Monday, March 02, 2015

Annual Litigation Survey for the Episcopal Church (USA) 2015

Attorney A.S. Haley has just published his annual survey of litigation for the Episcopal Church (USA) 2015.

In it he lists 83 lawsuits where the Episcopal Church has sued departing parishes or dioceses and 8 lawsuits where the Episcopal Church has been sued by departing congregations or parishes.  In the latter case, suits were filed by the departing congregations or dioceses usually to regain possession of assets that had been seized or frozen by the Episcopal Church (such as when the Episcopal Church threatens a bank with legal action if it disburses funds to which the Episcopal Church has laid claim).

Since some of the 83 lawsuits filed by the Episcopal Church involve whole dioceses or other groups of parishes, the actual number of parishioners affected by the litigation is considerably higher than one would normally think might be involved in 83 such suits, numbering in the tens of thousands. 

It cannot be repeated too often how shameful a legacy this is for a Church body--an entity that frequently talks about sharing of resources and preaches generosity--to spend millions of dollars suing to claim church buildings it does not need and cannot use, merely to deprive Christians with whom they disagree of their places of worship.

Haley does not give a tally of the costs of this litigation in this current article.  However, in a survey of litigation in January 2014, he estimated the cost of this litigation to be $21,650,000.00.  To be sure, that cost has increased since then, as the Episcopal Church has continued to press lawsuits and filed appeals in the cases where it has lost, sometimes refusing to take "no" for an answer, even in cases where it has exhausted the appeal process. 

Surely some accountability should be demanded for this enormous expense, especially as it is being incurred by a shrinking and financially strapped denomination where Georgia Bishop Scott Benhase recently opined: "The one elephant in the room we do not seem to be addressing clearly is our financial resources," leading commentator David Virtue to observe "that the Episcopal Church is mired in ecclesiastical muck and the money won't be there in the future to dig the Church out... or even to continue 'God's mission' in any meaningful sense."

As Katharine Jefferts Schori ends her tumultuous tenure as Presiding Bishop, it is time for the Episcopal Church to reassess its priorities and consider carefully whether it wants to maintain Jefferts Schori's "scorched earth" litigation strategy or pursue the course of reconciliation and return to using its funds for the Church's true mission.

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