Episcopal Church Wins One – For Now – In Ft. Worth

Last Friday brought the news that the Episcopal and its rump Diocese of Ft. Worth had prevailed at the trial court level against the break away diocese led by traditionalist Bishop Jack Iker. The Episcopal Church and its partisans are, no doubt, rejoicing over this victory, especially given that many in the Episcopal Church establishment regard Bishop Iker as being something akin to the Taliban. Even a cursory reading of the trial court’s order (which can be found here), however, suggests that the folks at 815 ought not pop the champagne corks just yet.Reading the order, it appears to be clear that the trial judge placed susbstantial emphasis on his finding that the Episcopal Church is a “hierarchical” church body in support of his ruling that the Iker-led Diocese did not have the legal right to leave the church, and that any and all property held by Bishop Iker’s group is held in trust for the national church. In effect, the trial judge concluded that the Episcopal Church’s status as a hierarchical church ends the inquiry and effectively mandates a ruling in favor of the Episcopal Church. The problem, though, is that Texas is a “neutral principles” state, which means that the trial court was bound to evaluate the case based upon principles of state trust, property and corporate law, and could not merely rely upon the Episcopal Church’s purported hierarchical polity. By failing to conduct the appropriate neutral principles analysis and relying instead on an analysis that amounts to deference to internal church polity, it would appear that the trial judge committed reversible error. It seems to me, based upon my reading of the order and understanding of the applicable law, that the appellate court could – and in all fairness SHOULD – reverse this decision and, at a minimum, remand the case to the trial court so that it can cnduct the apprproriate neutral principles analysis.

In sum, the game is not yet up for Bishop Iker and his followers. And ECUSA and its partisans should hold off any celebration over this victory. It will likely prove to be short-lived.

One Response to Episcopal Church Wins One – For Now – In Ft. Worth
  1. William A. Wheatley
    January 26, 2011 | 10:21 am

    I hope you’re right!