Conservative parishes in America that split from The Episcopal Church over issues such as gay priests cannot take their buildings and land with them, a court has ruled in what could be a pivotal decision for future US Anglican fissures.
The Diocese of South Carolina, which contains around 50 churches and
20,000 parishioners, left the national Church body in 2012 and is now
part of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
long-awaited and complicated ruling means the diocese, which dates back
to 1785 and was one of the first to join and form The Episcopal
Church, will not be allowed to keep its $500million worth of Church
The split decision at South Carolina Supreme Court overturns a previous lower court ruling in favour of the conservatives.
Now dozens of ACNA churches will have to return their property to The
Episcopal Church and only those that didn't sign an agreement, known as
the Dennis Canon, allowing the national Church to hold their properties
in trust, will be able to keep them.
In a rare move that highlights the complexity of the case, all five
of the court's justices wrote individual opinions with the final ruling
on physical church property split 3-2.
However they were split 2-2 with one abstention when it came to
intellectual property. That means the earlier judge's ruling that the
breakaway church can keep the official Diocese of Carolina's name,
trademark and seals still stands.
Skip Adams, bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, said:
'We are grateful for this decision and for the hard work of the court in
'We also give thanks to God for the faithfulness, support, and
sacrifices of countless Episcopalians within our diocese and throughout
The dispute has raged since the diocese chose to leave TEC in 2012
and comes as conservative Anglicans in the UK are threatening a similar
style split to that in the US.
Led by Dr Gavin Ashenden, 23 conservative clergy wrote a letter to
the Telegraph warning of a 'declaration of independence' from vicars who
feel that those with traditional views are being 'marginalised' by the
It concludes by raising the prospect of a split in the Church of
England, similar to that which took place in the North American Anglican
Ashenden told the Telegraph that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin
Welby, was 'under notice'. He said: 'This is a warning that the
Archbishop is under notice that unless he leads the Church in a way that
remains consistent with the values and authority of the Bible, as
opposed to progressive secularism, he will risk some kind of revolt in
the form of an independence movement.'