Illinois trial court rules in favor of Quincy breakaway group

[Episcopal News Service] The Judicial Circuit Court in Adams County, Illinois, has ruled against the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church in their efforts to recover assets and property claimed by a breakaway group.

Judge Thomas J. Ortbal’s ruling, dated Sept. 6 and made public Sept. 10, is the most recent action in legal proceedings that began in March 2009.

Unlike the majority of other cases in which the Episcopal Church has sought to reclaim assets from departing members, Ortbal’s ruling states that the actions of General Convention and the presiding bishop “cannot be legally enforced” in diocesan matters.

“It is clear, on the basis of the church and diocesan constitution and canons, that [the Episcopal Church] is organized with ascending tiers and it is hierarchical in many of its structural aspects,” the ruling states. “What, however, is much less evident is whether the General Convention constitutes the highest ecclesiastical tribunal with ultimate authority over a diocese.”

The court also concluded Sept. 6 that it was “constitutionally impermissible” for it to inquire into “matters of discipline and doctrine between the parties” because the First Amendment prevents the legal system from deciding cases that involve doctrinal matters.

In November 2008, about 60 percent of the members of several congregations in the Diocese of Quincy left the diocese and the Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone.

Then-Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman announced Oct. 29, 2008 that he would retire on Nov. 1 of that year. The diocesan synod gathered six days later and a majority voted to leave the Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. John Buchanan, retired bishop of West Missouri, was elected provisional bishop of Quincy at a special reorganizing synod in April 2009.

The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy reunited with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago on Sept. 1, 2013, after a majority of diocesan bishops and standing committees consented to the reunion. Buchanan will become assisting bishop in the Diocese of Chicago.

Chicago Bishop Jeffrey D. Lee, after hearing about the court’s ruling, said that the church had hoped to recover an endowment fund that has been frozen, the former diocesan office building adjacent to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Peoria “and the principle that churches such as ours have the right to determine how we organize and govern ourselves.”

“We are now considering all of our options for moving forward, and you will hear more from us soon about this matter,” Lee added. “Thank you for your faithful leadership in the new Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and in The Episcopal Church and for your prayers.”

Lee said that “during this long process, the people of the Peoria deanery have exemplified Christian generosity, hospitality and forbearance. Despite the ongoing costs — financial, spiritual and emotional — of litigation, Episcopalians in west central Illinois have spent the past four years experiencing new life in Christ, gathering week by week to worship, work and pray together. I have recently met with clergy and lay leaders from the deanery and am impressed and humbled by their faithfulness and more eager than ever to work with them. They are an example to us all.”

Tobyn Leigh, a continuing Episcopalian from the former Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and a General Convention deputy in 2009 and 2012, said: “The people of the former Diocese of Quincy, (now Chicago) are resilient. Although we are deeply disappointed in Judge Ortbal’s ruling, we move forward, keeping our eyes on the Lord and the work He has set for us to do. For we are convinced that nothing, certainly not a court ruling, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Comments

  1. Carleton MacDonald says:

    This is some low-level county court. Let’s see what happens when it goes beyond that. Past rulings in other jurisdictions have not gone that way.

  2. Alma T. Bell says:

    I do hope that this ruling will be appealed as soon as possible.

  3. Ron Caldwell says:

    This is a continuation of the “neutral principles” idea which we have recently seen from state courts in South Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere. In that, it is nothing new. This ruling, however, is much more sweeping as it rejects a number of major courts decisions favoring TEC and defends the breakaway diocese’s claims. The most stunning of these remarks comes as Associate Judge Ortbal dismisses the arguments of the majority in the 6-1 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court and hails the lone dissenter. Too, he says on one hand TEC is hierarchical and then says it is not hierarchical enough. He applies extreme strict constructionism with heavy qualifiers as “explicitly” and “expressly” to find that neither the General Convention nor the Presiding Bishop has clear authority over the dioceses, at least on property matters. To my knowledge, this is the first ruling where a judge seeks to interpret the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, even if he gave no explanation for his interpretation. If this ruling stands it will make two main points: 1-TEC is not an hierarchical institution, and 2-a diocese may secede from TEC at will. To say the least, this decision is far afield the mainstream of nearly 100 cases over the last dozen years. It is certain to be appealed.

    • David Yarbrough says:

      The decision of the Georgia Supreme Court affected the relationship between the parish of Christ Church Savannah and the Diocese of Georgia. It would most closely parallel the cases of the orthodox parishes in Virginia.

