Today the Texas Supreme Court denied the losing parties’ petitions for rehearing in the two ECUSA cases pending before it: No. 11-0265, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, et al. v. The Episcopal Church, et al.; and No. 11-0332, Masterson v. Diocese of Northwest Texas. The Court had delivered its opinions in the two cases last August 30. In the first case, the Court had sided with Bishop Iker’s Diocese by a closely split vote of 5-4, reversed the summary judgment of Circuit Judge John Chupp which had awarded all of the property and assets of Bishop Iker’s Diocese to the Episcopal Church and its rump diocese, and sent the case back to the trial court. The majority held that the trial court had improperly failed to apply a “neutral principles of law” analysis to the issues. The four dissenters did not disagree with that result, but instead believed that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from the trial court’s judgment in the case.
In the second case, the Court by a vote of 7-2 reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision requiring the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo to turn over its building and all other assets to the Diocese of Northwest Texas. The Court definitively ruled that all Texas courts must follow “neutral principles of law” (rather than deferring to an ecclesiastical hierarchy), and that based on such an analysis, the Dennis Canon was not effective under Texas law (or that if it were effective to create a trust, the trust was not expressly irrevocable, and so could be revoked by the parish in question).
Both cases now return to their respective trial courts for further proceedings — but in a new environment: not “deference to hierarchy,” but “neutral principles of law,” will govern the Texas courts from this point onward. And given ECUSA’s complete lack of ability to prove any ownership interest in diocesan or parish property under the latter standard, the odds favor Bishop Iker and his diocese, as well as the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo.
Read more blog posts by A.S. Haley at http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/