South Carolina Federal district court rules against Episcopal Church

U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck today issued an order dismissing the federal lawsuit filed by the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg that seeks to keep Mark Lawrence from representing himself as the bishop of the diocese and using its name and marks. The judge ruled that the case should be decided on the state level.

Attorneys for the diocese are analyzing the ruling and a decision on whether to appeal it will be made in a few days.

A press release from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina says:

“While we are disappointed at the recent legal developments, we recognized that our journey involves many, many more steps than only this one,” Bishop vonRosenberg said. “We are involved for the long haul. And, as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, our mission most definitely will not be defined by court decisions and legal processes but, rather, by the call and direction of our Lord.”

VonRosenberg v. Lawrence was filed in March, asking the court to find that only Bishop vonRosenberg, as The Episcopal Church’s recognized bishop, should control the name and marks of the diocese. In a separate motion, Bishop vonRosenberg also asked the federal court to grant a preliminary injunction to stop Bishop Lawrence from using the name and marks of the diocese and from representing that his activities are associated with the diocese. Judge Houck’s order today denied that motion.

A separate case in South Carolina Circuit Court before Judge Diane S. Goodstein is currently proceeding with written discovery. No trial date is expected to be set before early 2014. That lawsuit was originally filed in January by former church leaders and some 34 parishes in eastern South Carolina who say they have “disassociated” from The Episcopal Church. It seeks control of the name, seal and properties of the diocese under state law that governs nonprofit corporations. The group continues to call itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” and recognizes Mark Lawrence as its bishop.

The Diocese filed the lawsuit after it dissociated from the Episcopal Church due to theological differences. Following the Diocese’s decision, 49 churches representing 80 percent of the Diocese’s 30,000 members confirmed their desire to remain with the Diocese of South Carolina, disassociating from The Episcopal Church.

Soon after the Diocese filed its suit, a South Carolina Circuit judge issued a temporary injunction against TEC and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC), the remnant group created following the Diocese’s disassociation from TEC.

The injunction stated that the remnant group may not claim to be the Diocese of South Carolina or use any of its registered names, marks or seal. The lawyers for TEC and ECSS consented to that injunction.

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