A DIOCESE in South Carolina which broke away from the Episcopal Church in the United States after years of disagreements over issues including the ordination of openly gay clerics has lost a drawn-out legal battle to keep its name.
The breakaway diocese was known as the Diocese of South Carolina. It left the Episcopal Church in 2012 (News, 23 November 2012). The parties have since been entangled in a dispute over the right of the congregations of the breakaway diocese to retain their identity and property, including 29 parish churches valued at $500 million (News, 15 June 2018).
On 21 September, however, a district court in Charleston ruled in favour of the Episcopal Church and its diocese — the Episcopal Church in South Carolina — in a trademark case that compelled the breakaway diocese to change its name. The Judge, Richard M. Gergel, issued an injunction which prevented the breakaway diocese and its parishes from using the original seal and names of the diocese. These are: “Diocese of South Carolina”, “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”, and “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina”.
The Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the Rt Revd Gladstone B. Adams III, said that he was grateful for the court’s clarity.
“While we are thankful, we know that this decision may be difficult for those from the disassociated diocese, and our hope remains that we can all find a path to true reconciliation and restoration of our diocese.”
Although lawyers of the breakaway diocese and its parishes expect an appeal, its standing committee voted unanimously to change its name to the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.
The president of the standing committee, the Revd Marcus Kaiser, who serves as Rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter, Sumter, said: “We’re disappointed, of course, but changing our name doesn’t change who we are, or who we’ve ever been. It simply changes the name under which we operate.”
The Rt Revd Mark Lawrence was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina until the split in 2012, when the Episcopal Church ruled that he had abandoned communion between the Church and his diocese. His ministry was restricted by the then Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Separately, there are two ongoing state cases concerning the ownership of parish and diocesan property. The judge on one of the cases ruled in August that the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina could recover the value of any improvements made to parish and diocesan property if it was decided that the Episcopal Church was entitled to those properties.
Click here to read a timeline of the dispute.