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November 25, 2013
Continuing Diocese: Evidence shows Lawrence and three cohorts repeatedly broke the law in conspiracy to defraud the Episcopal Church
Multiple causes of action against Lawrence, his top lieutenant, and two Standing Committee chairmen allege breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy
New documents may be shedding light on secretive Lawrence episcopate
ST. GEORGE -- In a stunning and unexpected move in court today, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina ("The continuing Diocese") formally accused ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and three of his top lieutenants of engaging in a widespread, illegal conspiracy to defraud the Church of its financial assets and property.
Attorneys for the continuing Diocese told SC Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein that the plot was likely underway before Lawrence’s 2008 consecration and even as he was telling bishops and standing committees that he intended to remain in the Church and loyal to his ordination vow to conform to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”
The allegations were contained in a motion today by the continuing
Diocese, asking that the four men be added individually as parties in
the lawsuit brought by Lawrence, his allies, and 34 parishes last
January. In that lawsuit they claim they are entitled to the financial
assets and property of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, even
though they say they are no longer Episcopalians.
The allegations include 18 causes of action against Lawrence, former Canon to the Ordinary Jim Lewis, and Paul Feuner and Jeffrey Miller, former chairmen of the Diocesan Standing Committee under Lawrence and signers of quitclaim deeds that purported to relinquish the Church’s property interest in millions of dollars in parish properties. See the entire filing
the allegations against various combinations of the four include breach of fiduciary duty,
fraud, conversion, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy. The
lead attorney for the continuing Diocese and its bishop, Charles
vonRosenberg, is a former Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina.
It is important to remember that these allegations are as yet unproven. Attorneys for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina will need to do that when they go to trial. As yet, Goodstein has not ruled on whether they can even be considered during the trial of Lawrence's lawsuit.
Fear of allegations may have prompted frantic $2 million fundraising effort.
The new allegations were likely generated by documents requested by the continuing Diocese as part of its defense in the lawsuit. The documents included minutes of Standing Committee meetings which were not available to communicants of the breakaway Lawrence "diocese." (The documents have only been available to the lawyers for the continuing Diocese and not available for public viewing. SC Episcopalians has not seen them.)
As part of a pretrial process known as "discovery", Goodstein ordered that the documents be handed over to the lawyers for the continuing Diocese last summer, about the time that Lawrence and his team began a new round of pressuring parishes for more funds.
If the allegations against them are proven, the four men could be held personally liable for any civil or criminal activity in which they engaged as leaders in the Diocese.
Earlier this month, they and their supporters launched yet another fundraising effort aimed at securing $2 million for an ill-defined "Legal Defense Fund." The name of the Fund was peculiar since the breakaway "diocese" was suing the Episcopal Church and not defending itself from anything.
The legal team supporting Lawrence and the other plaintiffs includes 40 lawyers. The legal team defending the continuing Diocese is currently comprised of two lawyers.
Parishes jeopardized their properties and buildings by joining the lawsuit.
SC Episcopalians has long maintained that the 34 pro-Lawrence parishes that joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs with Lawrence were duped into believing that they were about to lose their parishes properties. In fact, none of the parishes was ever in such danger until they joined the lawsuit, an action that now puts the future of their properties in the hands of judges.
Today's motion by the continuing Diocese makes no mention of wrongdoing by the 34 parishes, only further demonstrating that their role in the lawsuit is to create a distraction from alleged misconduct by Lawrence and his lieutenants.
More detailed summary of this story is available on the website of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
November 22, 2013
Lawrence Lawsuit goes to Trial in State Court in Early 2014
he trial of the lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 34 breakaway parishes against the Episcopal Church will go forward in early 2014, according to ongoing pretrial hearings before South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein.
This fall lawyers have appeared before the Dorchester County judge in a series of such hearings, that have included a discovery period in which all sides were allowed to gather additional information to support their positions. Another hearing finalizing the schedule is set for next week.
SC Episcopalians expects that the trial's outcome in the state court will not be particularly favorable to the Episcopal Church. State courts in similar cases have generally been more sympathetic to the breakaway groups, and less respectful of the Constitutional status accorded "hierarchical" churches like the Episcopal Church.
So far, in our opinion, Goodstein's rulings have been more favorable to the cause of the Lawrencians. Outcomes will likely get better as the case is appealed and moves to higher courts.
November 18, 2013
Show Me da'Money: Lawrence Launches $2 Million Fundraising Blitz to Sue Imagined Foes
Ex-Bishop likens defendants in his lawsuit to the 'Devil' and 'Spiritual Forces of Evil'
Faltering support for his legal adventures prompts need for more cash in the bank
Who will dole out the money? Who will get the money? What’s happened to the money already raised? Why $2 million?
