The Texas Supreme Court today issued a decision in the long-running property dispute between the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its former parent body. (See prior related posting.) In 2007 and 2008, the Diocese withdrew from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and affiliated with the more conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. In Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v. The Episcopal Church, (TX Sup. Ct., May 22, 2020), the court held:
Applying neutral principles to the undisputed facts, we hold that (1) resolution of this property dispute does not require consideration of an ecclesiastical question, (2) under the governing documents, the withdrawing faction is the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and (3) the trial court properly granted summary judgment in the withdrawing faction’s favor….
Explaining its holding, the court said in part:
At bottom, the disagreement centers on what effect the majority’s disassociation vote had on the Fort Worth Diocese’s identity specifically, whether the majority faction constitutes the continuation of that entity or whether the majority left as individuals and became something else. …
In sum, TEC’s determinations as to which faction is the true diocese loyal to the church and which congregants are in good standing are ecclesiastical determinations to which the courts must defer. But applying neutral principles to the organizational documents, the question of property ownership is not entwined with or settled by those determinations. The Fort Worth Diocese’s identity depends on what its documents say. To that end, the Diocesan Constitution and Canons provided who could make amendments and under what circumstances; none of those circumstances incorporate or rely on an ecclesiastical determination by the national church; and nothing in the diocese’s or national church’s documents precluded amendments rescinding an accession to or affiliation with TEC. Applying neutral principles of law, we hold that the majority faction is the Fort Worth Diocese and parishes and missions in union with that faction hold equitable title to the disputed property under the Diocesan Trust.
The court went on to also reject TEC’s claim that the Diocese’s property was held in trust for TEC.