The Diocese of South Carolina has been pushed out of the Episcopal Church of the USA. The involuntary secession of the 39,000-member diocese comes as charges have been brought against its bishop, the Rt Rev Mark Lawrence for allegedly “abandoning” the communion of the Episcopal Church.
On 17 October 2012 a statement printed on the Diocese’s Website said that two days earlier Bishop Lawrence had been notified by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that on 18 September 2012 “the Disciplinary Board for Bishops had certified his abandonment of The Episcopal Church.”
The diocese reported that Bishop Lawrence was “notified of these actions taken by the Episcopal Church between two meetings, one held on October 3 and one to be held on October 22, which Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Upper Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence had set up with the Presiding Bishop to find a peaceful alternative to the growing issues between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina. The meetings were to explore ‘creative solutions’ for resolving these issues to avoid further turmoil in the Diocese and in The Episcopal Church.”
The diocese noted that “two of the three charges had previously been determined by a majority vote of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops in November 2011 not to constitute abandonment,” however protections against double jeopardy are not given to defendants in Episcopal ecclesiastical proceedings.
The diocese added that it had not been served with a “signed copy of the certification and also remains uninformed of the identity of those making these charges.”
It stated: “We feel a deep sense of sadness but a renewed sense of God’s providence that The Episcopal Church has chosen to act against this Diocese and its Bishop during a good faith attempt peacefully to resolve our differences. These actions make it clear The Episcopal Church no longer desires to be affiliated with the Diocese of South Carolina.”
South Carolina’s diocesan constitution and canons do not recognize the authority of the disciplinary canons inaugurated by the national Church in 2009, and it is unlikely the bishop will make a formal response to the charges — thereby recognizing their jurisdiction over him.
However, the diocesan convention has adopted defence measures against the contingency of a theologically motivated attack by liberal clique currently controlling the Church’s offices in New York and adopted resolutions to protect its independence.
The diocese is also protected by South Carolina law. The state’s Supreme Court has struck down the national Church’s property rules, the “Dennis Canon”, holding they have no legal effect in the state. While the national Church has set aside a $3million war chest to fund litigation, canon law experts tell The Church of England Newspaper it is unlikely to prevail in a fight to seize church property.
The diocese noted “this action by The Episcopal Church triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the Diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the Diocese from The Episcopal Church.” A special convention has been called for 17 November 2012 in Charleston to discuss a way forward for the diocese.