      This case more closely resembles Fort Worth and South Carolina, where entire dioceses have separated from TEC. The predominance of judgments at this level favors the departing dioceses.

    • I agree with your analysis, Ron: if it is held that TEC is not hierarchical and a diocese may secede at will from TEC I suspect there will be a continuous cleaving of the Church into ever smaller denominations ala the Weslyans and even more litigation and acrimony. The reality is rather obvious: our Dioceses exist by action of the GC who also define the Canons and Constitutions and institute the legitimate episcopate. Those who walk apart may choose to do so as individuals, without alienating the property of TEC – we leave the door open and also recognize we may also be responsible for the situation we are in…thoughts?

  4. Tupper Morehead, TSSF says:

    Where is God in all this?

    • David Yarbrough says:

      Looking for obedience to His laws by His children – and finding precious little of it.

      • I think it is important to remember that both the breakaway group and the members of the Episcopal Church are faithful servants of God. And while issues like property and assets are important to the parties involved (and should be, to an extent), they must not let this take away from their commitment to be the hands and feet of Christ in our broken world. I am confident that both groups will continue faithful Christian service. They wouldn’t care so much about these rulings if they weren’t passionate about the work of the Church.

      • Zachary Brooks says:

        The schismatics sure like to scream about the first part of 1 Cor. 6:7, but seem to conveniently forget the second part.

        • W T Wheeler says:

          Oh Zachary, name calling and judging those with whom you disagree isn’t very “tolerant”.

        • Seems to me both those wanting to leave and those staying forget the second part. ‘Why not rather be defrauded?’ ‘Well, that sounds very Christian and all, but this is the real world of dollars and real property.’ In other words, not much Christian faithfulness on display here by anyone (as regards this issue, specifically).

  5. Joseph D Herring says:

    Judge Ortbal has made himself a pretty subtle diviner of how the Episcopal Church works out
    its tensions between Convention and diocese. His ruling puts him at odds with a good number of
    judicial precedents we’ve all agonized through in recent years. He did his best, no doubt, but deserves to be overturned on appeal.
    Joe Herring
    Priest, Diocese of Atlanta

    • Fr. Gaylord Hitchcock says:

      You have it spot on, Joe. The last word has, hopefully, not been spoken concerning the former Diocese of Quincy. The story didn’t contain any stated intention to appeal, but an appeal is absolutely necessary. No less is owed to those who are valiantly rebuilding, with God’s help, the life of the Episcopal Church in Central Illinois, to say nothing of their (and our) forebears in the faith who believed that their legacy would benefit The Episcopal Church in perpetuity.

  6. Carol McRee says:

    Judge Ortbal’s ruling is about the rule of law especially about neutral principles of law as they apply to *churches*. There is no automatic guaranteed deference to a church’s internal decisions *unless* it can show it is hierarchal. That is what Judge Ortbal is basically saying- TEC did not meet that definition. However, The Anglican Diocese of Quincy did indeed meet their burden of proof as to the ownership of these assets. I think we are seeing courts are wising up to TEC’s playbook and just because TEC says it is so is no longer enough for the courts. Also the issue of a diocese leaving/dissociating from TEC is very different *animal* legally than a parish leaving a diocese. So judicial rulings in cases of a parish leaving a diocese are not really precedents for these cases when a diocese leaves TEC. As Judge Ortbal’s rightly concludes there is nothing in either TEC’s canons or constitution which says a diocese can not leave. The rump/faux dioceses are now in a legal predicament as they are non corporate entities under various state laws unless they incorporate which they can not as they would have to assume a different name! Quite a predicament they are in and made for themselves. Ortbal’s ruling is so well thought out and thoroughly researched, I doubt another judge could find a reason to appeal it especially since one of the parties to the lawsuit (TEC Diocese of Quincy) no longer exists!!

    • I agree that a parish leaving a diocese is one thing – inasmuch as the parish is, in most cases, a creature of the diocese they’ve not much to stand on. Inasmuch as TEC dioceses only exist by action of the General Convention of TEC/DFMS, not to mention that the bishops of said dioceses exercise their authority only AFTER receiving acceptance by the majority of Bishops and Standing Committees of dioceses in TEC operating under the Canons and Constitutions of TEC, I am hard pressed to understand how Judge Ortbal could possibly argue that the diocese might unilaterally walk away without the concurrence of the General Convention of TEC. I realize that many folks in the Old South, particularly in South Carolina, are convinced they actually won the Civil War and therefore still have the right to secede with others property as they see fit – unfortunately that is not in accordance with canon law, moral law, civil law, nor criminal law as best I am aware…of course I may be wrong, but inasmuch as the folks under Mr. Lawrence aren’t willing to walk their Christian principles by turning over the property of the TEC Diocese of South Carolina and find there own way forward, I suppose we are condemned to seeing this continue to play out…..

