Disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against three bishops of the Episcopal Church under the provisions of Title IV for having endorsed a legal pleading filed in the Quincy lawsuit.
On 28 June 2012, the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., former Bishop of South Carolina and Dean of Nashotah House seminary, the Rt. Rev. Peter H. Beckwith, former Bishop of Springfield, and th Rt. Rev. D. Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana received an email from the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews stating that the charges had been leveled against them.
“As the Intake Officer for the Church, I am obliged to inform you that a complaint has been received against you for your action in signing affidavits in opposition to a motion for Summary Judgment made by representatives of The Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and The Episcopal Church in the Fall of 2011 to secure the Diocesan financial assets from a breakaway group. In the next few weeks, I will initiate a disciplinary process according to Title IV Canon 6 Sec. 3 & 4 of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Matthews wrote.
The bishops have not been informed what canon they violated. But they appear to be accused of violating the canons for having filed a brief in opposition to the national church’s motion for summary judgment in the case of the Diocese of Quincy v. the Episcopal Church.
The 16 Dec 2011 Judge Thomas Ortbal of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Adams County, Ill., dismissed the claim that as a “matter of law” the Episcopal Church was a hierarchical entity with dioceses being subordinate to the national church. The judge rejected the motion for summary judgment brought by the national church against the breakaway Diocese of Quincy and set the matter for trial.
The Illinois court’s decision, canon lawyer Allan Haley reported after the decision was announced, was a legal blow to the national church’s litigation strategy in its fight with other breakaway dioceses as it cut away the national church’s chief legal argument that a diocese stands in relationship to the national church as a parish does to a diocese.
Following the 2008 vote by its diocesan convention to quit the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Quincy filed a declaratory action in state court against the national church to quiet title to the assets of the diocese. The national church and a loyalist faction filed a counter claim, seeking possession of the diocesan assets. It argued that while individuals may quit the church dioceses may not, and filed a motion for summary judgment against the now ACNA-affiliated diocese.
The national church argued that there could be no dispute as to the fact that the Episcopal Church was hierarchical under the standards set by the Supreme Court. It further offered into evidence rulings from a number of other cases involving parish – diocese property disputes that showed that courts across the U.S. had concluded the Episcopal Church was hierarchical.
The Diocese of Quincy responded that a diocese was not a parish and the church’s constitution and canons did not subordinate dioceses to the national church.
In his decision, Judge Ortbal wrote that both parties had submitted “documentary evidence” in support of their claims, but as “reasonable persons could draw different inferences from the undisputed facts” it would be improper to enter summary judgment in favor of the national church.
Judge Ortbal further rejected the evidence of other court decisions as having proven that the Episcopal Church was “hierarchical as a matter of law.”
The national church had cited “numerous cases” which they “assert mandate acceptance of their position in this case and granting of their motion for summary judgment. The court has reviewed the cases, but does not find it is bound by them,” the judge said.
He further stated that he found the “cases distinguishable on different levels and does not find them conclusively persuasive as to the record before it. For example, the vast majority of the cases involve disputes between local parishes and dioceses and/or the national church. These cases appear very fact driven and many involved concessions or stipulations as to matters which are disputed on this record. Many involve specific religious corporation and/or other state statutes not applicable in the present case.”
Judge Ortbal further noted that even if he accepted the national church’s argument that the Episcopal Church was hierarchical and the Diocese of Quincy a subordinate entity of the national church, “that would not entirely resolve the dispute. The circumstance of the hierarchical structure of government of a church does not preclude a civil court decision respecting a property dispute … provided the decision can be made without intrusion into the ecclesiastical domain.”
A trial date of 23 April 2013 has been set in the Quincy case.