TEC Attorney admits TEC Constitution does not prevent a diocese from leaving the denomination. Judge refuses to consider evidence about whether TEC is hierarchical.
(ST. GEORGE, SC)– An attorney for The Episcopal Church on Monday acknowledged that – despite TEC’s repeated claim that dioceses may not leave the denomination – there is nothing in the group’s constitution that specifically prohibits such a disassociation.
“It’s true it doesn’t say whether a diocese in the U.S. can or cannot [leave],” said Mary Kostel, attorney for TEC. “It’s arguably ambiguous.”
The comment came during the 10th day of trial in suit to prevent TEC from seizing the property of the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes. Much of the morning was spent in a discussion between attorneys and Judge Diane S. Goodstein about the admissibility of testimony by historian Walter Edgar, a professor at the University of South Carolina.
Though Edgar was not identified as an expert witness, TEC wanted him to testify about his expertise and provide opinions on the hierarchical nature of TEC and to demonstrate that it has authority over its dioceses and parishes. But Judge Goodstein denied that he would be allowed to.
This is the second time in this trial that TEC failed to follow the rules on the use of witnesses. “When he shifts from saying ‘this is what it says,’ to ‘this is what it means’ we’ve crossed into expert testimony,” she said.
Judge Goodstein acknowledged that she understands TEC’s attorneys want to introduce the idea of a hierarchical denomination in order to pave the way for an expected appeal. However, she made clear that the claim is irrelevant to the case under South Carolina law.
“Let me be very clear that in every way the defendants [TEC attorneys] have done everything within their ability to establish the hierarchal nature of this church. I accept that,” she said. “Our courts have said we will not enforce the hierarchical decisions. We’re a neutrality state.”
The afternoon was spent with Edgars literally reading highlighted excerpts from numerous journals of the Diocese of South Carolina, showing that the Diocese participated in TEC activities and adhered to its rules while the Diocese was a member of the denomination. The diocese has never disputed that fact.
In fact, during the morning discussion before Edgars even began his testimony, Diocese of South Carolina attorney Henrietta Golding said, “If you’re a member of a club or fraternity, you abide by the laws. …There’s no relevance that the Diocese followed the Constitution and Canons. They were together at that time. There’s no significance because a party to this action followed the rules. We were members then.”
Edgar also spent some time testifying about individual financial contributions TEC had sent to the diocese and its parishes through the years. While he never mentioned a total number, after reading page after page of excerpts, it was clear that the denomination had provided several thousands of dollars.
However, when asked in cross-examination by Alan Runyon, lead attorney for the Plaintiff, Dr. Edgar testified that he had not been asked to, nor did he attempt to, see how much money the diocese had voluntarily given to TEC during the same time TEC says the Diocese received grants and loans “It could even be 900 percent more than you testified TEC has given over the same period and you do not know because you did not ask?” Runyan said.
About the Diocese of South Carolina
The Diocese was founded in 1785 by the parishes of the former South Carolina colony. Based in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Diocese is one of the oldest religious districts in the United States and counts among its members several of the oldest, operating churches in the nation.
The Diocese of South Carolina is recognized by Anglican Dioceses and Provinces around the world, many of whom have broken fellowship with The Episcopal Church, and in 2013 the Diocese joined the global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and entered into a formal relationship of Provisional Primatial Oversight with Global South primates.