    • Further, if I’m not mistaken, most states have rules which say if a non-profit entity is closed, then there must be provision for the disbursement of residual funds and property, true? Inasmuch as the TEC Diocese of Quincy has now ceased to exist, under its charter what was supposed to happen to its funds and property?

  7. Carol McRee says:

    David Yarbrough. I think we are seeing an abundance of law abiding by His children in recent judgements. This is now the third ruling against TEC in various state and federal courts. That says a lot especially one is a state supreme court! True obedience to His Law would be if TEC dropped all these frivolous lawsuits. Fortunately Bishop von Rosenberg’s very unChristian lawsuit against fellow bishop, +Mark Lawrence, was summarily dismissed by Judge Houck of the Federal Courts here in SC. PS Judge Houck was an Episcopalian decades ago maybe still I don’t know.

    • Zachary Brooks says:

      Wow, your mind must exist in a parallel universe. Bishop Lawrence sued the Episcopal Church, if you’ll recall.

    • Ms. McRee,

      If it turns out that Judge Houck was once (or is now) an Episcopalian he should have recused himself from hearing the case for appearance sake if nothing else. Secondly, you may have forgotten a far older commandment in Torah that states a person should not move his neighbor’s boundary markers as Mr. Lawrence and his followers have done by misrepresenting themselves as the true TEC Diocese of South Carolina…that’s one of those pesky moral laws of the Old Testament that the 39 Articles of Religion hold are still obligatory upon Christians. I would further say that inasmuch as Mr. Lawrence is no longer in orders with TEC, who made him a bishop in spite of the suspicion he would renege on his vows to TEC once he ascended his throne, I would argue Bishop von Rosenberg is perfectly within his rights, ex officio, to take legal action to prevent a fraud from Mr. Lawrence claiming to be Bishop of the TEC Diocese of South Carolina when Mr. Lawrence chose to give up his orders. The lawsuits are not frivolous, but one might ask if the behavior of Mr. Lawrence et al is in any sense criminal….

  8. John Knightley says:

    The suit that was dismissed was filed by von Rosenberg against Lawrence. See http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/2013-08-23_judge_houck_order_dismissing_w_o_prejudice.pdf.

    • Zachary Brooks says:

      VonRosenberg filed for a mere change of venue. Lawrence was the one who ignored the solemn decree of Scriptures forbidding him from suing his Christian brothers and sisters.

  9. Ron Caldwell says:

    Despite the wishful thinking of the anti-Episcopal Church side, it seems to me that this ruling does not promise to be consequential. Consulting the official website of the Eighth Circuit Court, Adams County, Illinois, one will find that Associate Judge Ortbal’s “assignments” are listed as misdemeanors, probate, minor law, and domestic violence, in other words to take the relatively unimportant cases at the relief of the Circuit Judges who handle the more important ones. He is one of three associate judges appointed by the four elected Circuit Judges. How this particular case wound up on the docket of this associate judge is a question worth asking. We know that Lawrence’s lawyers went all the way to rural St. George to find a state court to file their lawsuit against the Episcopal Church on Jan. 4, 2013 instead of filing in Charleston. No one wonders why. Judge Goodstein did not disappoint those lawyers. She immediately gave de facto recognition to Lawrence’s claim and issued a restraining order against TEC.

    Certainly Associate Judge Ortbal did his best. But what we have here is a short (21 pages) judgment first granting “neutral principles.” But he did not stop there. He went on apparently to agree entirely with everything the secessionists said and to give breathtaking dismissals of numerous landmark pro-TEC decisions all around the country given by judges who, with all due respect to Associate Judge Ortbal, far outranked him. But he did not even stop there. He went on to rule on the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, to my knowledge something no judge has ever done. Applying stringently strict constructionism, he gave two interpretative opinions on the C and C: no explicit hierarchical power of General Convention and Presiding Bishop over the dioceses, at least concerning property, and no rule disallowing dioceses to secede from TEC. Thus, in just 21 pages we have vastly sweeping findings and opinions. Yet, they have very little in the way of explanations to back up the decisions; and, in my view, no persuasive argument at all. Thus, I do not see much behind the Order that the anti-Episcopal lawyers can use to make their arguments in the future.

    This court decision will certainly be appealed. I wonder if a civil judge’s ruling interpreting a church’s constitution might be a violation of the First Amendment. Surely there is enough precedence to uphold the separation of church and state.

  10. J. W. McRee says:

    Mr. Brooks,

    No. Bishop von Rosenberg did not file for a change of venue. He filed a lawsuit against Bishop Lawrence. Please read the following press release: http://www.episcopalchurchsc.org/news-release-march-5-2013.html from his own people. Also, please explain the Presiding Bishop’s lawsuits which are numerous. Perhaps the Presiding Bishop should also the read the appropriate section in 1 Corinthians Chapter 6.

    • Mr. McRee, inasmuch as we are disestablished church in a democratic republic, we have recourse to the secular courts in matters involving property disputes.

      • W T Wheeler says:

        Using “inasmuch” in every sentence you post does NOT give your statements more credibility.

  11. Judge Ortbal is quoted as saying, “What, however, is much less evident is whether the General Convention constitutes the highest ecclesiastical tribunal with ultimate authority over a diocese.”

    It seems to me, as a layman-at-law, that inasmuch as dioceses are created within the context of the Constitution and Canons of TEC, and for that matter their Bishops are elected and operate in conformance with the Constitution and Canons of TEC, and inasmuch as the Constitutions and Canons are subject to the actions of the General Convention, I am hard pressed to understand the judge’s argument that there is a question as to GC’s ultimate authority over a diocese! If it takes GC action to create, modify, merge, or lay down a diocese of TEC, how much more authority can anyone have? I believe Judge Ortbal chose to “punt” knowing one side or the other will take the matter to an appellate court – a reasonable and wise decision on his part.

  12. Ron Caldwell says:

    The assertion that the Episcopal Church and its representatives are responsible for starting and promoting the lawsuits in South Carolina is patently untrue; and it is disingenuous of the Lawrence faction to continue to repeat this falsehood. In truth, the independent Diocese of South Carolina filed suit first, in state court, against TEC (Jan. 4, 2013). On Jan. 22, DSC enlarged the original suit by entering an Amended Complaint against TEC. This was followed the next day by DSC getting Judge Goodstein to agree to issue a Temporary Restraining Order against TEC. All of this was done before the TEC diocese even had time to get on its feet, let alone even consider making a lawsuit. Running out of time and unprepared, the TEC lawyers hastily agreed to a indefinite Temporary Injunction on Jan. 31 and for the first time to enter the Episcopal diocese as co-defendant. Then, the DSC’s original lawsuit was expanded yet again against TEC and ECSC in a Second Amended Complaint on Feb. 27. Thus, the DSC filed FIVE court actions (suit and follow-ups) BEFORE the TEC diocese finally managed to file its own lawsuit on March 5. Thus, which bishop needs to review the Scriptures about Christians suing fellow Christians?

    We can have different opinions, as we should, but we cannot have different facts.

  13. J. W. McRee says:

    Mr. Caldwell, There is only one set of facts and you have managed to twist them to suit your views. The Diocese filed suit because those who are not the Diocese of South Carolina were proclaiming to be such in newspaper ads. That is clearly illegal under South Carolina law so the diocese took legal action when the TEC remnant would not refrain from using the name and the seal of the diocese even though they had been asked to stop. AS you are not even an attorney, you should not be judging a judge’s ability to properly adjudicate a case that is given to them. Why he was chosen? I don’t know. However, attorney’s who do have quite a bit of knowledge about Canon law have remarked elsewhere

    Zachary, You must not follow these cases very closely at all. My comment is about that Bishop von Rosenberg filed suit against Bishop Lawrence for *trademark infringement* which Bishop Lawrence noted as a “self-contradictory move” because TEC in SC had already agreed (and to this day agrees) to the injunction against them for trademark infringement. Von Rosenberg’s lawsuit was filed back in March 2013 *after* the TEC remnant had agreed to the injunction against them. So how can it be that Bishop von Rosenberg is so righteous for filing a *personal* lawsuit against Bishop Lawrence for the same trademark infringements for which TEC in SC (TEC remnant faction) has already agreed to the injunction? A *personal* lawsuit is especially most unfortunate. I think Bishop von Rosenberg and the Presiding Bishop both need to read the part about Christians not suing other Christians.

