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Episcopal Church loses Fort Worth property

06 September 2013

by a staff reporter

THE Supreme Court of Texas has narrowly overturned a previous ruling ordering the surrender of all property from realigned congregations, ensuring that the five-year-long dispute is prolonged even further (News, 28 January 2011).

The dispute started when a majority of the congregations in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, led by the then Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker, voted to realign themselves with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America. He kept the church buildings of his congregations -which are worth an estimated $100 million.

The Episcopal Church sued, and a district court in 2011 said that Bishop Iker and his supporters must surrender all diocesan property, and "not hold themselves out as leaders of the diocese".

Bishop Iker immediately announced that they would appeal, arguing that the court needed to view the properties under a "neutral principles" standard created by the US Supreme Court. That standard determines ownership by looking at property records, and has been used in most states to resolve church disputes. Their appeal was narrowly upheld this week, by a 5-4 vote.

The Bishop of Forth Worth, the Rt Revd Rayford High, said after the Texas Supreme Court ruling that he was "disappointed".

"Now I, other diocesan leaders, and our legal team . . . have to make decisions about our next steps," he said.

The case has now been returned to a lower court to be reconsidered.

Bishop Iker said: "While today's opinions are not a final victory, they indicate that a final victory is only a matter of time."

The Texas Supreme Court also overturned another ruling in a church land-dispute this week, reversing the Court of Appeals' decision requiring the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo to turn over its building and all other assets to the diocese of Northwest Texas.

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