Head of Episcopal Group Battling for $500M Diocesan Property Announces Retirement

The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop provisional of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, delivers an address at the annual convention in March 2013.
The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop provisional of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, delivers an address at the annual convention in March 2013. | (Photo: Courtesy of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina)

The head of an Episcopal Church group trying to secure control of approximately $500 million in church property from a breakaway diocesan leadership will soon be retiring.

Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit surrounding who rightly owns the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina's name and property.

The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, sent an official letter Thursday announcing his plans to retire sometime in the summer.

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"The timing of this retirement seems to make sense for a number of reasons. Next summer, I will have served as Bishop Provisional for longer than most of my colleagues who have taken on such a responsibility elsewhere," wrote vonRosenberg.

"More importantly, though, is the fact that our diocese finds itself in a place of good health, stability, and optimism. The organization that we needed to establish has been put in place, for the most part. Vital connections to the larger church have been reestablished, encouraged, and developed significantly since early 2013."

A banner bearing the seal of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
A banner bearing the seal of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. | (Photo: SC Diocese)

Holly Behre, communications director for TECSC, told The Christian Post that the group's Standing Committee will hold a meeting on Feb. 11 on next steps.

"Electing another Provisional Bishop is one of several options that are under consideration. No names have been put forward for consideration at this time," explained Behre.

"In the absence of a bishop, the Standing Committee serves as the ecclesiastical authority for the diocese. Additionally, a blue-ribbon committee on the future of the diocese was formed last October, and has been tasked with making a recommendation to the Diocesan Convention about the future governance of the diocese."

In November 2012, the South Carolina Diocese voted to leave the national denomination due to theological differences and the apparent mistreatment of diocesan bishop, the Rev. Mark Lawrence.

In January 2013, a lawsuit was filed by the breakaway diocesan leadership over the rightful ownership of the name and property of the regional body.

The breakaway leadership was able to get an injunction allowing them to use the name Diocese of South Carolina while the lawsuit was processed.

Episcopalians still loyal to the national denomination adopted the name The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and elected vonRosenberg as provisional bishop.

In addition to the main lawsuit over the property, vonRosenberg and Lawrence had litigation over who had the legal right to be named the bishop of the diocese.

TECSC Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale Jr. has explained that this federal lawsuit, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence will continue despite the retirement since the action was filed on behalf of The Episcopal Church's recognized diocesan bishop, be it vonRosenberg or his successor.

In February of 2015, Judge Diane Goodstein ruled in favor of the breakaway diocesan leadership and last September the state supreme court heard arguments in an appeal.

A native of North Carolina, vonRosenberg was ordained a priest in 1975 and served in leadership positions in several congregations in both Carolinas.

In 1999, vonRosenberg became the Third Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee and retired in 2011, coming out of retirement in 2013 to be provisional bishop for TECSC.

"Bishop vonRosenberg served in the House of Bishops, and ex officio on the board of trustees of the University of the South. He was also elected to the university's board of regents," noted his biographical information at the TECSC site.

"In 2008 he attended the Lambeth Conference and participated with other bishops in a 'Walk of Witness' through central London to draw attention to the Millennium Development Goals, which target poverty reduction around the world."

South Carolina's highest court has not offered any specific timeline for when they will release their decision regarding which group rightfully owns the property.

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