    • Ron Caldwell says:

      Mr. McRee, let’s discuss the comments and not the commentators. That way we can learn to disagree without being disagreeable about it. There is a Comment Policy (see below). It is good and healthy to have an exchange of views but we have to do it with respect to the differing parties.

  14. J. W. McRee says:

    Drat sent it to soon. Attorneys who *have* considerable knowledge have remarked elsewhere (see Anglican Curmudgeon) how carefully thought out and well crafted Judge Ortbals’ decision really is and think there is very little that could be found to overturn his decision on appeal. No doubt TEC will try to appeal his decision.

  15. J. W. McRee says:

    Mr. Caldwell,
    Your comment above would have one thinking that an Amended Complaint is a new lawsuit. This is patently wrong and misleading. I am linking an article from the Anglican Curmudgeon which will be helpful.

    http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/04/an-overview-of-complex-situation-in.html

  16. Carol McRee says:

    Zachary Brooks. Yes, Bishop von Rosenberg and TEC in SC did indeed file and had one lawsuit removed to US Federal District Court. Alas that maneuver backfired on them as Judge Houck had the lawsuit sent back to state court. However, Judge Houck summarily dismissed Bishop von Rosenberg’s lawsuit against Bishop Lawrence. Things are not looking good for Bishop von Rosenberg at the moment.

  17. Eric Bonetti says:

    I hope the ruling is appealed and that we will be able to continue to structure our affairs such that one can reliably give of one’s time, talent and treasures and have them benefit The Episcopal Church, versus ACNA or other organizations.

    I suspect, too, that ACNA will come to regret its insistence that it not have a counterpart to the Dennis Canon. Otherwise, all a group of people who desire access to church assets need do to seize control is have enough like-minded folks as members of a parish. Interested in putting a hotel on some first-rate property in SC or Quincy? Under ACNA, all you need to is get enough of your employees in as members. If you play your cards right, you can seize the building and all the cash, just like that. Same for homeowners associations that want to eliminate parking issues on a Sunday. Join your local ACNA parish, and your problems may soon be solved.

    And of course, there is the risk of internal issues. If you’re an ACNA priest and you have a falling out with your bishop, just get your parish to vote with you to cart off the assets, and you are home free. But then, you’d never do that. After all, you took an ordination oath.

    Clearly, the ACNA approach to property spells trouble for them over time.

  18. Ron Caldwell says:

    Eric, thanks for pointing that out about the property. I, for one, was unaware that ACNA refused to have a canon similar to Dennis. Yes, it spells big trouble down the road. But in the larger picture, the trouble will come from establishing the principle of states’ rights, or local sovereignty. If the Confederacy had won the Civil War, that would have established the principle of states’ rights. In time, the Confederate states would have pulled apart as one crisis after arose. Today, we would not be like Central America, or the Balkans, a lot of small, impoverished nation-states. The groups that have splintered off the Episcopal Church (70 at last count) vary widely. The ACNA is struggling to form some cohesion among them but whatever they come up with will inevitably divide apart as time goes by because they have already established the principle of local autonomy. Not having a Dennis Canon will only accelerate it.

  19. West Jacocks says:

    The following is an excerpt from expert testimony by Louis Weil, a professor at a TEC seminary.

    “I am qualified to explain the hierarchical structure of the Episcopal Church, and the diocesan bishop’s position at the apex of that hierarchy as the apostle, chief priest, pastor and ecclesiastical authority of the diocese….
    The polity of the Episcopal Church is hierarchical. In fact, the name of the Episcopal Church itself denotes the authoritative framework of the Church, and direction in which authority flows. The concept of episcope,” from which episcopal is derived, means oversight. Oversight, within the polity of the Episcopal Church, is the responsibility of a bishop within his or her diocese.

    The diocese is the jurisdictional unit of the Episcopal Church….

    Taken together, the role of the bishop as apostle, chief priest and pastor of a diocese, and the ordination vows taken by every priest signify the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church. Within this framework, it is the bishop who is the ultimate authority on issues of ministry within his or her diocese….

    In summary, the bishop is the cornerstone of the diocese. The history and liturgy of the Episcopal Church support the notion that the bishop is the ultimate authority over ecclesiastical matters within his or her diocese.”

    26 bishops agreed with this in an amicus brief, including Katherine Jefferts Schori.

    Judge Orbtal’s ruling is well reasoned, and pierces the smoke screen generated by TEC. I am reminded of the end of “The Wizard of Oz” (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the great and powerful Oz!).
    TEC is an association of dioceses. That’s as far up as the hierarchy goes. Even the Presiding bishop agrees (though maybe she has changed her mind).
    Trying to hold together a church by threat of lawsuit is ludicrous.

