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A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop

Dear Friends in Christ,

We rejoice in today’s ruling by the Texas Supreme Court overturning the summary judgment in favor of The Episcopal Church. The Supreme Court ruled that the Trial Court erred in deferring to the TEC rather than subjecting TEC’s property claims to the same neutral principles of law that apply to everyone else. The Trial Court must now reconsider the merits of the case based upon neutral principles of law, and we are confident that we will prevail when TEC is subjected to neutral principles of Texas law. In sum, while today’s opinions are not a final victory, they indicate that a final victory is only a matter of time.

The decision in our case must be considered in the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a related case, also announced today – that of the Church of the Good Shepherd, San Angelo.  Here too the Court reversed lower court opinions in favor of TEC and directed the trial court to decide that case based upon neutral principles of law, rather than deference to an hierarchical church.

Notably, in the Good Shepherd case the Supreme Court ruled that a not-for-profit corporation in Texas can change its articles of incorporation and bylaws, and that such revisions are secular matters, not ecclesiastical ones. The Corporation of our Diocese, which holds title to all our church property, is governed by Texas corporate law and has authority to control its own affairs without interference from TEC or other parties.  TEC’s argument – that its national officers can remove officers of a Texas corporation by decree – simply doesn’t comply with Texas law.

As you know, TEC’s claim to our local church property is based upon what is known as “the Dennis Canon.”  However, the Supreme Court has ruled that any trust that might have been created by the Dennis Cannon was revocable under Texas law. Our Diocese never acceded to the Dennis Cannon when it was formed, and our Diocesan Convention specifically revoked any such trust interest by TEC more than 20 years ago.  Today’s decisions effectively remove the Dennis Canon as a viable argument in Texas property disputes.

We wish to express our gratitude to the justices of the Supreme Court for the hard work that went into these two cases, as evidenced by the time it took them to reach a decision.  We also are deeply grateful for the counsel and guidance of our team of lawyers who are representing us in these legal proceedings – Scott Brister, Shelby Sharpe, and David Weaver. We thank them for their wisdom and expertise. 

I am especially grateful to all of you, the clergy and laity of this Diocese, for your faithfulness and support during this trying period of time.  May God continue to bless you for your courage and steadfastness in the faith.  Patience and prayer are still required, but in the end, we will prevail.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
August 30, 2013