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Supreme Court ends 12-year legal battle in Fort Worth over $ 100 million in church property

A breakaway Diocese of Fort Worth will retain rights to $ 100 million in property and assets after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the case between the diocese and the National Episcopal Church, upholding a earlier decision of the Texas Supreme Court.

This decision marks the beginning of the end of a 12-year legal battle between the National Episcopal Church and the Diocese of the Fort Worth area. In 2008, Reverend Jack Iker led a revolt against the Church, condemning the National Episcopal Church for socially liberal practices, such as consecrating a gay bishop. About 15,000 local devotees from 48 churches have followed his example. Eight churches did not follow suit and remained faithful to the National Episcopal Church. Congregations of other churches were divided, forcing members of the minority to find other places of worship.

The separatist diocese is now part of the more conservative Anglican Church in North America. As a conservative church leader, Iker disagreed with the practices of the Episcopal Church of ordaining female priests, overseeing same-sex unions and the consecration of a gay bishop.

Unlike the status quo, the Anglican Church group wanted to quit the official church while retaining $ 100 million in property, buildings and investments. The National Church pushed back, arguing that the property belonged to them.

Both groups – the separatist group and those who remained loyal to the National Church – are called the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The right to this name is one of many legal difficulties that will likely be determined by a judge.

In May 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the separatist group. The National Church appealed to the United States Supreme Court. By upholding the 2020 ruling, the United States Supreme Court effectively ended the hold of the National Church over these churches and other property.

About 8,000 people in 15 congregations in the Fort Worth area remain part of the National Episcopal Church, said Katie Sherrod, diocese communications director. These congregations use eight buildings, five of which are now legally owned by the separatist group. They will likely have to leave these buildings, including the 4Saints Episcopal Food Pantry east of Fort Worth.

Other episcopal dioceses have suffered similar conservative revolts and have had varying legal successes.

In the case of Fort Worth, the National Episcopal Church argued that Church law – specifically a rule known as Dennis Canon – dictates that church property is held in a trust for the national church and does not belong to the congregations themselves. In 2018, a Fort Worth appeals court agreed and sided with the group that has remained loyal to the National Church.

However, the Texas Supreme Court overturned the decision in May and ruled that Texas law allows for the revocation of a trust and Texas law supersedes canon law. Opinions also differed because the Texas Supreme Court applied the law as if the church were a corporation.

Reverend Ryan Reed, the current head of the Diocese of Fort Worth belonging to the Anglican Church in North America, wrote in a press release Monday that the decision “marks a turning point for us as a diocese.”

“Having allocated so many resources to this dispute, we can now fully focus on the ministry of the gospel and the work of the Kingdom,” he said. “We are approaching the completion of a strategic plan that will allow us to remain focused on sharing the transformative love of Jesus Christ and on our mission to equip the Saints for the work of ministry.”

The minority group that did not follow Iker’s departure is currently led by the Reverend J. Scott Mayer. On Monday, Mayer said in a press release that they began the litigation in 2009 “as heir and steward of the legacy of generations of Episcopalians.”

“As a result of this decision, we remain committed to preaching the gospel by celebrating the sacraments, caring for those in need and striving for justice and peace,” he said in the statement. Press.

The Presiding Bishop of the National Episcopal Church, Reverend Michael B. Curry, sent a letter to the diocese headed by Mayer on Monday.

“I want you to know that while we may not know your pain and your difficulties, we are with you in sadness and disappointment that the decision of the Texas Supreme Court will stand,” he wrote.

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