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'End of the road': Episcopal Church officials react to losing $100M property dispute with breakaway diocese

The Rev. Michael Curry
The Rev. Michael Curry |

Officials in The Episcopal Church are reacting to the United States Supreme Court opting to not reverse a decision granting a breakaway diocese $100 million in church properties.

In a list of orders released Monday, the Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear the combined cases of All Saints’ Episcopal Church v. Diocese of Fort Worth and The Episcopal Church et al. v. Diocese of Fort Worth.

As a result, an earlier decision from the Texas Supreme Court in favor of the breakaway Anglican diocese will be allowed to stand, with a lower court judge tasked with implementing it.

Bishop Scott Mayer of the Episcopal diocese said in a statement released earlier this week that while he was disappointed with the Supreme Court decision, “we live in hope.”

“I ask for your prayers and urge us all to stay focused on the saving gospel of Jesus Christ and on our mission and ministries in the days ahead,” stated Mayer.

“In the wake of this decision we remain committed to preaching the gospel as we celebrate the sacraments, care for those in need, and strive for justice and peace.”

The statement included a letter from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of The Episcopal Church, expressing his “sorrow and disappointment that the Texas Supreme Court decision will stand.”

“We are today the Episcopal branch of that 1st century Jesus Movement. You, dear people of God, are those baptized and committed to this Jesus and his way of love today,” Curry said.

“This is nothing less than following Jesus in the work of God’s mission for the sake of the world. And what was true for them in the 1st century is true for us in the 21st.”

Katie Sherrod, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth’s communications director, told Episcopal News Service that eight congregations will be looking for new houses of worship due to the decision being allowed to stand.

“They have found places to thrive, but they had to start over with nothing,” said Sherrod, adding that when it came to the court case, “this is effectively the end of the road.”

In 2008, a majority of the Fort Worth diocesan leadership voted to leave The Episcopal Church due to differences stemming from the denomination’s increased acceptance of homosexuality.

The leadership opted to join the more theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America, with litigation ensuing over the dozens of church properties owned by the diocese.

In 2018, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church, arguing that the national denomination rightfully held the ownership of the properties.

“Individual members of a parish may decide to worship elsewhere; a majority of individual members of a parish or diocese may decide to do so,” stated the ruling, in part.

“But when they leave, they are no longer ‘Episcopalians’ as identified by TEC; they become something else. And that something else is not entitled to retain property if that property, under the terms of the deed, is held in trust for a TEC-affiliated diocese or congregation.”

However, in May 2020, Texas Supreme Court partially reversed the earlier ruling against the breakaway group, citing changes made to the diocese’s constitution and canons in 1989.

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