Court Battle Over Who Is Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina After Schism
(Photo courtesy TEC in SC)
A judge will decide who has the right to the title of Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences.
U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck heard oral arguments Thursday over the Rev. Charles vonRosenberg’s effort to halt the Rev. Mark Lawrence‘s usage of the title. The Rev. Lawrence presently heads the theologically conservative South Carolina Diocese, which broke away from The Episcopal Church over its support for homosexuality and treatment of Lawrence.
The Rev. vonRosenberg presently heads the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the name given to those Episcopalians in the Diocese who want to remain with the national church. VonRosenberg has sued Lawrence over usage of the title of bishop, arguing that Lawrence renounced this title when he opted to leave The Episcopal Church in January.
After hearing about an hour of arguments, Houck stated that he should have a decision as to the fate of the suit sometime in the next seven to ten days.
Joy Hunter, director of Communications for the Diocese of South Carolina, told The Christian Post that Lawrence argued for the suit to be dismissed. “In his Motion, Bishop Lawrence asked that Judge Houck either dismiss the federal lawsuit, or stay it until the pending state court litigation is resolved,” said Hunter.
The legal debate over who can be called bishop of the diocese stems from another legal suit surrounding the name and property of the South Carolina Diocese. In January, after voting overwhelmingly to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese filed suit against those loyal to TEC over the rightful usage of the diocesan name, seal and property.
Initially, both those who opted to stay with TEC and those who opted to leave with Bishop Mark Lawrence used them. However, a judge granted an injunction allowing Lawrence and the leadership who decided to leave the denomination usage of the name and marks of the Diocese while the suit continued.
In June, Judge Houck ruled that the suit over the name and property of the Diocese would be tried in state court, which gives the breakaway leadership a legal advantage.
Holly Behre, director of Communications for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, provided The Christian Post with a press release regarding the present status of the property suit. “Meanwhile, the case in state court before Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein is currently proceeding with written discovery, the fact-finding process that takes place after a lawsuit and before trial, in which each side requests information and written documents from the other parties,” reads the release in part.
“No trial date is expected to be set before early 2014.”
In reviewing this story of former Bishop Mark Lawrence’s renunciation of the leadership of TEC’s Diocese of South Carolina, and his desire to cling on to the title of Diocesan Bishop; one is reminded of a similar situation in the Diocese of Harare, in the Province of Zimbabwe; where the former Bishop, Norbert Kunonga, renounced his leadership of the diocese – on issues very much the same as those pleaded by Mark Lawrence, as his reason for abandoning his role in TEC: those of gender and sexuality.
Granted that Kunonga’s excuse was backed by his criminal desire to expropriate for his own personal use property belonging to the Harare Diocese; this cannot be said of former Bishop Lawrence. However, his stated reason for abandoning TEC is the same – his disregard for his Church’s (TEC’s) acceptance of LGBT members of the Church. This does not, however, excuse Lawrence’s claim to personally represent ‘Orthodox Anglicanism’ – and therefore the right to the property of TEC., and his claim to be the legitimate holder of the title “Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”.
No doubt there will be lots of money spent on lawyers during the ensuing battle for the diocese and its leadership. One may wonder where the money is coming from for the defence of Mark Lawrence and his team. But there is a vein of riches to be mined from the conservatives who are financing the proceedings of many actions against TEC, most of which have been lost.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand