The independent Diocese of South Carolina, led by Bishop Mark Lawrence, has no right to the assets and property it has claimed for its own after breaking from The Episcopal Church last year, according to a legal counterclaim filed in circuit court by the “continuing diocese,” which is still part of the larger church.
The continuing diocese is entitled to a full accounting of the assets, and restitution of property and funds acquired by Lawrence’s organization “through alleged misappropriation, conversion, breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty, the counterclaim states.
The documents were filed Thursday by the continuing diocese in response to a lawsuit brought against it by the independent diocese, which left the church in October.
The breakaway group, which includes a majority of parishes in the diocese, decried the timing of the counterclaim.
“We are saddened they filed their suits on Maundy Thursday in the middle of Holy Week and that they have made the lawsuit personal by suing individuals who make up the leadership of our parishes,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary, in a statement.
“However we are not surprised that TEC’s filing now makes clear its intention to seize all the properties of the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes. The court filings are consistent with the scores of lawsuits The Episcopal Church has filed against dioceses and parishes across the United States.”
The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, provisional bishop of the continuing diocese said his group had no choice concerning the unfortunate timing.
“We would not have chosen for this filing to take place during Holy Week, a time when all Christians are focused on prayer and reflection, but the legal deadlines have left us no choice but to respond in a timely way to the action that was brought against us,” he said.
In January, Judge Diane Goodstein issued a temporary injunction forbidding the continuing diocese from using the name and seal of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Earlier this month, the continuing diocese filed its own suit in federal court asked a judge to determine just who is the legitimate bishop of the diocese.
Thursday’s counterclaim argues, among a variety of claims, that “the Lawrence Faction” has misrepresented facts, misappropriated property and breached fiduciary responsibility, and it is asking the court to order the independent diocese to make a full accounting of all assets, beginning with Jan. 2008, when Lawrence was installed as bishop.
The independent diocese said its officials would not be available to answer questions until the end of Holy Week.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.