Seven bishops and the Dallas-based Anglican Communion Institute filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court Monday regarding The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v The Episcopal Church.
“These amici remain in The Episcopal Church and submit this brief solely because they disagree with the characterization of the governance of The Episcopal Church as submitted in support of the motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted in this case,” the brief says. “The amici oppose the decision by the Appellants (‘Diocese of Fort Worth’) to leave The Episcopal Church, but in its ruling against them the court has misunderstood, and thereby damaged, the constitutional structure of The Episcopal Church.
“These amici curiae support the traditional polity of The Episcopal Church founded on the autonomy of its constituent dioceses and therefore submit that the trial court erred both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law when it found that The Episcopal Church has a hierarchical authority superior to the diocese and its bishop.”
The brief names three priests as amici curiae:
- The Rev. Christopher R. Seitz, president of the ACI;
- The Very Rev. Philip W. Turner, ACI vice president;
- The Rev. Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto, and senior fellow of the ACI. Radner, like many seminary faculty, retains canonical residency where he served previously — in his case, the Diocese of Colorado.
The brief also names seven bishops as amici curiae:
- The Rt. Rev. Maurice M. Benitez, retired, Diocese of Texas;
- The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, retired, Diocese of Central Florida;
- The Rt. Rev. Paul E. Lambert, bishop suffragan, Diocese of Dallas;
- The Rt. Rev. William H. Love, Diocese of Albany;
- The Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Diocese of West Louisiana;
- The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Diocese of Springfield;
- The Rt. James M. Stanton, Diocese of Dallas.
“The position of the ACI/Episcopal Bishops and Clergy is that the summary judgment ruling by the trial court violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because it necessarily immersed the court in an impermissible ‘searching’ and ‘extensive inquiry into religious polity,’” the brief says. “Under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, courts may constitutionally apply a deference standard only if they can identify the appropriate ecclesiastical authority without conducting such an extensive inquiry.
“In the case of The Episcopal Church, its governing constitution specifies that the diocesan bishop is ‘the Ecclesiastical Authority’ in the diocese. Acceptance of Appellees’ claim that there are bodies or offices with hierarchical supremacy over the diocesan bishop would require the Court to become embroiled in a searching historical analysis of difficult questions of church polity without any explicit language in the church’s governing instrument on which to base its conclusion. The First Amendment does not permit such a result.”
Photo: Texas Supreme Court Building, Austin. Wikimedia Commons
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