Retirement savings of more than 80 lay employees of the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes are being “held hostage” by their former pension plan at The Episcopal Church, alleges the group that disassociated from the national church last year.

The employees chose to leave The Episcopal Church with Bishop Mark Lawrence and 35 area parishes after ongoing theological and administrative disputes. Therefore, they contend, they no longer are employed by the national church or its related entities and should be able to roll over their retirement funds into another qualified plan.

Since February, they have been trying to arrange to do so through the Church Pension Group, which provides retirement and other benefits to employees of The Episcopal Church and its entities.

However, discussions stalled when a pension group official said he was awaiting “definitive legal responses,” according to a statement from Lawrence’s diocese. They have not received further response in six weeks, officials said.

“These are individuals’ funds, and there is no legal reason to prohibit people who no longer work for any group within the denomination to roll over their retirement savings,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to Lawrence, in a statement.

However, officials from the Church Pension Group said they are working to ensure the employees will have access to their funds “shortly” in a manner that adheres to federal regulations. The funds remain invested in the options employees previously selected and are still viewable online, said Patricia Favreau, Church Pension Fund executive vice president.

“We are following protocols required by the Internal Revenue Code to avoid any adverse consequences for the participants in the plans. We expect to complete this process shortly,” Favreau added.

This latest volley underscores ongoing contention over mechanics of the split, including which group has rights to everything from identifying names and symbols to physical properties.

Various issues remain unresolved in ongoing state and federal lawsuits filed by both sides. A hearing is scheduled Thursday to hear arguments over whether one of the lawsuits should be remanded from federal to state court.