Even the most naïve of Mark Lawrence’s followers are finally beginning to comprehend the full costs and consequences of leadership that lives in an alternate universe.
Last week they got another bizarre fundraising missive from the deposed Bishop and his “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc.” -- pressing for more money for lawyers in their shadowbox “war” against the Episcopal Church and local Episcopalians who refuse to abandon the Church with them.
This past summer they were asking for $1 million. Now, only a few months later, they want $2 million.
All of that is on top of another nearly $1 million of Diocesan funds Lawrence spent on lawyers during his five years as the legitimate Bishop of South Carolina... even though the Diocese was not facing any significant legal problems.
There is no available public documentation of who received any of these funds.
Christians v. Christians. Lawrence needs millions now to keep the lawsuit alive down the road, even if laypeople don't support it.
The $2 million Lawrence wants now is for a “Legal Defense Fund”, whose sole purpose is to underwrite lawsuits against Lawrence’s imagined foes in the Church. It has nothing to do with defending anything. It's about suing other Christians, and it certainly has nothing to do with serving God.
Dressed up as a special edition of the Jubilate Deo, last week's passing-of-the-hat is solely for legal bills over the next 24 months. The PECDSC Inc. is not being sued, but Lawrence claims he needs the money anyway because the PECDSC Inc. is "under attack from the Episcopal Church."
According to its account of the first meeting of the fundraising committee of the PECDSC Inc., "He (Lawrence) urged the group to acknowledge that our legal suit is a tempestuous battle against “the spiritual forces of evil” and advised the members to “put on the full armor of God” trusting in His righteousness and believing in His justice and judgment.
Last January Lawrence’s lawyers convinced him to file a lawsuit, apparently in part to embarrass his perceived archnemesis, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and prevent his successor, the newly elected Bishop of South Carolina, from ministering to those who did not join him in abandoning the Church.
Lawrence and his lieutenants say that Jesus would be okay with this. On the other hand, they have said repeatedly that the lawsuit makes them "sad."
In that lawsuit Lawrence asks the courts to allow him to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church along with millions of dollars in accumulated property and financial assets given for the work of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Most likely, this would make he and his colleagues less "sad."
Lawrence -- whose rhetoric is often a peculiar mix of narcissism, paranoia, and military bluster -- claimed in last week’s fundraising foray that his lawsuit is all about getting the jump on ill-defined legal actions yet to be initiated by the “spiritual forces of evil”.
No kidding. He did say that.
Then, in what has to be one of the most disgusting perversions of the Gospel in South Carolina since Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Lawrence actually equated raising money for his high-priced lawyers with “putting on the full armor of God".
Now that really is "sad."
Lawrence v. Satan: Extreme rhetoric is all PECDSC Inc. has left, as the continuing Episcopal Diocese moves ahead in spite of Lawrence's continued legal attacks.
Among these dark "spiritual forces" appear to be 22 parishes and missions that elected Lawrence Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and actually supported his ministry for five years. They chose to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church and thus, in the world according to the Lawrencians, “evil”.
The PECDSC Inc, of course, is not happy that eight new Episcopal parishes-in-formation have sprung up to replace those that are trying to leave to join Lawrence. The established parishes remaining loyal to the Church have experienced as much as 20-30% growth in their congregations. Not so "evil."
Also among Lawrence's perceived enemies is the Episcopal Church itself, whose "unbiblical" House of Bishops and diocesan standing committees consented to his election as Bishop of South Carolina in 2007.
And, of course, there’s the truly wicked Presiding Bishop who, according to former Bishop Edward Salmon, “bent over backwards” to help Lawrence gain necessary consents in his controversial election to become Bishop of South Carolina. Pure "evil," for sure. She probably even wears her "armor" 24/7.
Parishes were duped.
Over the long haul, it’s the 34 incredibly naive parishes that were stampeded into joining Lawrence’s lawsuit that stand to lose the most. By stupidly signing on as plaintiffs last winter, they needlessly put the ownership of their parish properties in play in the courts.
If they had done nothing, they could have continued on with the work of Jesus Christ just as they believe they’ve been called to do. If Lawrence prevailed in court, they then could have simply left the Church at no charge.
Many of these parishes since have lost loyal members and had to cut back on their ministries. In addition to underwriting Lawrence’s quixotic legal adventures, they could also be on the hook for legal fees incurred by the Episcopal Church in defending itself against their frivolous lawsuit.
Lawrence knows the course he has chosen will take much longer than two years, which means his followers need to keep their wallets open. Prior to becoming Bishop of South Carolina, he was rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, California ... which only this summer began to recover from nearly six years of legal proceedings in which parishioners tried to leave the Episcopal Church with the parish property.
Fortunately, the California courts refused to sanction greed and larceny disguised as the Gospel, and affirmed that the parish property belonged to the Episcopal Church. The congregation at St. Paul’s will be remembered as only one of many victims of Lawrence’s strange and destructive brand of churchmanship.
Support for legal adventures wanes.
The ongoing challenge facing Lawrence and the PECDSC Inc. is to convince people with deep pockets that his legal attacks against the Church are more than arrogant gestures of an egotistical ex-Bishop with authority issues.
This summer's fundraising got lots of pushback from the parishes and raised concerns about the willingness of laypeople to provide endless financial resources for a lawsuit that will probably go down the tubes once it hits the Federal Courts. The tone of the latest appeal for money is markedly more shrill and less substantive than in previous times.
The leadership of the PECDSC Inc. is largely comprised of angry, old white men who are used to running their own show. They seem unconcerned that there has been no public accounting of how money they raised this summer was spent. They appear to have made no commitment to publicly disclosing precisely where and how the next $2 million will be spent.
At this point it seems that the PECDSC Inc. is trying to raise far more money than it needs, so that it will be able to continue its lawsuits even when most of its parishes and followers have no interest in seeing it continue.
As evidenced by last week's faux-Jubilate Deo, there is also no apparent logic for how the $2 million figure was arrived at -- as opposed to $1 million or $3 million. No one has given any reason why the PECDSC Inc. feels it needs this amount of money or why it feels it will be adequate for 24 months.
And, why 24 months? The PECDSC Inc. knows that this case will go on for years until it gets to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sad. Sad. Sad.
November 3, 2013
Lawrence "Diocese" Stokes Imaginary Fears to Raise Funds for Quixotic Lawsuit
St. Michael's is asked for $150,000 for lawyers in addition to $50,000 it just kicked in
Former Bishop Lawrence's chief legal strategist told communicants of St. Michael's in Charleston that they need to come up with another $150,000 to help with the legal fees the Lawrence "diocese" is racking up in its quixotic lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.
The parish has already coughed up $50,000 this year to help pay a phalanx of lawyers who have latched onto a major cash cow that shows no signs of going away.
SC Episcopalians believes that the Lawrence "Diocese" is pressuring parishes aligned with him to pony up as much as $2 million dollars to cover anticipated legal bills over the next two years.
In his remarks at St. Michael's on Sunday, Beaufort attorney Alan Runyon suggested that the Episcopal Church will evict the congregation from its historic building if he and about two dozen other lawyers are not successful in their current lawsuit against the Episcopal Church. In that lawsuit, Lawrence and 34 parishes of the Diocese claim that they are no longer part of the Episcopal Church but believe they are entitled to walk away with millions of dollars in parish properties and financial assets belonging to the Church.
There is absolutely no evidence that anyone wants to toss the thriving congregation at St. Michael's out of its buildings. This is purely the invention of lawyers and the manipulative leadership of the "diocese."
Unfortunately, the parish has made no attempt to have any conversation with SC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg to explore ways that their concerns with the Church can be resolved without going to court or without paying outrageous legal fees. The Presiding Bishop, whom they view as their sworn enemy, has twice visited the Diocese and on neither occasion did anyone from St. Michael's ask to meet with her.
VonRosenberg has said repeatedly that his goal is reconciliation with the pro-Lawrence parishes, but clergy in those parishes -- and now their lawyers -- have prevented that. In August vonRosenberg chose not to formally depose those clergy who have followed Lawrence, but rather "released" them from their ministry in the Episcopal Church. In doing so, he allowed these clergy to avoid the stigma that accompanies deposition, and left open the possibility that they could return if they so chose.
In the view of SC Episcopalians, parishes like St. Michael's were hood-winked into joining the lawsuit last January before vonRosenberg was elected. Such a move prevented them from working with vonRosenberg to figure out how they could amicably resolve their concerns before turning everything over to lawyers.
October 12, 2013
Finances of Breakaway "Diocese" Troubled even before Attempted Split
Declining income, legal fees, and uncontrolled costs overwhelmed PECDSC Inc. in 2012
During the five-year episcopate of Mark Lawrence, members of his inner circle carefully studied the failed legal strategies of four dioceses, whose renegade leadership had attempted to take down the Episcopal Church only a few years earlier.
They were determined not make the same mistakes when South Carolina's opportunity came.
However, they were far less studious in planning for the nuts-and-bolts of operating a fairly awkward corporate entity in rebellion against its parent company, especially if it takes years to resolve.
According to an independent audit of 2012 financials, the breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc. (PECDSC Inc.)” seemed to be on very thin ice, even before it took steps to leave the Episcopal Church.
Last year PECDSC Inc. expenses exceeded revenues by $562,980 in what appears to be the largest deficit in Diocesan history. Income from parishes and missions was nearly $230,000 short of that which was pledged.
Financial trouble began long before secession try.
Even before former Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers launched their scheme to secede last October, there was trouble on the horizon. Five years of declining income and membership, budget-busting legal expenses, and costly management policies were coming home to roost.
Much of the problem was the nature of the Diocese of South Carolina. Its' polity has always been an uneasy marriage of evangelicals and mainstream Episcopalians, and its bishops have had to gingerly walk a fine line to keep both groups under the same tent… and writing checks.
However, when he was consecrated, Lawrence showed little interest in keeping the marriage going. He was clear that God called him to lead conservative evangelicals – which he re-branded as “orthodox” – in what he described as a “war” against the Episcopal Church.
Mainstream Episcopalians, who had generously supported his predecessors, appeared to have no place in his vision for the future. Full story
October 11, 2013
Judge Goodstein says She'll keep Controversial Injunction in Place
Judge leaves possession of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in the hands of those who have left the Church Read more
September 28, 2013
Anglican Shmanglican, Part I
Are worried secessionists engaging in deceptive advertising to attract new members?
Alarmed by an exodus of members and declining revenues, secessionist parishes in Mark Lawrence’s Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSC Inc.) have decided that maybe being known as “Anglican” and Episcopal” is not such a bad thing after all.
Since early summer, many PECDSC Inc. parishes have quietly slipped those two words back into their printed materials, websites, and public signage, along with tag lines in search engines that might be used by people searching for a real Episcopal parish.
For example, St. Michael's in Charleston is among several pro-Lawrence parishes claiming to be a "constituent member" of the Anglican Communion, even though that would be news to the leadership of the Communion. Individual parishes cannot independently belong to the worldwide Communion, anyway.
An online search with the words “episcopal” and “Beaufort” brings up "St. Helena’s Episcopal Church", somewhat surprising since it claims it has left the Episcopal Church.
If you are looking for a parish in Georgetown, you'll discover one named “The Episcopal Church of the Parish of Prince George Winyah”, also known on its website as "Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church", even though its corporate board of directors claim they have left the Episcopal Church.
This sudden change of heart seems particularly disingenuous since all of these parishes are currently spending millions of dollars in legal proceedings that, if successful, will permanently sever their ties to the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. Full story ...
September 17, 2013
Self-Proclaimed “Anglican” Groups in the Carolinas Try to End Rivalries
Meeting at Episcopal Church Center hopes to bolster shared fundamentalist, anti-gay, anti-women agenda
SEABROOK ISLAND - Representatives of five renegade groups claiming to be Anglicans with “overlapping jurisdictions” in North and South Carolina met at an Episcopal Church Center south of Charleston last week to smooth over reported rivalries and internecine sniping to advance their shared theological and political agendas.
The groups, all with an axe to grind against the Episcopal Church, are primarily bound by their embrace of Biblical literalism and opposition to gays and lesbians, and women in positions of spiritual authority over men. Over the past few years, the strong personalities of their leaders has caused bruised egos and schisms-within-schisms.
Participants at the all-male meeting included:
- Mark Lawrence, deposed Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina
- Robert Duncan, deposed Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and leader of the erstwhile “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA); and
- Steve Wood, ex-Episcopal priest and current ACNA Bishop of the Carolinas.
Also included were representatives of Forward in Faith, an international movement to keep women out of the priesthood, and a missionary group to the United States from Rwanda.
None of these groups is actually “Anglican” as in being part of the Anglican Communion.
However, faced with financial troubles, declining numbers, and confusion about their identities, leaders of these schismatic groups have had no trouble poaching names like “Anglican,” "Orthodox" and “Episcopal” in attempts to legitimize themselves and convince followers that their fundamentalist views are actually mainstream.
In North America there are only two provinces of the Anglican Communion – the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Neither individuals, parishes, nor dioceses can be part of the Communion without belonging to one of its provinces.
The only two bishops in South Carolina recognized by the Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury are named Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg. Neither was invited to the meeting.
Read statement of the participants