April 13, 2010

Calvary’s Legal Fees

Calvary newsletter
Calvary Newsletter

The Episcopal Church has taken a good deal of heat from people who don’t like the fact that it has spent so much money on legal fees to protect church property. (Most of those complaints have been from people who have wanted to appropriate Episcopal Church property without paying for it, it must be acknowledged.) Well, it is unfortunate that litigation has been necessary and that lawyers do not work for free, but what is one to do when property is taken without permission and without compensation?

Seldom do we learn just who spent how much money on litigation in church property cases. The current issue of the parish newsletter of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh offers some interesting accounting, albeit qualitative, with respect to the so-called Calvary lawsuit. (See page 2 of the newsletter here.)

Recall that Calvary Church brought a lawsuit against then bishop Robert Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003, charging that they planned to allow property to be removed from The Episcopal Church without appropriate compensation. Two years later, an agreement was reached regarding the distribution of property in the event that any congregations wanted to leave the church. That agreement provided for Calvary’s escrowed diocesan assessment to be returned to Calvary, less $50,000, which was to go to the diocese. I estimate that something on the order of $170,000 was returned to Calvary, most or all of which was likely used to pay legal fees.

At the time, Bishop Duncan spoke of the $50,000 as though it represented a windfall for the diocese. Since all the money in the escrow account would, in other circumstances, have gone to the diocese, this provision in the agreement actually represented a loss of more than three times that amount to the diocese. In essence, all the parishes of the diocese paid that price, in addition to any direct legal costs incurred in the defense of Duncan and other defendants.

The newsletter story mentioned earlier reports that the Board of Trustees of the current Episcopal diocese recently voted to pay all of Calvary’s outstanding legal fees incurred in the prosecution of the case against Duncan, et al. The three Calvary parishioners on the Board of Trustees present for the vote recused themselves from the vote, which was unanimous.

Additional sources of funds to cover Calvary’s legal expenses included (1) individuals in the diocese, (2) Episcopal Church bishops, and (3) member parishes of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. As far as I know, The Episcopal Church did not pay any of Calvary’s legal expenses. It was not originally a party to the litigation. It later joined the litigation, however, and incurred its own expenses.

Calvary’s counsel has been Walter P. DeForest, a Calvary parishioner. Much of his work was done pro bono, and the rest was billed at a reduced rate.

As you can see, at least in the case of litigation in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, legal expenses were borne by the church at large, but a substantial portion of the money came from within the diocese itself. When Calvary first filed its case, neither The Episcopal Church nor most of the parishes strongly supportive of their church showed much enthusiasm for Calvary’s move. I’m sure it is gratifying to members of Calvary Church that, six and a half years later, those same parishes are grateful enough to contribute directly to the cause that Calvary so selflessly undertook.


  1. I thought you were supposed to judge angels and so were not supposed to go before judges but whoever wants your jacket gets your coat, too and if you're asked to go a mile you go two miles?
    Something like that....
    Oh, well. Guess that went the way of "ethnic diversity".

  2. Brad,

    But what about “Thou shalt not steal?” Does only one side have Christian obligations?

  3. Lionel, Brad's pathological need to go on Christian websites and express his view that our faith was stupid was merely annoying for quite some time. This was offset by the fact that he occasionally made insightful comments and somewhat more frequently made inane comments that still moved the conversation forward.

    In light of a series of homophobic posts to Simple Massing Priest earlier this week, I am now routinely deleting all comments from Brad.


  4. I don't understand Brad Evans's gibberish. What do his comments have to do with the price of tea in Hong Kong?


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