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Conflict Escalates in South Carolina

As Episcopalians and Anglicans in Pittsburgh were announcing an out-of-court settlement of most of the disputes between them, the battle lines were hardening in South Carolina.

On March 1, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a series of motions seeking to broaden the defendant pool in an ongoing federal trademark lawsuit. The suit seeks to resolve the conflict over which faction has the right to call itself the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Based on a prior ruling, that name currently is being used by the breakaway diocese affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

In 2013, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, who was then the provisional bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese, lodged a trademark infringement suit against the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, who earlier led dozens of South Carolina churches out of the Episcopal Church. The most recent motions seek to add the ACNA diocese and all of its member churches as additional defendants, and to prohibit them from using the word “Episcopal” in their names without also explaining that they are not affiliated with the Episcopal Church.

The motions also ask the federal court to enforce the August 2017 ruling of the state Supreme Court, which ordered 28 breakaway congregations to turn over the church buildings they occupy to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Specifically, the court is asked to order the 28 churches to remove from their vestries any persons who are not “capable of and willing to carry out their fiduciary obligations to the Episcopal Church,” and replace them with persons who will turn over the properties.

The ACNA diocese has filed a petition asking the United States Supreme Court to consider the matter, and no property has changed hands. The Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary for the ACNA diocese, said the high court is scheduled to discuss the petition on March 16.

Kirk Petersen

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