Breakaway Diocese Files Legal Response to The Episcopal Church Over Property Dispute

A Texas diocese that opted to break away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences has filed a legal response before the state supreme court.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth filed Friday in response to TEC's motion for a rehearing regarding the legal dispute over the name and property of the diocese. In the 17-page document, the breakaway diocesan leadership argued that TEC's lawsuit over the property should be dismissed.

"TEC has no more control over Appellants' property or affairs than Royal Dutch Shell has over the property or affairs of ExxonMobil," reads the response in part. "The Court noted probable jurisdiction of this direct appeal two years ago. By May 2014, it will have been on this Court's docket for three years. It is time to dispose of it."

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The breakaway Fort Worth Diocese argued that it has the right to the diocesan church property via "Neutral Principles", which involves determining property ownership by looking at the language of the paperwork associated with said property.

"Texas courts have recognized the Neutral Principles approach for years. Yet TEC claims it had no inkling before this dispute arose that Texas would apply the Neutral Principles
approach," reads the response in part.

In November 2008, a majority of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth's clergy and lay representatives voted to leave The Episcopal Church over theological differences.

Headed by the Right Reverend Jack Leo Iker, the Fort Worth Diocese joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a newer and more conservative member of the international Anglican Communion.

In January 2011, 141st District Court of Texas Judge John P. Chupp ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church and ordered the Fort Worth Diocese (ACNA) to "surrender all Diocesan property as well as control of the Diocese Corporation" and "not to hold themselves out as leaders of the Diocese."

The ACNA diocesan leadership proceeded to file an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard last October.

In late August, Texas' Supreme Court decided in a five-to-four decision that the case between the Episcopal Church and the diocesan leadership will be reheard at the lower court level. Later that month, Texas' highest court granted TEC a request for a rehearing and by October TEC filed their request.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC), which is comprised of those in the diocese who opted to remain with TEC, argued that "Neutral Principles" could not be applied.

"The Court's retroactive application of neutral principles to this dispute is unconstitutional because the Court did not 'clearly enunciate' adoption of the neutral principles approach before this case," reads a press release from The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (TEC).

"This Court should, consistent with its resolution of the issue, amend its judgment to affirm the trial court's identity declaration and injunction as to the Diocese, so that these proper rulings will be applied as final and binding in the case on remand."

Both those siding with ACNA and those siding with TEC consider themselves the rightful Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Both entities recently held their respective diocesan conventions.

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