The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

Jan. 14, 2011
Seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth Court holds Summary Judgment hearing
in original case against Diocese, Corporation

Almost 21 months to the day after the initial suit was filed, today the parties have presented the court with their arguments and claims to the property of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its Corporation. In a two-hour hearing of the 141st District Court, Judge John Chupp said the case came down to the two essential questions that he had asked at the first hearing, in September 2009: Did the Diocese have the right to vote and leave The Episcopal Church (TEC)? and, What do the property deeds say about ownership? Throughout the morning, the judge's questions and comments to the attorneys for both sides continued to probe those questions.

The plaintiffs in the suit are TEC and local Episcopal parties who were in the minority when the Diocese voted to separate from TEC in 2008. Their representatives argued that once a parish joins TEC, “you are subject irrevocably to The Episcopal Church” and that the General Convention's canons are “silent” on the subject of a diocese separating from the larger body because “it is inconceivable.” Ownership of property, one attorney argued, “is an ecclesiastical question.”

Representatives for the Diocese, Corporation, and the intervening parishes warned the judge that “other states have some crazy statutes,” but that Texas law does not permit a trust to be imposed on another person's property without written consent, that no trust is irrevocable unless that is expressly stated, and that non-profit corporations, such as the one that holds the property of the Diocese, are entitled to select their own officers without having them removed at the whim of others. To rule in favor of the plaintiffs, therefore, would be to “declare Texas trust law unconstitutional” and throw into question the legal status of virtually every church property in the state.

Present in the court room was David Booth Beers, counsel to TEC's Presiding Bishop, who had threatened diocesan leaders with discipline as early as 2006. Also present were over 100 clergy and lay people of the Diocese, ready to testify if called upon. However, the issue they came to address – a legal challenge to the authority of the Diocese's counsel – was not heard. Though the plaintiffs' counsel initiated the charge, upon gathering in the court room, they asked for its deferral. The judge expressed his concern for those who had traveled considerable distance and taken time to be present.

Bishop Iker thanks the legal team for their hard work preparing and presenting our case. He extends his gratitude to those who were present at the hearing, and to all those who undertook a time of prayer and fasting. Please continue to pray for wisdom for Judge Chupp as he weighs the arguments before him. A ruling is not expected before next week, at the earliest.



The following documents were filed in advance of the hearing: