The Case of Masterson versus the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas

This appeal arises from a property dispute among parishioners from the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (“Good Shepherd”) in San Angelo, Texas. In 2006, a majority of the Good Shepherd parishioners voted to withdraw Good Shepherd from the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Diocese of Northwest Texas and to reorganize as the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd affiliated with the Diocese of Uganda, Africa; a minority voted to continue Good Shepherd’s affiliation with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Northwest Texas (the “Diocese”). The Diocese and the individual appellees, The Rev. Celia Ellery, Don Griffis, and Michael Ryan (collectively, the “Continuing Parish Leaders”), filed suit for declaratory judgment to establish their rights to continued possession and control over the church property, which was claimed by appellants, who are members of the withdrawing group (collectively, the “Former Parish Leaders”).1 The Former Parish Leaders counterclaimed with a suit to quiet title and request for declaratory judgment that they were entitled to possession and use of the church property. The Diocese and Continuing Parish Leaders moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The Former Parish Leaders appeal, arguing primarily that the trial court erred in failing to properly apply “neutral principles” of law to resolve the dispute. We will affirm the trial court’s judgment.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes

7 comments on “The Case of Masterson versus the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas

  1. NoVA Scout says:

    Yet another of what is becoming a somewhat monotonous series of validators that, if people wish to leave a church, they should leave and not waste time and treasure (their own and others’) trying to take material things with them.

  2. MichaelA says:

    Yes, just one more case where TEC has won a temporary victory.

    Blessings on the orthodox parishioners for taking the fight to the liberals in this way. It is a very effective means of calling the attention of the wider community to the apostasy of a small number of leaders of TEC – Kathryn Schori and a few others who are determined to force their agenda, of consecrating practicing homosexuals as bishops and denying the essential doctrines of christianity, on the rest of the church.

    After all if K J Schori was gone and an orthodox leader like +Laurence installed as PB, not only would the law suits be settled very quickly, but many of the dissenting parishes would come straight back. I wonder how long it will take for TEC to realise that it is the small clique of liberal “leaders” who are the real problem?

  3. Sarah says:

    Good words, MichaelA.

    Keep it up, folks!

  4. NoVA Scout says:

    I guess, Michael, that my point is that it is not at all “effective”, given the repeated, predictable results. I think it is well understood by many, perhaps even most, Episcopalians that there is a problem with the national leadership of the church. It is, fortunately, a problem that can be dealt with by worship and witness, either by staying or by leaving. I haven’t yet seen that these property claims by those who leave enhance their witness in any way. I do see them putting a lot of money into the legal profession with no gain. If, perhaps, your point is that it is a way to inflict material harm on Episcopalians, despite its similar effect on those who leave, I would think intelligent Christians could find a better use of resources.

  5. Sarah says:

    RE: “I think it is well understood by many, perhaps even most, Episcopalians that there is a problem with the national leadership of the church.”

    Sure — but of course Michael A referred to the US as a whole, as he has done the last several comments.

    Good stuff — I’m thrilled that the evil of TEC leaders is being kept in the public eye, in newspaper after newspaper after newspaper all around the country.

    Folks may spend money as they please — but the horrendous publicity that TEC is receiving in cities around the country is extremely gratifying. No organization recovers from what the last 7 years have brought TEC.

  6. NoVA Scout says:

    I was responding to Michael’s reference to “the TEC”, Sarah. I did not take “the TEC” to mean “the US as a whole”. I think of these things as two distinct things. I don’t think there is any negative connotation attached to newspaper articles about Bishops of the Church protecting property against assertions of ownership by those who leave. I guess one can spin it that way, but, generally speaking, such stewardship, whether in religious or secular contexts, is common and rational.

    In any event, the decision is well-organised and well-written. It touches on subjects that are frequent subjects of discussion here and elsewhere, such as the application of neutral principles analysis and the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church, at least in the context of secular court handling of church property disputes. It is a worthwhile read. It does not directly address the situations presented in Texas, California, and Pennsylvania, where people purport to leave at the Diocesan level. It is more akin to the situation in Virginia and elsewhere where members of individual parishes depart and lay claim to church premises.

  7. MichaelA says:

    [blockquote] “I think of these things as two distinct things.” [/blockquote]
    Which they obviously are not, because there is only one reason that each of these congregations have left.

    Note that your #1 (which started this) was arguing that the congregations should not have “wasted” everyone’s time and money by resisitng TEC attempts to take their properties from them. In other words, you were not so much referring to the legal situation (which is not resolved yet in any case), but to the morality of whether the congregations should have resisted TEC’s lawsuits.

    As soon as you go to that moral dimension, you then have to ask ‘What were the moral reasons for them leaving in the first place?’. At that point, the issues of K J Schori’s open endorsement of apostasy, and of TEC permitting the consecration of practicing homosexuals as bishops, are seen to be directly and primarily relevant.
    [blockquote] “I think it is well understood by many, perhaps even most, Episcopalians that there is a problem with the national leadership of the church.” [/blockquote]
    Which could mean anything, or nothing. I referred to specifics: the endorsement by the national leadership of (a) Spong’s apostasy and (b) the consecration of practicing homosexuals as bishops.