A deeply divided South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 3-2 Aug. 2 that some of the breakaway parishes in the state must return properties to the Episcopal Church, but the court was unable to agree about which party has the right to call itself the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
The result of the long-awaited decision, in which each of the justices wrote separate opinions, is that 29 of the parishes that left the Episcopal Church in 2012 must give the keys to their churches to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
A different 3-2 majority ruled that seven of the churches may retain control of their property, because those historic parishes did not formally agree to accept the Dennis Canon. This canon, adopted in 1979 by General Convention, declared that church property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and its dioceses.
The court split 2-2 on the issue of whether the diocese led by the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence has the rights to the Diocese of South Carolina name and service marks. Chief Justice Donald Beatty declined to rule on the issue, saying it should be resolved in federal court. This leaves in place the portion of a 2014 trial court opinion that the breakaway diocese had obtained state trademarks and enjoined the remaining parishes from calling themselves the Diocese of South Carolina.
The Rt. Rev. Gladstone “Skip” Adams III issued a statement expressing gratitude that the decision “is generally in favor of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.” He and the diocese may soon have to decide how to use or dispose of empty church properties worth an estimated $500 million.