The Episcopal Church and its local supporters in Fort Worth have suffered a second defeat from the Texas Supreme Court. On August 30, 2013, the high court reversed a lower-court decision that favored TEC’s claim to all church property in the Diocese of Fort Worth, which left the denomination in 2008. Today the Court denied TEC’s subsequent motion to rehear the case which now returns to the lower court for a new hearing and summary judgment based on neutral principles of law, not deference to a hierarchical church. We praise God for this very good news.
Some speculate that TEC will now seek a review of the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court as a further delaying tactic, but given past decisions on cases similar to this, it is highly unlikely that such a request would be granted. In recent appeals, the SCOTUS has left church property disputes to each state Supreme Court to decide. Moreover, the Texas Supreme Court will issue its mandate referring the case to the trial court, regardless of any such filing.
Shelby Sharpe, a member of the Diocese’s legal team, explains, “According to Blake Hawthorne, the clerk of the Court in Austin, the mandate should issue today and be received next week by the clerk of the 141st District Court here in Fort Worth. The receipt of the mandate places the case back for trial. Whether there will be a TEC appeal to the United States Supreme Court, we will find out in due course. Regardless, proceedings will resume in the 141st following receipt of the mandate. We expect a favorable outcome based on the opinions in our case and the San Angelo case. The entire legal team gives thanks to the Lord for this victory, and we thank the Supreme Court for its diligent work on this case.
“Next, we will file a motion to set aside the supersedeas bond and recover the $100,000 placed in the registry of the court over two years ago. This will also remove the monthly requirement on congregations to give financial reports to our opponents.”
The ruling comes as great encouragement to the Diocese of Fort Worth (formed in 1982) and signals a favorable outcome in the dispute with TEC over property and assets, which has been going on for the past six years.
“We are greatly relieved by the finality of the Court’s ruling,” Bishop Iker said. “TEC’s rehearing strategy has delayed us from moving on with this case by more than six months and at the cost of several thousands of dollars to oppose it. My advice is that TEC cut its losses and get on with their life without the Diocese of Fort Worth. Their litigation strategy has failed.”
Let us continue to give thanks to God for his blessings and for answered prayer.