Fort Worth

Appeals court delivers victory for Episcopalians in decade-long church property dispute

Bishop Scott Mayer, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth affiliated with the national Episcopal Church, said he is grateful for the issuance of an appeals court ruling favoring his side in a property dispute between church groups.
Bishop Scott Mayer, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth affiliated with the national Episcopal Church, said he is grateful for the issuance of an appeals court ruling favoring his side in a property dispute between church groups. Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth

The latest court ruling in the decade-long battle between two groups that both claim to be the true Fort Worth Episcopal Diocese went in favor of the group that has remained loyal to the national church.

But attorneys for the group that broke away in 2008 vow to bring the case back to the Texas Supreme Court for another look.

Both groups call themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and seek ownership of about $100 million in church property in a 24-county area.

The 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth said in a ruling issued Thursday that a lower court overstepped its bounds in 2015 when it overruled the Episcopal Church's decision about which group was authorized to represent the Episcopal Diocese.

That favored the breakaway group led by Bishop Jack Iker. In 2008, Iker and most of the 56 churches that were then in the Fort Worth diocese split with the national church over issues, including the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers.

The opinion issued Thursday favors local Episcopalians led by Bishop Scott Mayer.

“We are very grateful for the care taken by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in reaching its decision," Mayer said in a statement. "As this unfolds, the people and clergy of our diocese will, as always, carry on our work as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We continue to hold all involved in our prayers.”

Iker said in a statement that he will be reviewing the 178-page opinion with attorneys, but all indications are that the Episcopal group he leads will appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Shelby Sharpe, one of the attorneys representing the Iker-led group, which joined the Anglican Church in North America after the 2008 split, said they have 45 days to file an appeal.

"Our next step is to file for a review with the Supreme Court of Texas, which we will do," Sharpe said.

It will be the second time the Texas Supreme Court has dealt with this case.

"As we have said in the past, we have anticipated all along that the Texas Supreme Court will make the final decision on this matter," Iker said in a statement. "As the legal battle continues, let us remain focused on the Risen Jesus and our mission to proclaim the Good News to all people."

Ministers from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth imposed Lent ashes on anyone who wished to observe the sacrament during lunchtime on the sidewalk at Sundance Square. Lent is a time of reflection and self-denial leading up to Easter.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3
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