StandFirm in Faith has published (with permission) an email from the rector of the Episcopal Church (USA)'s parish of All Saints Waccamaw in South Carolina. Some of its members had previously filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court to review the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court, rendered last September, which held that the Dennis Canon was ineffective by itself to create any trust interest in Episcopal parish property in South Carolina, as I discussed in this earlier post.
The email discloses that the Episcopal parish of All Saints Waccamaw has reached an agreement with the AMiA parish of All Saints Waccamaw, which withdrew from ECUSA in 2003, and which had ultimately (in the South Carolina Supreme Court) prevailed in the lawsuit brought against it by the Episcopal parish, as well as in an earlier lawsuit brought against it by the Diocese of South Carolina and by ECUSA itself.
The significant news about this settlement is that there is no indication that ECUSA or 815 Second Avenue participated to the slightest degree in the resolution of the lawsuit. From my previous post about the appeal, recall that the posture of this case in the United States Supreme Court was as follows.
There had been two lawsuits before the South Carolina Supreme Court. The first, which began in 2000, was brought by All Saints Parish, Waccamaw against the Diocese and ECUSA to establish that it owned the title to its property notwithstanding (among other reasons) the Dennis Canon. A second suit was filed in 2005 by the vestry appointed by Bishop Salmon to replace the vestry of the parish that had voted to realign with the Anglican Mission in America, an affiliate of the Anglican Province of Rwanda. The two lawsuits were eventually consolidated for trial, and then ultimately for appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
As I explained in this post, the petition for review filed by the ECUSA parish created some potential complexities for the relations between ECUSA and the Diocese of South Carolina, headed by Bishop Lawrence. The situation was further complicated by the fact that ECUSA itself chose not to file its own petition (or to ask for an extension, as did the parish) by the December 2009 deadline within which to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for review.
That failure left ECUSA only the option to file a separate brief in support of the petition for review (and not a petition in its own right), as I described in this earlier post. But a brief in support of somebody else's petition for review does not preserve the same rights as does a petition for review filed by a party to the judgment below. ECUSA's right to a review of the South Carolina decision, therefore, depended entirely on the merits of the petition filed by the parish.
Rule 12 (6) of the Supreme Court's Rules provides in part:
All parties other than the petitioner are considered respondents, but any respondent who supports the position of a petitioner shall meet the petitioner’s time schedule for filing documents, except that a response supporting the petition shall be filed within 20 days after the case is placed on the docket, and that time will not be extended.
Accordingly, because it did not file its own petition for review within the deadline, ECUSA was a "respondent" before the Supreme Court -- a "respondent in support of petitioner [All Saints parish]," to be exact. And now, because the petitioner All Saints (ECUSA) parish has agreed to settle with the respondent All Saints (AMiA) parish, that leaves ECUSA with no petition to support. Rule 46 (2) (a) of the Rules of the Supreme Court provides:
2. (a) A petitioner or appellant may file a motion to dismiss the case, with proof of service as required by Rule 29, tendering to the Clerk any fees due and costs payable. No more than 15 days after service thereof, an adverse party may file an objection, limited to the amount of damages and costs in this Court alleged to be payable or to showing that the moving party does not represent all petitioners or appellants. The Clerk will not file any objection not so limited.
By Rule 12 (6), ECUSA became a "respondent", and not a "petitioner" or "appellant". However, its position as a respondent was not adverse to the petitioner All Saints parish, within the meaning of Rule 46 (2) (a), because ECUSA filed its own brief in support of the petition filed by All Saints. From this it follows that the power to dismiss the petition for review belongs to All Saints (ECUSA) parish, and to that parish alone. It will be up to an "adverse party" to object to the motion to dismiss, and by the announced settlement, there will be no such objection filed.
Thus there will be no chance of the Supreme Court accepting review of the South Carolina Supreme Court decision (that chance was already minimal, anyway -- as ECUSA's own attorneys appeared to recognize). Upon the filing of the parish's motion pursuant to the settlement agreement, the Clerk will wait the required 15 days, and then will enter an order dismissing the case.
At that point, the decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court will become the the law in South Carolina: the Dennis Canon will be everywhere and forever ineffective, within the borders of that State, to create any kind of trust interest in any Episcopal parish in favor of either the Diocese of South Carolina -- or the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, for that matter. The Dennis Canon will, in short, be dead in South Carolina.
This fact of life will have several repercussions for the current witch hunt which the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA has been conducting against the Right Reverend Mark Lawrence and his Diocese. In the first place, it will completely remove, as the grounds for any charges of "abandonment of the communion of this Church", Bishop Lawrence's and his Diocese's failure to join in ECUSA's brief in support of the petitioning parish. For if ECUSA was unwilling to file its own petition within the prescribed time limits, so as to preserve its rights, then the Diocese can scarcely be faulted for failing to file a brief in support of the parish's petition by the required deadline -- since ECUSA's failure left the parish in complete control of the proceedings to seek review.
But the second and even more important repercussion will be that ECUSA's strategy of "take no prisoners" will have been rendered completely ineffective within the State of South Carolina (and its two Dioceses). Such a strategy depends entirely for its success upon the upholding of the Dennis Canon as having created a valid trust, and the South Carolina Supreme Court has unequivocally held that the Dennis Canon accomplishes no such purpose. From the date the petition for review is dismissed by the Supreme Court Clerk, ECUSA and its Presiding Bishop will be powerless to threaten parishes in the State with any sanctions for leaving, or realigning.
And finally, this end result will emasculate (in South Carolina, at least) ECUSA's outlandish claim to be a "second Church" in the State, separate and apart from the two Dioceses themselves. ECUSA and 815 will be unable thereafter to bring about a different result in any court in the State by citing the Dennis Canon. (Of course, as this commenter expresses, hope always springs eternal.)
And the converse of this observation will be a strengthening of the hand of Bishop Lawrence. For now we see, by the settlement as communicated, the wisdom of his announced policy of not trying to alienate any further the parishes which had already become alienated from ECUSA. I predict that the settlement in Waccamaw Neck, when its details become public, will bear out fully the wisdom of Bishop Lawrence's announced intention to lower the heat against realigning parishes, and those thinking about realignment -- and to deal with the problem as Christians, guided by the words of St. Paul. This development will, in its turn, further undercut 815's disastrous litigation strategy, and light the way to further and future settlements along the same lines, as I suggested some time ago might be possible in this post.
As an attorney, I am always happy when clients and their opponents agree to bury the hatchet. But as the Chancellor for an Episcopal Church, I am doubly happy when my fellow Christians see the wisdom in the words of St. Paul. And I am triply happy for all the good parishioners of the Diocese of South Carolina, who are most fortunate to have a godly bishop who is blazing the way for all other Episcopalians to follow -- and who (not deliberately, of course, but simply out of his sheer willingness to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul) is pointing up the un-Christianlike and scripturally invalid policies being followed by the Presiding Bishop.
Godspeed, Bishop Lawrence! Godspeed, the Diocese of South Carolina, and both of the parishes of All Saints Waccamaw! Blessings be upon you, now and unto all future generations, and may your light so shine before other Episcopalians that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven.