to which they are entitled by the judgement of the South Carolina Supreme Court (p. 3)
Therefore, the Court should enforce the August 2, 2017 Opinion of the South Carolina Supreme Court, by transferring title to the parish property from the parish corporations to The Episcopal Church and the Associated Diocese, by requiring Plaintiffs [DSC] to execute any necessary deeds or instruments of title, or issuing the same by Court order. (p. 8)
The SCSC Aug. 2, 2017 ruling listed three majority decisions on its last page (77):
1) with regard to the eight church organizations which did not accede to the Dennis Canon, Chief Justice Beatty, Justice Kittredge and I [Toal] would hold that title remains in the eight plaintiff church organizations;
2) with regard to the twenty-eight church organizations which acceded to the Dennis Canon, a majority consisting of Chief Justice Beatty, Justice Hearn, and Acting Justice Pleicones would hold that a trust in favor of the national church is imposed on the property and therefore, title is in the national church;
and 3) with regard to Camp St. Christopher, Chief Justice Beatty, Justice Hearn, and Acting Justice Pleicones would hold title is in the trustee corporation for the benefit of the associated diocese [TECSC]...
As anyone can see, the August 2, 2017, SCSC decision explicitly recognized that 28 parishes were property of the Episcopal Church.
The Aug. 2 decision became final law after the SCSC denied DSC's petition for a rehearing and the United States Supreme Court denied cert.
On November 17, 2017, the SCSC sent an order of remittitur to the circuit court. A "remit" is a direction to the lower court to implement the decision. This is different than a "remand" order which would have directed the lower court to reconsider the case. Under the remittitur, the lower court has no discretion to reconsider the state supreme court decision. The SCSC Aug. 2 decision is final and must be implemented by the lower court.
In the circuit court, Judge Edgar Dickson was assigned the case in January of 2018.
On May 8, 2018, TECSC filed its Petition for Execution (above) to Dickson who ignored this petition for the next ten months. It was this petition that the TECSC had in mind when, in March of 2019, they asked the SCSC to issue a writ of mandamus directing Dickson to enforce the Aug. 2 order. It was TECSC's May 2018 petition to the circuit court that the SCSC justices had in mind when they denied the request for a writ.
One curious point in the June 28 denial was the justices' use of the word "expeditious." They felt sure Dickson would resolve the matter in an "expeditious manner." Unfortunately, the justices did not define what they meant by "expeditious." A common definition of expeditious would be with speed and efficiency. Dickson has had this case for eighteen months. Evidently the justices concept of speed and efficiency runs into years rather than months. In my layman's view, a year and a half of doing nothing is the opposite of expeditious. To no one's surprise, the reactions of the two dioceses to the SCSC denial of a writ were entirely different. Find the TECSC news release here . The Church diocese gave a straightforward announcement of the high court's denial of a writ. On the other hand, the independent diocese issued a Trumpesque pretzel of truth, untruth, half truth, and misinterpretation. Find it here . It includes this: The intent of the Petition requested by TEC was to have the Supreme Court require the Circuit Court to interpret the Supreme Court's August 2, 2017 ruling as TEC wished it interpreted. The Parishes and the Diocese opposed the Petition essentially arguing that the issues were before Judge Dickson who was using the discretion afforded him by state law to resolve them. Baloney. The SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 explicitly lists three orders. This is the law of the land. The circuit court has no "discretion" to change the SCSC order. Judge Dickson cannot retry this case. DSC is continuing to mislead its people with the myth that the SCSC did not settle the church case. In fact, the case was settled and ended on Aug. 2, 2017. The DSC creation goes on: At its core, the Petition was an attempt to end run Judge Dickson's exercise of his discretion in interpreting the August 2, 2017 decision in a manner that may differ from TEC's interpretation. However, the Supreme Court refused to tell Judge Dickson how he should rule in interpreting the August 2 decision... Double baloney. The three orders explicitly given in the August 2 decision are not matters of "interpretation." They are direct and perfectly clear. Dickson has no "discretion" as to the meaning of the three orders. His only discretion is in how to implement the orders. The SCSC justices did not tell Dickson to implement the August 2 decision because they have already done that (Nov. 17, 2017 remittitur). It would have been redundant. In the June 28 Order, the justices very clearly implied that Dickson was to implement the Aug. 2 decision and to do so in an "expeditious manner." Unfortunately, the DSC leaders are still misinforming their people on what is happening in the courts. They are promoting the fiction that the property decision is unresolved and therefore the breakaway congregations may still keep the properties they are currently occupying. The truth is that the SCSC has settled the property issue by recognizing that 28 (or 29) local churches belong to the Episcopal Church. No amount of spin or deception can Trump this reality. Why has DSC refused to accept the final law of the land? Good question. Obviously it is to use the legal processes to delay the transfer of the properties as long as possible which might actually be years to come. There is some logic to this strategy. Besides, it is the only card they have left to play. However, this is not the way any of the other five cases of dioceses that voted to leave TEC acted. In Pittsburgh and San Joaquin, the schismatics accepted the final court decisions. In those cases the state supreme court did not issue a decision, just to let the lower court orders stand. In South Carolina, the state supreme court actually issued a ruling on the church case, the only example in the U.S in which a state supreme court ruled on an Episcopal Church schism. Even so, DSC refused to accept it making it unique among the breakaways. Regardless of all of DSC's wild public relations spins and ongoing delays, the basic dispute of the schism has been settled by the law. The Episcopal Church is the legal owner of the 29 parishes in question and the Camp. It is just a matter of time before the law is carried out and the Episcopal Church regains its property. DSC can deny and delay until the cows come home but they cannot undo the law. Next, we will take up the Betterments suit.
