Texas Diocese Wins Court Battle Over Property Dispute With the Episcopal Church

Attorney Shelby Sharpe (left) and Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Jack L. Iker (right). In March 2015 a district court judge ruled in favor of the diocese against The Episcopal Church in a lawsuit determining who rightly controlled the diocesan property and funds. | (Photo: courtesy Fort Worth Diocese)

A district court judge in Texas has ruled in favor of a diocese of the Episcopal Church that broke away in 2008 over theological differences regarding who controls the diocesan name and property.

Judge John Chupp of Tarrant County ruled Monday that the Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop Jack Leo Iker owns the name and property of the diocese instead of the mainline denomination.

In a one-page order, Chupp granted the breakaway diocese's second motion for partial summary judgment regarding the properties, save that of All Saints Episcopal Church of Fort Worth.

"We won and we give thanks for this favorable decision, rightly applying church laws and Texas laws," said Bishop Iker in comments given to The Christian Post.

Iker explained to CP that All Saints was exempted because "they are the only incorporated parish in the diocese and claim to hold title to some property in the name of their corporation."

The Diocese provided CP with an additional statement on the matter, wherein it noted that the decision gives the breakaway diocese control over all diocesan funds, endowments, and properties.

The Right Reverend Rayford B. High, Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. High oversees those within the breakaway diocese who remained loyal to The Episcopal Church following the body's vote to leave the mainline denomination. | (Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth)

"As a matter of law, the defendants are entitled to title, control, and use of all of the property at issue in this case, and such other and further relief as allowed by law," reads the statement.

"The laity and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth rejoice with Bishop Iker and join him in giving thanks to God for this ruling. We pray for a quick resolution to the remaining claims and disputes."

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

Led by Iker, the Fort Worth Diocese joined the Anglican Church in North America, a theologically conservative body.

In January 2011, Chupp ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church and ordered the Diocese 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 filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court and in August 2013 Texas' Supreme Court decided that the case would be reheard at the lower court level.

Last December, the diocese and the denomination filed their partial summary judgment motions and submitted replies to said motions in January. Last month, Chupp heard the motions from all parties.

During the legal proceedings, those in the diocese who remained loyal to the Episcopal Church continue to refer to themselves as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Katie Sherrod, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, told CP that the Episcopal Church will appeal the decision made in favor of the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth.

Sherrod also directed CP to a statement by the Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High Jr.,bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

"This sacred property was built up over 170 years in this part of Texas by generations of Episcopalians for the use of the Episcopal Church so it will be available for use by generations of Episcopalians to come as they do the work of the Church," stated High. "That remains our purpose in this litigation, and we are confident going forward under the rulings of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court that are already in place in our case."

The Chupp ruling comes as a Texas congregation belonging to the Episcopal Church has voted to join the breakaway diocese.

Last month, the St. Francis Anglican Church in Austin voted unanimously to seek affiliation with the Diocese of Fort Worth.

"The next step is for Iker to visit the parish and to interact with the rector and church members. This will take place on Sunday, March 22, when he will celebrate and preach at the 11 a.m. Eucharist," noted Iker in an official letter.

"If the affiliation goes forward, this would be the 59th member congregation of our Diocese. Please pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as these conversations unfold."

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