Breakaway Group Asks Court to Dismiss Episcopal Church Lawsuit

A group of churches in Texas that split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) is asking a civil court to dismiss a lawsuit that was filed against it last month by the U.S.-based church body and a diocese that shares its name.

In a 12-page motion, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth asked the 141st District Court to take a "judicial notice," arguing that a civil court lacks jurisdiction because in order to grant the plaintiffs' requests it would be required to resolve an ecclesiastical dispute.

"If the legal and equitable relief sought from the Court can only be determined by deciding between competing interpretations of purely unambiguous ecclesiastical documents where plaintiffs seek to have the Court interpret ecclesiastical language, does the Court have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the relief sought?" poses the motion filed Friday on behalf of the group.

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Last month the smaller Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, along with representatives of TEC, filed a lawsuit against the five-person Board of Trustees for the Corporation of the larger Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the diocese's bishop, Jack Iker, who voted along with the majority of the original Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth to withdraw from the denomination and realign with the more conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

In November 2008, the breakaway diocese had become the fourth to split from The Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, citing what they believe is the denomination's departure from Christian orthodoxy and Anglican tradition.

About 80 percent of clergy and parishioners had voted to sever ties. Others who did not vote in favor of leaving have since reorganized as a diocese. Both the breakaway diocese and the remaining one call themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, the former calling the latter "newly formed" while the latter says it is merely a continuation of the one originally organized in 1982.

The lawsuit, filed April 14, asks that the breakaway diocese to stop using the name, seal, and other intellectual property of the diocese, and to return "all property held by or for the Diocese ... for the Church and the Diocese."

The breakaway group, however, insists that all claims alleged in the suit seek relief from the court that is outside its jurisdiction.

"Thus, the only valid and enforceable order the Court can sign is one of dismissal of all claims," the response filed Friday states.

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