FORT WORTH -- Bishop Jack Iker said he and other area Episcopalians who left the national church will appeal a judge's decision ordering his group to give up all property of the 24-county Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
On Friday, Judge John Chupp of the 141st District Court told Iker's group to "surrender all Diocesan property as well as control of the Diocese Corporation" to local Episcopalians who remained loyal to the U.S. Episcopal Church. It also told those in Iker's group "not to hold themselves out as leaders of the Diocese."
"We are obviously disappointed by Judge Chupp's ruling and see it as fundamentally flawed," Iker said in a statement issued Saturday. "We are confident that the Court of Appeals will carefully consider our appeal and will rule in accordance to neutral principles of law as practiced in the State of Texas.
"In the meantime, we will continue to focus on mission and outreach in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying for the judges who will take our appeal. While we disagree with the judge's ruling, we offer our sincere appreciation for the time and study he has given the case."
Iker's group said Chupp's ruling will be immediately appealed to the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. In a statement, the group said: "We believe that the final decision, whenever it is signed by Judge Chupp ...will not be sustained on appeal."
It continued: "Friday's ruling is a disappointment, but not a disaster. The plaintiffs have offered no evidence ... supporting their claim that the Diocese was not entitled to withdraw from The Episcopal Church, as it did in November 2008. Nor have they demonstrated a legal right to our property, which is protected by Texas statutes regulating trusts and nonprofit corporations. It is our position that the judge's order does not conform to Texas law"
Iker's breakaway group and Episcopalians who reorganized the diocese say they represent the "true" Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. But Chupp's summary judgment ruled that the Episcopal Church is a "hierarchical church" and that those in the Diocese of Fort Worth who are loyal to the hierarchical church are "entitled to the use and control of church property."
He ordered Iker's group "to provide an accounting of all Diocesan assets within 60 days."
Suzanne Gill, spokeswoman for Iker's group, said there is no official estimate of the value of diocese property. But it includes stately church buildings, like St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Fort Worth, Camp Crucis near Granbury and church buildings throughout the region.
The Right Rev. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop to the diocesan group loyal to the national church, called for reconciliation and healing between the groups.
"Certainly we take heart that our position has been validated by the court, but this process remains painful for both sides and there is no room for triumphalism," he said in a pastoral letter to be read to his churches today. "As I said at our diocesan convention, no one will be turned out of their church home. That will not happen. To the contrary, we offer them a prodigious welcome."
If the ruling stands, however, many Episcopalians who remain outside the U.S. Episcopal Church may have to surrender their church buildings and worship elsewhere.