  20. Ron Caldwell says:

    A bishop of a diocese gains office only after getting the requisite approval of the standing committees of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church as spelled out in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.. Likewise, a bishop of a diocese can be removed from office by due process in the C and C. Thus, dioceses are not sovereign entities.

  21. West Jacocks says:

    Then you disagree with “The history and liturgy of the Episcopal Church support the notion that the bishop is the ultimate authority over ecclesiastical matters within his or her diocese.” A statement supported by the presiding bishop herself (though she was only a regular bishop at the time).

    • Actually, Mr. Jacocks, the ultimate Ecclesiastical Authority within a TEC Diocese might be understood as the Diocesan Standing Committee comprised of Clergy and Laity inasmuch it calls the Bishop designate, it must agree with the Majority of other Standing Committees on approving Bishop designates for other Dioceses, and is charged with assenting to the programs and expenditures of the Diocese as well as oversight of the Diocese particularly in the interregnum between Bishops. And from whence did this arrangement spring? The Constitution and Canons of TEC.

      Now if the Episcopate is truly the sole ecclesiastical authority of a Diocese and TEC is nothing more than a confederacy of independent ecclesiastical units, it seems you have no real need or necessity for Laity or Clergy to be involved in the decision making of the Diocese, except by the wish and on the whim of the Bishop of the moment. I am aware there are communions and independent ecclesial bodies which support such a polity, and no doubt there are some who wear mitres who’d be thrilled to dispense with pesky clergy and laity (and with Canons and Constitutions not of their own devising) except when it comes to filling pews and paying dues, but I believe you’d find the Clergy, and more especially the Laity, questioning such an medieval approach to ecclesiology. Thoughts?

  22. Ron Caldwell says:

    Then you believe that the canons of the Episcopal Church concerning the empowerment and removal of a diocesan bishop are invalid and should be ignored by the dioceses. That would make the canons only suggestions to the dioceses that they could follow or not. Absurd. Even South Carolina did not buy that in 2006-07.

  23. West Jacocks says:

    I believe we are talking at cross purposes. Many dioceses pick and choose the canons to which they adhere (that is another topic). The point about the Quincy (and Texas) rulings is that there is no explicit language in the constitution of TEC that prohibits a diocese from disassociating. Neutral principles of law need to be applied to property disputes. That is what the judge said.

    • Ron Caldwell says:

      The question of hierarchy and sovereignty in the Episcopal Church is an enormous and now very important one. A great deal of ink has already been spilled on this subject by people better informed than we are. It is interesting to note, however, that the topic was nowhere on the radar until after 2003 when an openly gay bishop was approved by TEC. Then it became a red hot issue and has remained. TEC had sailed through the stormy waters of civil rights, prayer book reform, and ordination of women without a single diocese voting on secession. It was the issue of the place of homosexuals in TEC that brought the question of sovereignty/hierarchy to the forefront as several dioceses began discussing leaving TEC. (Why that issue and not the others led to secession is another topic.)

      In a nutshell, the anti-TEC intellectual case is mainly from Mark McCall who argues in his voluminous writings that the TEC Constitution and Canons must be strictly constructed. Since it has no provision explicitly forbidding a diocese from withdrawing and since it does not expressly state that General Convention is supreme over the dioceses, McCall says we must conclude that TEC is not hierarchical and that dioceses are autonomous units. The pro-TEC side is upheld by the likes of James Dator, Joan Gundersen, Robert Mullin, all of whom argue for a broad interpretation of the implied powers of the C and C. They hold that TEC is definitely hierarchical and that the C and C clearly gives authority to the GC over the whole Church. McCall and Mullin have entered opposing affadavits in the South Carolina litigation. So it boils down to whether the judge wants to take a narrow interpretation of the C and C or a broad one. So far state courts have tended to follow the narrow while federal courts tend to the broad. That is why the two sides are maneuvering on placing their cases in certain courts.

      I disagree with your statement “Many dioceses pick and choose…” Episcopal Church dioceses are not at liberty to pick and choose which canons they will follow. That would make them only suggestions which they definitely are not.

      • Well said Ron. It amazes me how a Church with so many disparate factions can hold together through so much internal and societal turmoil starting with society wide Civil Rights in the 1950s only to be undone by the issue of personal same gender relationships and politically fueled “culture wars” in the 2010s.

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