Historic Anglican Diocese of South Carolina recent Legal Developments (IV)–An Analysis by A S Haley

No one disputes, or could dispute, that the newly organized Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC), which was organized for the first time at a meeting of its delegates in January 2013 and immediately recognized as a diocese by ECUSA without going through any of the formalities required by Article V of ECUSA’s Constitution, was regarded by ECUSA as a successor to the Diocese of Bishop Lawrence which had earlier voted to dissociate from General Convention. The vacancy left by that withdrawal obviously required a successor, and so ECSC was it.

But viewed in secular legal terms, the Diocese of Bishop Lawrence had its own continuity of existence. It was still (under South Carolina secular law) the same unincorporated association of clergy and parishes after it voted to withdraw that it was before that vote — it had the same bishop, the same headquarters, telephone number and address, the same employees and records: nothing had changed except for its affiliation with ECUSA.

And most notably, it still owned and possessed the same name, brands and marks as it had before its withdrawal. Those were not given to it by ECUSA, but invented and trademarked by that Diocese on its own, as its own property. Yet thanks to the aside by Justice Beatty in a footnote, the civil law question of legal successorship becomes subsumed under an ecclesiastical question which no one would dispute.

Or, stated another way: from an ecclesiastical law point of view, no one would take issue with Chief Justice Beatty’s assertion. The last thing Bishop Lawrence’s diocese wanted was to be seen as continuing as a member diocese of the apostate ECUSA. But from a civil law point of view, Justice Beatty’s claim is simply wrong on its face. An entity whose existence is recognized under South Carolina secular law does not cease to exist, or become some new entity altogether, simply because it changes its religious affiliation.

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