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.