The Diocese left the Episcopal Church in 2012 after years of disagreements over issues including the ordination of openly gay clerics. The parties have since been entangled in a bitter dispute over the right of the congregations of the breakaway Diocese to retain their identity and property, including 29 parish churches valued at $500 million.
In August, the state’s Supreme Court overturned portions of a ruling from 2015 that the Diocese could keep church property, and retain its name. In February 2015, the Circuit Court Judge, Diane Goodstein, had ruled that the separated diocese had the right to leave, and rejected the Episcopal Church’s argument that it had legal interest in the diocese’s property (News, 13 February 2015).
The South Carolina Supreme Court said in a complex 77-page ruling that those parishes that had “acceded” to a canon law, known as the Dennis Canon — which states that a member diocese cannot voluntarily withdraw its membership of the Episcopal Church if its assets are “trusted” in the national body — did not have full rights to retain its property. Only the seven congregations which had not acceded were judged to have these retaining rights.
The Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina, the Revd Jim Lewis, explained on Monday: “Justices decided that, if a parish of the diocese had ever acceded to the governance of the Episcopal Church in written form, then that was considered good enough to qualify as having agreed to the Church having a trust interest in their property. We based our actions on the All Saints’, Pawley’s Island, case back in 2009, which established the precedent that the Dennis Canon did not have effect in the state of South Carolina.”