CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s highest court has declined to rehear a case involving The Episcopal Church and parishes that left the church five years ago over theological issues, including the ordination of gay priests.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reports the decision puts an end to litigation at the state level between the church and the conservative Diocese of South Carolina, which had sued to retain ownership of physical and intellectual property.

The diocese said in a news release late Saturday the motion for rehearing was denied. In August, the S.C. Supreme Court issued decisions that returned most church property to The Episcopal Church.

The denial for rehearing, like the opinions issued previously, was divided. Two justices were against rehearing the case while two supported it. One did not participate. Since no majority was reached, the rehearing was denied.

The Diocese of South Carolina dates to 1785 and is one of the original dioceses that joined to form the Episcopal Church. It left the national church in 2012 amid differences over theological issues, including the authority of Scripture and the ordination of gays. The group has since affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, a group that formed in 2009.

Parishes in the region that didn’t leave the national church formed a diocese now known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The conservative diocese sued in efforts to protect its identity, the diocesan seal and other symbols it uses, and $500 million in church property, including the individual parishes’ holdings, as well as large properties including an Episcopal church camp in the Charleston area.

A diocese spokesman described the court’s decision as disturbing. “Church property ownership in South Carolina is now gravely complicated,” the Rev. Jim Lewis said in a statement.

The diocese is considering a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

If no further legal action is taken, 28 church properties now controlled by the diocese will revert to The Episcopal Church. The two sides are also engaged in mediation.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina previously had offered a settlement to resolve the dispute, saying it would allow parishes that left to keep their individual church property, regardless of whether they remained part of The Episcopal Church.


Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com