Many in Anglican and Episcopal blogland have gotten caught up in the legal proceedings in South Carolina and Texas this past week. Aside from show our collective ignorance of the fine points of legal-speak, very little light has been thrown on the subject.
In the case of the Texas ruling, about the best we can say is that the ruling was very simple, but the conversation was very complex. There was no clarity at all about the substance of the case, except to say it is still alive. Exaggerated reports abounded.
In the case of the ruling by the Supreme Court in South Carolina, it appears that the isolated and specific situation of All Saints, Pawleys Island,, was such that the Court held that the parish was indeed holder of its title quite apart from the Diocese, who at an earlier time had actually worked with the parish to establish its separate status. The blosphere has been excited by the possibility that this either makes the "Dennis" canon no longer valid or that this is a case that parallels others and therefore provides precedence. I think this is all wishful thinking.
When the excitement dies down I think it will become apparent that the specifics of the case were very specific and unique to this situation. It says very little to other cases. And, of course, it is unclear if this will stand without further redress. We shall see.
I am interested that the Canons of the Church hold for members of this church, which I understand includes its lay and ordained leadership. So when leaders are ordained, elected, or chosen they lead within the pledge to uphold the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. The results ought to be that quite independent of the legal status of the deeds for land and proofs of ownership, the leadership has pledged to abide by the CandC of the church.
The State has no business determining if vestry persons have fulfilled their responsibility re the Constitution and Canons. That is for the Church to decide. So the State of South Carolina may have been correct to say the deed was in the hands of the vestry who disengaged with The Episcopal Church. I don't know. But I do know that that vestry was in violation of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.
Interestingly, the so called "Dennis Canon" was accompanied by another canonical provision, I.7.5 that states, "The several Dioceses may, at their election, further confirm the trust declared under the forgoing Section 4 by appropriate action, but no such action shall be necessary for the existence and validity of the trust." The Diocese of South Carolina apparently attempted to extract such a confirmation of the trust from All Saints at about the time that they were voting to leave The Episcopal Church.
I think the Texas hearing is very preliminary. My sense is the South Carolina judgment will stand unless someone had the courage to take it to the US Supreme Court on some basis having to do with South Carolina mucking about in the fields of Episcopal Church polity where it ought not go.
But what do I know? Obviously not much. I am not a lawyer.
I am a priest, however. And as a priest my sense is the folk of All Saints may or may not have been right in taking the property in this very peculiar case, but their vestry was not acting as a vestry of The Episcopal Church when they did so. They were either ignorant of their responsibilities as vestry members in a Diocese of The Episcopal Church, or they ignored the implications of such office, having already left in spirit.
I believe that we in the blogsphere need to step back from immediate reading of the tea leaves in such matters. One of the interesting things about the legal mind is that it brews its mix like tea leaves steeped in the pot. All the rest of us dash madly about trying to make sense of the position of the tea leaves in the pot, but the lawyers are waiting for another day, another stirring, another reading to come.
My sense is that we might hold back from early commentary and see what the lawyers will do.