CHARLESTON, SC, JUNE 15, 2015 – The parishes of the Diocese of South Carolina in the lawsuit against the Episcopal Church have unanimously rejected what the Episcopal Church called a “settlement offer” that would have required them to voluntarily give up the historical identity and property that a South Carolina Circuit Court judge has ruled is owned by the Diocese.
The offer was made by a local attorney who represents the 20 percent of members who remained with TEC when most of the Diocese disaffiliated in 2012. It promised that TEC would end its multimillion dollar legal campaign to seize local church properties if the parishes agree to hand over the Diocese’s identity, its other assets and the St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center, which is prime real estate that could be sold off by the cash-strapped denomination.
“This is not a legitimate offer of good faith negotiation and never was intended to be,” said the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, Assistant to Bishop Mark Lawrence. “Rather it is a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by TEC to salvage a victory and avoid another courtroom defeat,” Lewis said. “As a matter of fact, the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor is on record as saying they would never settle. In that, they have been utterly consistent up until now.”
“Judge Diane Goodstein ruled that TEC has ‘no legal, equitable or beneficial interest’ in these properties. TEC appealed the matter and a hearing is scheduled before the South Carolina Supreme Court in September. If TEC were confident of its case, it would not attempt this desperate effort to scare our members into granting them a victory they cannot achieve in court. The proposal has been unanimously rejected by all parties.”
Lewis gave several other reasons for challenging the legitimacy of the offer.
“First, if it had been legitimate, it would have come from someone with authority to bind all the parties on the Episcopal Church side,” he said. Attorneys for the Diocese contacted the Episcopal Church requesting proof of authority, including the signature of the legal counsel for The Episcopal Church, but never received a response.
“Equally important,” said Lewis, “a valid settlement offer would have come to the Diocese’s lead counsel for this litigation, not to individual parish representatives. After nearly two weeks from the time of the original ‘offer’ that contact had still not been made.”
Lewis also pointed to the timing of the offer as the real reason it was made.
The Episcopal Church gave the Diocese until June 15, the day the Diocese had to submit a brief to the South Carolina Supreme Court, in response to TEC’s appeal of a lower court ruling asserting the Diocese’s ownership of its properties and identity.
“The timing here is not coincidental,” said Lewis. “The time and energy our attorneys had to devote to this non-offer was significant. That cannot be overstated.
“TEC has never, in the 90-plus cases litigated nationwide, agreed to a settlement,” said Lewis. “That’s what we were trying to pursue when they attempted to remove Bishop Lawrence This is not an attempt to end the litigation but rather to disrupt it – and to do so when we are only one hearing away from its final conclusion.”