A disciplinary committee of the Episcopal Church has decided that Bishop Mark Lawrence has not abandoned his church.
The judgment came Monday after the Disciplinary Board of Bishops reviewed 63 pages of material submitted by individuals in the Diocese of South Carolina who asserted that recent actions taken under Lawrence's leadership amounted to a withdrawal from the church.
But the board -- led by the retired bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson -- decided otherwise, citing Title IV, Canon 16 of the church's constitution.
None of the complaints against Lawrence amounted to an open renunciation of church doctrine, discipline or worship; evidence of an allegiance to, or membership in, another religious organization; or the exercise of episcopal acts for a religious body other than the church, Henderson said in a statement.
"Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the board," Henderson said.
Two years ago, diocese leaders voted to strengthen their autonomy. In February, it changed its constitution, asserting the authority of the local diocese over the national church.
Earlier this month, the Diocese of South Carolina relinquished its legal oversight of all church property, sending quitclaim deeds to each parish. That move contradicted the Dennis Canon, which states that parishes and dioceses hold property in trust for the national church, according to Lawrence's critics.
Lawrence has called the Dennis Canon, introduced in 1979 and adopted by the diocese in 1987, "a disaster."
It remains to be seen what -- if anything -- national Episcopal Church officials will do in response to the issuance of quitclaim deeds.
The trouble began -- or at least became acute -- in 2003, when the Diocese of New Hampshire made the Most Rev. V. Gene Robinson bishop. It was the first time an openly gay man was elevated to that post, and it provoked a backlash among many Anglicans.
In his statement, Henderson referred to Lawrence's declared wish to remain part of The Episcopal Church.
"It is … significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church -- that he only seeks a safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it," Henderson said.
"I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger church will become the model for safety -- a 'safe place' -- for those under his Episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina's convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the Church."
Lawrence did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but in an Advent message, he took note of the decision, saying the statement "appears to read like a complex statement of a complex decision in a complex time within a complex church."
S.C. Episcopal Diocese releases property claim, published 11/21/2011
Episcopal Church investigates bishop, published 10/6/2011
New Anglican diocese: St. Andrew's rector named vicar general for churches in Carolinas, published 10/11/2011
Episcopal Diocese of S.C. looks to future, published 2/27/2011
St. Andrew's cuts ties, published 3/31/2010
Episcopal Diocese: Convention OKs 4 of 5 resolutions, published 10/25/2009
All Saints Church: Court rules in favor of Pawleys Island congregation, published 9/22/2009