Two short words in the subject line in an e-mail from Bishop Jack Iker (III Fort Worth) tells it all. “We won!”
He was condensing what Tarrant County District Court Judge John J. Chupp wrote Monday in his brief one-page order denying The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) motion for a partial summary judgment.
Judge Chupp wrote: “Having considered the pleading, motions, responses, replies, evidence on file, governing law, and arguments of counsel, the Court orders the following:
“IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Defendants’ (Bishop Iker) Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED, except with respect to claims relating to All Saints Episcopal Church (Fort Worth).
“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs’ (TEC) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED.”
The two-hour oral arguments were heard 10 days ago (Feb. 20) where The Episcopal Church argued that the “simple solution” would be in acknowledging that all property is held in trust for the diocese and congregations by those individuals who are recognized by The Episcopal Church to be the “Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.”
However, Judge Chupp’s ruling does not include All Saints-Fort Worth which has been severed out and slated for a separate jury trial this spring to determine property ownership. The remaining members of the congregation have steadfastly refused to cooperate with Bishop Iker in implementing the Diocese of Fort Worth’s Canon 32 which outlines the procedure where parishes, loyal to TEC and wish to separate from the realigned Diocese, can be canonically separated from the Diocese with Bishop Iker’s blessing and their property intact. The Diocese of Fort Worth disaffiliated from The Episcopal Church in 2008 over deepening theological differences.
Bishop Iker’s legal team successfully argued that Texas recognizes neutral principles of law and that the “Dennis Canon” has been found by the Texas Supreme Court to have been revoked allowing the lower Court to determine ultimate ownership according to warrants and deeds based on what the historic property records actually say.
The legal battle has been dragging on since the morning of April 14, 2009 when the newly reconstituted Episcopal diocese in north Texas, under the leadership of Bishop Edwin Gulick (I Provisional TEC Fort Worth), changed the articles of incorporation at the Texas Secretary of State office removing Bishop Iker and the registered trustees of the Diocese from the corporation paperwork Then TEC’s lawyers filed a lawsuit that afternoon claiming a change the legal ownership of the corporation of the “Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth.” The new case first landed in Judge Chupp’s courtroom where it has gone through a complicated web of hearings, orders, motions, rulings, litigations rehearings, and appeals eventually winding all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court.
“We just won!” the Fort Worth bishop e-mailed late Monday afternoon. “(Judge) Chupp ruled in our favor.”
Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline