ENS: breakaway bishop seeks challenge to authority of Episcopal bishop

ENS: breakaway bishop seeks challenge to authority of Episcopal bishop

FORT WORTH: Breakaway bishop seeks challenge to authority of Episcopal bishop, others; September 9 hearing set in dispute

By Pat McCaughan, September 02, 2009

[Episcopal News Service] Attorneys for Jack Iker have asked a Texas court for permission to challenge the authority of Provisional Bishop Ted Gulick Jr. and the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Iker, who left The Episcopal Church in 2008 but refused to relinquish church property or assets, is responding to a pending lawsuit filed by The Episcopal Church and the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth in April to establish the authority of the new diocesan leadership and to recover diocesan assets, according to chancellor Kathleen Wells.

He and his attorneys are “still operating under this façade that they’re the Diocese of Fort Worth which, of course, is easily refutable,” added Wells in a telephone interview on August 31.

A September 9 hearing has been set to consider Iker’s motion, filed in 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas. The motion seeks “the court’s permission to bring in Bishop Gulick and members of our standing committee as third party defendants,” Wells said.

Basically, Iker and his attorneys are asking the court to declare that Gulick and the current standing committee “are not the real bishop and standing committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth which, of course, they are,” she added.

Another motion challenges the authority of Jon Nelson and Wells to serve as diocesan attorneys.

Iker disaffiliated from TEC in November 2008, citing longstanding theological differences over the ordination of women and gays, a fact omitted in the court filings, according to a statement released by the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

“All those on whose behalf these motions were filed have voluntarily left the Episcopal Church and thus are no longer officials of the diocese or the diocesan corporation,” the statement said. “The vacancies left by their departure have been filled by Episcopalians as part of the same reorganized and continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth,” according to the statement.

Gulick was elected provisional bishop at a February 2009 special reorganizing convention convened by Presiding Bishop Katharine JeffertsSchori. General Convention 2009 recognized Gulick and Fort Worth deputies elected at that same special convention as legitimate representatives of the diocese, according to the statement.

Gulick’s request for a peaceful and orderly transition of property and assets was ignored. In April the Episcopal Church diocese sued Iker and former diocesan authorities to recover them.

At the time Gulick said: “The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, heir and steward of the legacy of generations of faithful Episcopalians, has this day brought suit to recover that legacy. We deeply regret that the decisions and actions of former diocesan leaders have brought us to this difficult moment … We bid the prayers of all faithful Episcopalians and other Christians as we protect our legacy and fulfill the trust and dreams of those who have gone before.”

Wells said Iker’smotions are a response to the April lawsuit.

She added that Iker himself in the past argued that TEC’s structure is hierarchical. In a 2002 friend of the court brief in Edwards v. Dixon, a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals case challenging the authority of Bishop Jane Dixon, he had asserted the church’s hierarchical structure, “the same position we’re taking now,” Wells said.

She added that Dixon prevailed and the court clearly agreed as to the structure of the church. A copy of that decision is available on the diocesan website.

She noted that Iker had called continuing Episcopalians “unchristian” for suing in April 2009 to recover diocesan property and assets still in Iker’s possession. “They shook their fingers at us when the only recourse we have at this point is litigation to get back not only our real property but also millions of dollars of endowment which they’re spending like water,” she said.

Meanwhile, Iker has called for a week of prayer and fasting as the September 9 hearing date approaches.

In a letter posted on his diocesan website he contended that Gulick and current diocesan officers “were never legally elected.”

He said the motions, if permitted to go forward, would challenge attorneys Nelson and Wells “to prove that they were hired by individuals who had the authority to hire them.

“The second motion is one brought by the Diocese asking the court for permission to bring into the suit those individuals who hired the attorneys who have brought the suit against us and our trustees,” according to the statement.

Read the report from ENS.