1/23/2011

Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (part of the Episcopal Church) wins round, but next round is coming.

Friday the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth received a favorable ruling from the Court and the property held by those who have left The Episcopal Church is to be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.  But that, of course is not the end of the matter. Those who have left and still hold the property and accounts (the Iker / Southern Cone church) plan to appeal. So it goes on. (Sigh...)

The news of the Court's ruling for The Episcopal Church Diocese of Fort Worth, posted on Friday, can be read HERE.


 On January 22nd, Saturday, the Iker/Southern Cone Diocese (labeled by the Star Telegram "Iker's group") posted the following:

Diocese and Corporation announce intention
to appeal trial court ruling


On Friday afternoon, Jan. 21, attorneys for the Diocese and Corporation received two orders from the Hon. John Chupp in the matter of the main suit against us, in which a minority of former members has been joined by The Episcopal Church in an effort to claim diocesan property. Judge Chupp signed an order drafted by the plaintiffs' attorneys, from which he struck several points with which he did not apparently agree. The order does find that TEC is a hierarchical church, and on that basis the judge has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge's order can be read here.

Friday's ruling from the trial court is a disappointment but not a disaster. The plaintiffs have offered no evidence, either in the courtroom or in their voluminous filings, supporting their claim that the Diocese was not entitled to withdraw from The Episcopal Church, as it did in November 2008. Nor have they demonstrated a legal right to our property, which is protected by Texas statutes regulating trusts and non-profit corporations.

On the contrary, it is our position that the judge's order does not conform to Texas law, and we are therefore announcing our plans to appeal the decision without delay. We believe that the final decision, whenever it is signed by Judge Chupp based on these orders, will not be sustained on appeal. According to our lead attorney, Shelby Sharpe, “These orders appear to be contrary to the earlier opinion from the Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth and current decisions from both that court and the Supreme Court of Texas.”

In response to the ruling, Bishop Iker has said, “We are obviously disappointed by Judge Chupp’s ruling and see it as fundamentally flawed. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will carefully consider our appeal and will rule in accordance with neutral principles of law as practiced in the State of Texas. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on mission and outreach in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying for the judges who will take up our appeal.”

We give thanks to God in all circumstances, and we trust in His plans. While we disagree with the judge's ruling, we offer our sincere appreciation for the time and study he has given to the case.

11 comments:

  1. I don't think Texas Law will rule other than 'neutral principles' when the dust settles. Judge Chupp probably accepts that his was court always a waystation in a much longer battle, that of necessity will move to the appellate phase.
    But my question is this. What if TEC 'wins'? Even +Ohl appears to be worried about the future. Pittsburgh is bad enough, as a viable diocese for TEC to operate. But what about Ft Worth; is the split on the order of 85%/15%? How can TEC 'win' and not simply have to sell all the churches? Ft Worth is a conservative diocese and isn't just going to change its mind and become happy members of the TEC of the present. Joe

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  2. Once ownership is determined - probably many years from now - the diocese would be able to sell the properties to Iker's group. I wonder how many people in the pews stay in the schismatic parishes because they have always gone there and don't wish to change. We know that the vestries and standing committees plus the new priests in all the dioceses who left were carefully selected by the bishops and others to guarantee support. Were all the parishioners brainwashed to believe their leaders' rejection of TEC on Biblical grounds?

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  3. The split is not 85%/15%. That might be accurate for the convention delegates who voted but the delegates were stacked with Iker like minded folks. In our parish, we know there are many people who are with "us" but just could not bring themselves to leave the building. We are in communication with them & some support us financially. We believe in our case, many will not leave after the transistion to go with Iker but will remain faithful to TEC.

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  4. Those TEC parishes which are still viable will continue; we can sell the rest to Iker et al on reasonable terms. The point is, of course, that they can’t just simply walk off with TEC properties. Obviously, the legal costs to TEC will have to be factored into any deal.

    Kurt Hill
    Brooklyn, NY

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  5. Nobody is purchasing anything yet. No keys are being turned over and probably won't be for a long time, if ever. It is unlikely that Judge Chupp's ruling will stand on appeal. We may be down at half time, but the game isn't over.

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  6. Well, Mark, perhaps. It certainly isn't over until it's over.

    However, the ruling reflects precedent in the Federal Courts; and since this is both a property case and a "free practice of religion" case, it is quite likely to go there.

    To date where cases have reached their conclusion, departing folks have not prevailed. Few have reached that point, and we'll probably here from the Supremes. However, I don't think we can yet say that this case is past the first quarter, much less to half time.

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  7. Mark--I do not mean to be misunderstood. By virtue of the appeal, the property is not shifting hands anytime soon. I agree.
    I read +Ohl's comments and wondered whether he also realised how messy this entire business is going to be: were he to be given the property today, he'd have a huge financial mess on his hands.
    But to return to the point: by virtue of the appeal, no property is going anywhere soon, and I predict the Texas courts will stand by their neutral principles precedent. I think Chupp just handed the case on as he sees the inevitability of a longer process -- no matter who had been preferred in round one. Joe

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  8. PS—1) the impression given by 815 is that properties may not be sold to former TEC churches; 2) if the Diocese of Ft Worth (the numerically sizeable one) actually does lose, what evidence is there that they would buy said properties anyway; I doubt that mightily. So I am completely at a loss to see how this strategy makes any sense. It is an ‘everyone loses’ strategy. And to repeat: I don’t think it will work anyway. The Texas Supreme Court handing over Ft Worth parishes to a NYC headquarters? I'd wager less likely than even SC. Joe

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  9. What neutral principles precedent, rather than the traditional deference to church law demonstrated by most state courts? Chubb cited that deference precedent in his decision! The ONLY state to rule so far in favor of neutral principles is South Carolina, the other state supreme courts all in favor of deference.

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  10. Here's one comment:

    "It's interesting that the judge rejected the "neutral principles" argument as an alternative basis for his ruling given that the Fort Worth Court of Appeals has not only used the neutral principles approach (albeit not in a property case), it has a reputation for reversing summary judgments." If the TX Supremes stand by neutral principles, that will be a major loss for TEC, as the dioceses in TX number five. I find myself in odd agreement with Marshall on timing, however. We are in the first quarter at best. Anyone ever visited FT Worth? It is a very proud/wealthy TX town with lots of Upper East Side Manhattan pied a terre. Good luck with the appeals court...Joe

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  11. I find it interesting that anytime the Southern "Knows" (they see to know everything and we don't) Cone does not agree with anything it is "flawed."

    Their arrogance is amazing.

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