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S.C. Supreme Court denies Anglican rehearing

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The state Supreme Court denied a request from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina to rehear the case in which the court previously ruled that the breakaway group must return church property to The Episcopal Church.

The court voted 2-2 on the rehearing motion (.pdf). A majority would have been required to grant the rehearing, and Justice Kaye Hearn did not vote.

The denial keeps in place the August ruling, which said that 29 breakaway parishes, including St. Philip’s Church on Church Street and St. Michael’s Church on Broad Street, must return property.

The court also unanimously denied (.pdf) a motion to recuse Hearn from any rehearing and vacate her opinion in the previous decision, which the breakaway parishes had requested because Hearn was a member of a congregation that chose to stay with The Episcopal Church. The court ruled that the request was untimely.

“Only after receiving an adverse decision on the merits from a majority of the court did the respondents challenge Justice Hearn’s participation in the matter,” wrote Justice Jean Toal. “However, an adverse decision is no reason to excuse a nearly 2 1/2-year delay in making a request for recusal.”

The Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina, said in a statement that the breakaway Anglican group was disappointed in the decisions and found it “disturbing that the weight of constitutional concerns raised was not given further opportunity to be addressed.”

He added that the group is giving “serious consideration” to seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court but that it is seeking legal counsel before deciding the next steps.

The Right Rev. Gladstone Adams III, bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which aligns itself with The Episcopal Church, thanked the state Supreme Court for the “thoughtful and difficult work” the justices have done and said he hopes for reconciliation among all affected parties.

“We understand that the many people in the parishes affected by this ruling may be experiencing pain, fear and confusion,” Adams said in a statement. “Let me say to all that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is committed to finding a path that will allow the people of God to continue to live their lives as part of the Anglican Communion in and through the Episcopal Church.”

The Diocese of South Carolina and 50 congregations voted in 2012 to dissociate from The Episcopal Church after the latter body attempted to remove the Right Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop. Disagreements about homosexuality and other “moral issues” also divided the church.

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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