Report on the thirteenth day of trial from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
July 24, 2014 (Day 13)
Thursday was set aside for rebuttal testimony by witnesses for the breakaway plaintiff diocese, but courtroom observers left the building talking about a tense and dramatic episode in which Judge Diane Goodstein grew so angry over a defense objection that she left the courtroom.
Court adjourned about 1:00 p.m. and will resume Friday at 9:30 a.m., with Mark Lawrence scheduled to be called as the first witness.
The episode began a little after noon, when the plaintiffs called Wade Logan back to the stand. Mr. Logan was Chancellor of the diocese when the split occurred and continues in that capacity for the breakaway group. Attorney Henrietta Golding asked him to recall the events of October 2012, when Mark Lawrence was notified that a disciplinary board for bishops had issued a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church.”
The defense had introduced that document as evidence earlier in the trial, as part of the record showing the action taken by The Episcopal Church. Once the certificate was issued, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was required under the canons to immediately place Bishop Lawrence under a “restriction of ministry,” which barred him from performing any ministerial duties and gave him 60 days to respond to the disciplinary board’s findings.
Mr. Logan began to testify about what he believed the correct procedures should have been for delivering the notice of restriction. Mary Kostel, attorney for The Episcopal Church, objected: Throughout the trial, Judge Goodstein has forbidden testimony that goes into the process of how or why ecclesiastical decisions are made, often repeating the phrase “It is what it is, and I can’t go behind that.”
But the judge appeared to want to go behind it on Thursday. She spent a few moments seeming to explain why she thought the plaintiffs were seeking the testimony. “They’re trying to show me – people have due process, right?” she said. Ms. Kostel continued to explain her objection, saying that the document’s purpose was only to show the church’s final determination. As the explanation continued, the judge became visibly angry, finally threatening to sanction Ms. Kostel under Rule 3.1. Then she suddenly called for a 15-minute break, stood up, and rapidly exited the courtroom.
Five minutes later she re-entered, swinging the door shut behind her sharply, sat down at the bench, and said “Let me see that exhibit, please.” A silent courtroom watched as she stared at the paper for a few moments and then said, “You may proceed, Ms. Golding.” Testimony continued for about another 30 minutes. At 1:00 p.m., the plaintiffs called Bishop Lawrence to the stand, but Judge Goodstein then announced she was leaving for the day at 2:00 p.m. The plaintiffs opted to wait until Friday for the testimony; the judge retired and court was adjourned for the day.
Courtroom observers expressed shock and puzzlement at the outburst, unable to explain exactly what in Ms. Kostel’s objection had so angered the judge.
There had been other objections earlier in the morning on similar issues. The first witness of the day was Professor Allen C. Guelzo, Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. Prof. Guelzo was educated at a seminary of The Reformed Episcopal Church, a group that split from The Episcopal Church in the 1870s. He said he was received as a priest into The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Quincy in 2000. (Quincy Episcopalians experienced a schism in 2008, and the remaining Episcopal Church diocese has since merged with the Diocese of Chicago.)
The first question that attorney Alan Runyan had for Prof. Guelzo was: “Is the Episcopal Church organized in a hierarchical structure?” That drew an immediate objection from defense attorneys, who have been told by Judge Goodstein throughout the trial that she will not analyze hierarchical church issues in determining the case. “We kept away from the issue of hierarchy, understanding Your Honor’s ruling on the issue,” Ms. Kostel said.
But the judge allowed Mr. Runyan’s question, slightly rephrased, because she said the topic could be relevant to issues of control that might bear on trademark matters. Asked if TEC is organized “in such a fashion that its governance controls the dioceses and parishes,” Prof. Guelzo said “No.”
He then spoke for about an hour about church history in colonial times, through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. “I can recollect nothing which insists on a permanent subordination,” he said. But the professor noted that he has little knowledge of church polity or history in the last 100 years or so. “The Twentieth Century fades away for me,” he said.
David Beers, attorney for The Episcopal Church, asked him to look at the 2009 Constitution and Canons of the church for provisions that, for example, prohibit the consecration of anyone under age 30 as a bishop, and require bishops retire at age 72. “That’s mandatory language, isn’t it?”
“It’s descriptive language,” the professor said. Mr. Beers had the professor read the preamble to the Constitution, which says that it “sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church” – but Prof. Guelzo said he saw “no attempt to establish a comprehensive authority” in that.
Ms. Kostel and Mr. Beers cross-examined the professor at length, citing other scholarly sources from the same period who wrote saying that General Convention is the highest authority in the church and that dioceses may not unilaterally withdraw. The professor dismissed those works as “partisan statements by Ritualists or Anglo-Catholics” and proposed that his sources were “learned treatises,” primarily “The Episcopal Church and Its Work,” a 1955 book by Powel Mills Dawley.
Also testifying on Thursday was the Rev. Bob Lawrence (no relation to Mark Lawrence), who is director of Camp St. Christopher under the breakaway group. He testified that the camp allows non-members of the breakaway group to use the camp along with others in the general public. He acknowledged that no one from the continuing Episcopal Church diocese is on the camp’s Board of Directors, including Bishop vonRosenberg.
Nancy Armstrong, assistant treasurer of the breakaway group, testified that she had researched funds sent by the Diocese of South Carolina over the years to The Episcopal Church, and compared that amount with funds received by the diocese from the Church and related organizations. She said the figures she compiled showed the diocese had sent $117 to The Episcopal Church for every $1 received in aid, in figures not adjusted for inflation.