Word arrived this afternoon that Judge Edgar Dickson has scheduled a hearing on the Betterments suit. It will be at 9:30 a.m. on July 25 in the Calhoun County courthouse in St. Matthew's SC. Find TECSC's announcement of this Here .
A note to readers---I am unable to post commentaries on the recent legal actions until next week. I apologize for the delay.
The Anglican Communion News Service has announced that 65% of the bishops of the Anglican Communion have already signed up to attend the Lambeth Conference next year. Find their announcement here . Altogether more than 1,000 bishops and spouses have registered. 566 of the 877 bishops of the Anglican Communion have committed to attend the meeting. By the time the conference meets next year, it could well meet the attendance level of the 2008 meeting when 623 bishops attended.
This means that the GAFCON leaders' efforts to break up the Anglican Communion have failed. GAFCON claims to have more than half of the Anglican bishops. If two-thirds of all the Anglican bishops in the world have signed up for Lambeth, this means that many of the GAFCON bishops will attend despite the GAFCON leaders' attempts to suppress attendance.
So far, only 4 of the 40 primates of the Anglican Communion have publicly announced boycotts of the Lambeth Conference. They are Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. This equatorial African band is the original heart of GAFCON which was set up in 2008 on the eve of the Lambeth Conference of 2008 to oppose equality for and inclusion of open homosexual persons in the life of the church. While the four primates will not attend, it is possible that many of their bishops will go to Lambeth. They have all been invited.
Since its inception in 2008, GAFCON has tried hard to re-make classical Anglicanism. They have created a fundamentalist anti-homosexual-rights and anti-feminist coalition anchored in equatorial Africa outside of the institutional structure of the Anglican Communion. GAFCON claims it has the majority of Anglicans in the world. They created the Anglican Church in North America in 2009 and have "recognized" ACNA as the only legitimate Anglican province in North America. This is contrary to the structure of the Anglican Communion which recognizes the Episcopal Church as the only branch of the Communion in the United States. The GAFCON primates' council has placed the archbishop of ACNA, who is not a bishop of the Anglican Communion, as its chair.
Last year, the GAFCON primates' council sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury demanding that TEC bishops be replaced at Lambeth by bishops of ACNA. The ABC, Justin Welby has not responded and certainly will not agree to this illegal demand which, if accepted, would effectively end the leadership of the ABC in the AC. In fact, he has invited the TEC bishops to Lambeth (minus the same-sex spouses).
Without compliance of the ABC to their demand, the GAFCON primates called an anti-Lambeth conference the month before Lambeth. It is to meet 8-14 June 2020 in Kigali, Rwanda. GAFCON has not announced how many bishops have signed up to attend this alternative conference but the number must not be great. If it were, we would know it. No GAFCON conference has ever assembled a majority of Anglican bishops. The most has been forty percent. Bear in mind that the GAFCON primates' council has not officially called for a boycott of the Lambeth Conference and probably will not do so now since two-thirds of Anglican bishops have already signed up to go to the Conference. A failed boycott would be an embarrassment.
Mark Lawrence and all of the fifty-odd bishops of ACNA have not been, and will not be, invited to the Lambeth Conference simply because they are not bishops of the Anglican Communion. They call themselves Anglicans but they are not recognized as Anglicans by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To be an Anglican, one has to be in communion with Canterbury. The ABC has said more than once he is not in communion with ACNA. GAFCON's "recognition" of the ACNA bishops is meaningless in the structure of the Anglican Communion.
Yet, the Diocese of South Carolina, and some of their congregations continue to insist they are parts of the Anglican Communion. This is flatly false. They may call themselves "Anglicans" or whatever they wish but the bare fact is they are not in the Anglican Communion. They know it and the Archbishop of Canterbury knows it. The people following Lawrence should know it. If the laity of DSC believe they are in the Anglican Communion, they are believing something that is not true. In my opinion, there were two great assertions that the DSC leadership made to their followers at the schism. One was that the diocese was independent and sovereign and therefore could leave TEC at will with the property in hand. The SC Supreme Court proved that claim to be false. The second was that they could leave TEC and remain in the Anglican Communion. Exclusion of DSC from the Anglican Communion's decennial conference next year proves that notion false. The schism in SC was based on two assertions that turned out to be untrue (at the cost of millions of dollars). Likewise, DSC's parent, the Anglican Church in North America claims, brazenly, to be a part of the Anglican Communion. On their website here we find this: "On April 16, 2019 it [ACNA] was recognized as a province of the global Anglican Communion by the Primates of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans." This implies obviously that ACNA is a province of the Anglican Communion. Such an idea is flatly false. The AC is composed of 40 provinces. ACNA is not now, never has been, and never will be a province of the Anglican Communion. This group of primates had no authority to "recognize" anyone in or out of the AC. Just saying something is true does not make it true. If it were, we would have 12 million new American citizens in an instant.
The bottom line is that, despite its eleven year effort, GAFCON and its American proxy ACNA have failed to break up the Anglican Communion just as they have failed to replace classical Anglicanism with their new narrow and intolerant fundamentalist version of Anglicanism. Now, it is still entirely possible that some of the GAFCON primates could remove their provinces from the AC and form a separate communion. The 40 provinces are independent churches after all and perfect free to leave the AC at any time. The clear majority of the Anglican bishops around the world will be attending the Lambeth Conference of 2020. This is a huge victory for the traditional Anglican Communion and a stinging defeat for the new dissenters. For the moment, at least, the center of power in the Anglican world remains in Canterbury, not in equatorial Africa and Anglicanism continues to be the broad and enlightened religion it has always been. This is true because the majority of bishops of the Anglican world want it to be true.