Report on the eleventh day of trial from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
The main witness for the defense on Tuesday was Mark Duffy, Canonical Archivist and Director of Archives for The Episcopal Church. Based in Austin, Texas, Mr. Duffy has been overseeing the archives since 1992. They include records kept in both Texas and New York City for all the boards and official bodies of the church, General Convention, and the individual dioceses.
Under direct examination by attorney David Beers, Mr. Duffy authenticated and described dozens of historic documents to be admitted as evidence for the defense. The testimony was slow going: On almost every document, the plaintiffs objected about the relevance of the documents or the format in which they were presented.
Previously, the breakaway group’s attorneys had objected to having diocesan journals introduced in their entirety, and asked instead for selected excerpts to be pulled out and presented, which the defense did. However, on Tuesday when defense attorneys began introducing documents from journals of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in that format – offering only the pages containing the information to be introduced – the plaintiffs objected and said the entire journals should have been introduced instead.
Another long discussion ensued when the defense began introducing evidence that Mr. Duffy found in the archives concerning grants, loans and other forms of support that flowed from The Episcopal Church to the Diocese of South Carolina and individuals in the diocese over the years.
Over the course of history, groups within the church that have been known by names such as the “Board of Missions,” the “American Church Missionary Society,” the “National Council,” the Executive Council” and the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society” have archived records that reflect various types of support to South Carolina.
The plaintiffs repeatedly tried to persuade the judge that these groups were completely separate entities from The Episcopal Church. The breakaway attorneys also complained that they had received the archived documents only recently, but defense attorney Mary Kostel pointed out that they had been turned over in December. Mr. Duffy and Mr. Beers explained at length the relationships, history and governance of these groups, and eventually Judge Goodstein admitted the reports as evidence.
Some of the documents were not admitted on Tuesday but were marked for identification as an “offer of proof.” One example was a collection of 18th-century journals from the dioceses of the original states of the United States, showing their compliance with the canons of The Episcopal Church.
Also disallowed, but marked for identification, was a 1964 amendment to the constitution of The Episcopal Church that prohibits dioceses from changing their boundaries or ceding territory without approval from General Convention.
The judge indicated that the documents may be admitted as evidence later if further testimony helps her “connect the dots” about how they relate to what happened in South Carolina.
For example, a resolution in 2009 in support of “continuing dioceses” helps to demonstrate the dioceses are not allowed to leave The Episcopal Church, Mr. Beers said. But since it does not mention South Carolina on its face, the judge said more foundation would be needed to prove its relevance.
Mr. Beers said the document is important because it’s “a clear expression on the policy and polity of the church” and says directly that any alteration to a diocese’s constitution that removes unqualified accession to the national church is null and void. “Dioceses can’t leave. That’s our polity,” Mr. Beers said.
However, the judge again stated that she believes South Carolina is not “a hierarchical jurisdiction” and that it’s up to her to decide if the church’s determinations on such matters have any relevance.
Mr. Beers said that the documents also may be useful to demonstrate that there was a mutual understanding between the diocese and The Episcopal Church. In return for the benefits of membership in The Episcopal Church over the years, the diocese chose to abide by the church’s governance. Documents that show the polity of the national church could help the court determine if the diocese breached its agreements with The Episcopal Church, he said.
Tuesday’s second witness was introduced by way of a deposition: The Reverend Thomas Rickenbaker, a retired priest who lives in Spartanburg and was not available to attend the trial. The deposition he gave in June was read into the record. He testified that in 2005-2006, he was approached as a potential nominee for bishop of South Carolina. That search process eventually resulted in Mark Lawrence’s election.
Fr. Rickenbaker recalled that two members of the search committee, the Rev. Greg Kronz and the Rev. Paul Fuener, visited him at his former parish in North Carolina to interview him. The first question posed to him, Fr. Rickenbaker said, was: “What can you do to help us leave The Episcopal Church and take our property with us?” Fr. Rickenbaker said he expressed shock and surprise that such a question was asked of him, and told them, “If that’s what they were looking for, that they were looking to the wrong guy.”
As testimony drew to a close Tuesday, attorneys for all parties were still working out the details of admitting various parish-related historic documents as evidence for the defense. More defense witnesses are expected on Wednesday morning. Attorneys for both sides have told the court they hope to wrap up the trial on Wednesday. Court will reconvene at 9:30 a.m.