A.S. Haley: On the Oral Arguments in South Carolina
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Your Curmudgeon watched the arguments in the case of Bishop Lawrence and his diocese and parishes against the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina yesterday, and reviewed the tape carefully once again as archived. The event must have seemed dispiriting to those who supported the trial court's decision, because Judge Goodstein came in for a substantial amount of criticism for excluding evidence that ECUSA wanted to put on -- as it was able to do in San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh -- concerning its "hierarchical" structure.
Indeed, much of the argument seemed to dwell upon whether the national Church should be deemed hierarchical, and if so, whether that classification would make a difference to the outcome. And that is precisely where ECUSA and its attorneys wanted to focus it. (How they succeeded in pulling off that strategy will be the subject of my following post.)
For ECUSA and its attorneys, the world of church property law began and ended with Watson v. Jones, an 1872 decision by the United States Supreme Court that, among other irrelevant observations (called "obiter dicta", or "things said beside the point"), offered the view that the then-established Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was hierarchical. The opinion furnished no analysis or justification for that observation, but simply included PECUSA in a group of churches that the Court contrasted with those it termed "congregational."... the rest
In the South Carolina Supreme Court yesterday, ECUSA's attorney argued exclusively for deference to it as a "hierarchical" church. (Never mind that the only true hierarchical relationships in ECUSA are between a diocesan bishop and his subordinate clergy, and in some cases between an individual member parish and its governing diocese. There is no body within ECUSA -- not its General Convention, its Presiding Bishop, or its Executive Council -- which can order or make a Diocese to do anything that diocese does not choose to do. The relationship between the national Church and its dioceses is thus voluntary, for as long as the parties want to continue it, and may be dissolved at any time by taking the appropriate steps to amend the diocese's governing documents. The national Church, again, has no power to prevent a Diocese from so amending its governing documents.)SC Supreme Court hears arguments in Episcopal Church breakup saga