A South Carolina Anglican diocese was ordered Wednesday to return ownership of 29 historic churches to the Episcopal church.
The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled that 29 parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina must return their properties valued at $500 million to the Episcopal church, according to Christianity Today. The diocese, which is now part of the Anglican church in North America, split from the Episcopal church five years ago and was embroiled in a dispute over ownership of church properties until Wednesday’s ruling.
The conservative diocese split with the Episcopal church over theological disputes, chiefly the ordination of gay ministers and the authority of scripture, and is the fifth diocese to do so, according to the Associated Press. A lower court ruled in 2015 that the 29 parishes in question could keep not only their churches, but also intellectual property such as symbols, name, and seal as well. The state Supreme Court’s ruling reversed only the decision concerning the physical property.
The court’s ruling centered on the Dennis cannon, an Episcopal church law that stipulates church properties belong to the local diocese and not the parishes. Only seven of the parishes in the South Carolina diocese had not agreed to the law.
Both parties in the case have 15 days to petition the state Supreme Court to rehear the case. The South Carolina diocese contains 50 churches in total and 20,000 parishioners. Parishes in the area that did not choose to leave the Episcopal church formed a new diocese called The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
A separate lawsuit is ongoing against Mark Lawrence, bishop of the South Carolina diocese, on charges of false advertising for representing himself as the bishop of the diocese.
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