|The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth||
Jan. 22, 2011
Diocese and Corporation announce intention
On Friday afternoon, Jan. 21, attorneys for the Diocese and Corporation received two orders from the Hon. John Chupp in the matter of the main suit against us, in which a minority of former members has been joined by The Episcopal Church in an effort to claim diocesan property. Judge Chupp signed an order drafted by the plaintiffs' attorneys, from which he struck several points with which he did not apparently agree. The order does find that TEC is a hierarchical church, and on that basis the judge has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge's order can be read here.
Friday's ruling from the trial court is a disappointment but not a disaster. The plaintiffs have offered no evidence, either in the courtroom or in their voluminous filings, supporting their claim that the Diocese was not entitled to withdraw from The Episcopal Church, as it did in November 2008. Nor have they demonstrated a legal right to our property, which is protected by Texas statutes regulating trusts and non-profit corporations.
On the contrary, it is our position that the judge's order does not conform to Texas law, and we are therefore announcing our plans to appeal the decision without delay. We believe that the final decision, whenever it is signed by Judge Chupp based on these orders, will not be sustained on appeal. According to our lead attorney, Shelby Sharpe, “These orders appear to be contrary to the earlier opinion from the Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth and current decisions from both that court and the Supreme Court of Texas.”
In response to the ruling, Bishop Iker has said, “We are obviously disappointed by Judge Chupp’s ruling and see it as fundamentally flawed. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will carefully consider our appeal and will rule in accordance with neutral principles of law as practiced in the State of Texas. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on mission and outreach in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying for the judges who will take up our appeal.”
We give thanks to God in all circumstances, and we trust in His plans. While we disagree with the judge's ruling, we offer our sincere appreciation for the time and study he has given to the case.
From our legal team: Answers to some immediate questions
|Should we be surprised by this ruling?
This result at this level was not entirely unexpected. It is for that reason that our motions and briefs and other submissions were drafted in the manner in which they were drafted.
To what court will we appeal?
The 2nd Court of Appeals, which is located in Fort Worth, has jurisdiction. This is the same court that heard and granted our Petition for Mandamus last year.
Will our appeal be heard?
Assuredly. We have anticipated this possibility in all the evidence and arguments that have been presented. We expect the court to appreciate the importance of reviewing this decision, not only because of its extensive effect on our diocese, but because of its implications for property controlled by non-profit corporations throughout the state of Texas.
Will we have to vacate our property and relinquish our assets in 60 days?
That is most unlikely; we expect to continue as we are. There are several ways this might be accomplished. One possibility is that we will seek a stay on Judge Chupp's order while we appeal. In the absence of another eventuality, we need not worry about having to turn over the property in the immediate future, if ever.
What should clergy and church members do?
Pray. Pray for those of us on your legal team, and for the judges who will hear our appeal. The lawyers and courts need the wisdom that only God can supply. Pray for Bishop Iker and for the members of our Board of Trustees named in the suit. Pray for your clergy, and for your congregation.
Finally, we must remember that Christ's Church is not the property, but the clergy and people. These, with the presence, protection, and guidance of the Holy Spirit, are our true assets. Empty buildings are of no use to the Gospel. Nevertheless, our property is justly our own, and we will continue to press our case in the courts. But property pales to insignificance when compared to the unity of the Church and her mission to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. Jesus said, "Let them all be one, as We are one." Let us be one.