Report on the twelfth day of trial from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg testified on Wednesday, describing how local Episcopalians went about keeping the Episcopal Church’s recognized diocese in operation in eastern South Carolina after its former leaders announced they were leaving the church.
Bishop vonRosenberg told how he had retired as Bishop of East Tennessee in 2011 and moved to Charleston with his wife Annie to be with their sons and six grandchildren. But after the departure of Bishop Mark Lawrence and others from The Episcopal Church, Bishop vonRosenberg was elected Provisional Bishop at a special convention on January 26, 2013. He was immediately installed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and now serves as bishop to 30 congregations in the eastern half of South Carolina.
In his testimony, Bishop vonRosenberg named the fundamental authorities of The Episcopal Church: General Convention, the Constitution and Canons of the national church, the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, and the Bible. He described the basic duties of bishops: visiting churches, examining their records, leading worship, preaching, confirming those who want to make a mature public commitment to their baptismal vows, and other pastoral duties.
Under direct examination from Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., the bishop noted that since becoming bishop, he has not had access to diocesan assets and institutions such Camp St. Christopher or assets of the Trustees.
The Bishop also described instances of confusion that have arisen because the breakaway group is continuing to use the name and marks of the diocese.
For example, one person was intending to register for an Episcopal Church diocesan event, but mistakenly sent the registration fee to the breakaway diocese. That organization later sent the check to TECSC. In another case, a parish church that uses an outside service to pay its bills accidentally sent balance of its diocesan pledge (money promised by parishes in support of the diocese) to the breakaway group.
More confusion has arisen about confirmation, which can be performed only by a bishop in The Episcopal Church. In some cases, people participated in rites under Mark Lawrence after he had officially been restricted from his ministry as a bishop in The Episcopal Church.
“These several people came to me and asked to be confirmed as Episcopalians,” Bishop vonRosenberg said. He went on to confirm them.
Bishop vonRosenberg was a member of the House of Bishops during the time when two other Episcopal Church bishops tried to lead their dioceses out of The Episcopal Church, and later were deposed – removed from office – for those actions.
However, on an objection from the breakaway group’s attorneys, Judge Diane Goodstein barred him from testifying about how those bishops were removed – actions demonstrating that taking a diocese out of the church is a violation of the national church’s polity.
The judge addressed the courtroom at length about how she sees the case. In her opinion, she said, church polity does not figure into the decision.
“When it comes to the question of whether the diocese can leave, I’m going to make that determination under neutral principles of South Carolina law,” she said. “If The Episcopal Church says that it’s the polity of the church that no one can ever leave the church, and that differs from what South Carolina civil law says, I’m going to follow South Carolina civil law.”
The trial is expected to continue on Thursday and into Friday, as the breakaway group announced to the judge late today that it plans to offer several more witnesses in rebuttal to earlier testimony.
One such witness was the Rev. Greg Kronz, who was a member of the bishop search committee that nominated Mark Lawrence in 2006. On Tuesday, the Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker testified by deposition that Rev. Kronz and the Rev. Paul Fuener had interviewed him and said they were looking for a bishop who would lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Rev. Kronz said he didn’t ask that question.