Breaking: Episcopal diocese of Fort Worth wins summary judgement

UPDATE: Local coverage of the ruling in Fort Worth is here.

A press release via e-mail from the Diocese of Fort Worth

Judge Grants Episcopal Parties’ Motions for Summary Judgment and Orders Surrender of Diocesan Property

On Friday, January 21, 2011, the Hon. John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court, Tarrant County, Texas, granted the Local Episcopal Parties’ and The Episcopal Church’s Motions for Summary Judgments. He denied the Southern Cone parties Motion for a Partial Summary Judgment The orders can be seen here.

The Court orders provide in part that the defendants, including Bishop Jack L. Iker, “surrender all Diocesan property, as well as control of the Diocesan Corporation, to the Diocesan plaintiffs and to provide an accounting of all Diocesan assets within 60 days of this order.” Additionally, “the Court hereby orders the Defendants not to hold themselves out as leaders of the Diocese.”

The parties are ordered “to submit a more detailed declaratory order within ten days of the date of this order” or by January 31.

“We are pleased with this decision as it represents good progress in recovering property and assets of The Episcopal Church for use by Episcopalians in this diocese for ministry and mission,” said the Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of Fort Worth.

“The only reason we have gone to court is to protect the assets built up over 170 years in this part of Texas by generations of Episcopalians for the use of The Episcopal Church so they will be available for use by the great-great-grandchildren of those Episcopalians and for generations beyond,” he said.

Bishop Ohl continued, “We know that this litigation has been painful for both sides, and we continue to hold Bishop Iker and all those who chose to leave The Episcopal Church in our prayers. We wish all the best for them.”

In November 2008, former Bishop Jack L. Iker and other diocesan leaders left The Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with another church, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Since then they have been using the name and seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and occupying Episcopal Church property. The diocese reorganized in February 2009 at a special meeting of the Diocesan Convention called by the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. [Ted] Gulick Jr. was elected provisional bishop at that convention. Bishop Ohl succeeded him after being elected at the regular meeting of the Diocesan Convention in November 2009.

On April 14, 2009, The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth filed suit in the 141st District Court seeking to recover property and other assets.

At that time, Bishop Gulick said, “The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, heir and steward of the legacy of generations of faithful Episcopalians, has this day brought suit to recover that legacy. We deeply regret that the decisions and actions of former diocesan leaders have brought us to this difficult moment. . . This litigation is designed to move quickly to confirm the historical right of Episcopalians to lead the diocese as stewards of its property as we in humility and hope continue the mission of the Episcopal Church here. . . We bid the prayers of all faithful Episcopalians and other Christians as we protect our legacy and fulfill the trust and dreams of those who have gone before.”

Other suits are pending. A case filed in the 355th District Court of Hood County, Texas, the Hon. Ralph Walton, Jr. presiding, involves the Cynthia Brants Trust and which congregation, the Episcopal St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church or the Southern Cone St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, is the beneficiary of that trust. This case is abated pending resolution of the identity issues in the Tarrant County Case.

A case filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division, the Hon. Terry R. Means presiding. This case invokes the Lanham Act claims for trademark infringement and dilution of the name and seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. This case is stayed pending resolution of the identity issues in the Tarrant County Case.

Additionally, a suit was filed by All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, styled All Saints’ Episcopal Church v. Jack Leo Iker, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division. This case invokes Lanham Act claims for trademark infringement and dilution of the name “All Saints’ Episcopal Church” by those who left All Saints’ and formed a new Southern Cone congregation worshipping blocks away.

Bishop Ohl said, “From the day the former leaders left The Episcopal Church, Episcopalians across the diocese, including the people who have been displaced from their own parishes and missions, have been actively planning for reconciliation with those who currently worship in those facilities. The Episcopal Church, including its continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, welcomes everyone, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. The mission of The Episcopal Church is to reconcile the world to God through Jesus Christ. All persons are welcome to worship in the 55 Episcopal parishes and missions of the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. “

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