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Aggressive Soper Trust Spending and Other Investments in Diocese of Washington

Aggressive Spending of Soper Trust and Other Investments Detailed in Diocese of Washington
Washington National Cathedral Financial Crisis Deepens

By Sarah Frances Ives
Exclusive to Virtueonline
October 13, 2011

The real earthquake at Mount St. Alban (the Washington DC hill providing the home to both the Washington National Cathedral and the Diocese of Washington) involves the seismic shifting of assets and investments into operating costs for these endangered institutions.

This crisis deepens with the damaged Cathedral's current closed state that brings with it a corresponding loss of revenue.

Dean Samuel Lloyd's recent leave-taking along with the impending departure of the remaining two-top executives Bishop John Bryson Chane and COO Joseph W. Smolskis will deprive the abandoned Cathedral of any sense of continuity.

Bishop-elect Mariann Budde offers little vision for these reeling institutions.

Along with the already-declining Episcopal Church, the Cathedral has become like the picture of Dorian Gray, defiled and aging before our eyes. Blighting any signs of new life, the sins of management are now visited upon the entire life of the Cathedral and the Diocesan Church House.

In recent years, management decided to proceed with extravagant programs, even in the face of their waning support. The Washington National Cathedral has used its assets for operating costs for at least the past two years.

The Diocese of Washington has used the income from the Soper Trust for operating expenses since at least 2004. These formerly respected Episcopal institutions now appear to be sliding into financial disarray with their constant use of financial gifts and formerly dedicated money to survive and make expenses.

Facts reveal the shifting and shaking funds moving from assets into immediate usage.

In its 2009 fiscal year, the Washington National Cathedral expenses exceeded revenue by over seven million dollars, even AFTER a nearly four million dollar transfer from "assets released from restrictions."

Not completely learning the lessons from this horrific year, in 2010, the Cathedral ran about a four million dollar deficit. It again covered this deficit with assets released from restrictions to make operating costs. (Washington National Cathedral 2009 and 2010 audits, pg. 5) After the August 23, 2011 earthquake, leadership appealed for money from the entire nation, yet the Cathedral acknowledged that any contributions could be used for operating costs, not only earthquake damage. The Cathedral's very existence seems threatened.

An unnamed source said one of the Cathedral's major problems (or the San Andreas Fault in this situation) lies in the Protestant Episcopal Foundation's loan for the underground parking lot. This Foundation oversees the four Episcopal groups on Mount St. Alban: the Cathedral; Beauvoir School; National Cathedral School for Girls; and St. Alban's School for Boys.

In June 2005, this Foundation issued 30-year District of Columbia tax exempt bonds for over $31 million to finance the construction of a parking garage and bus lane. The Cathedral currently owes twelve million dollars on this obligation. According to this source, the parking lot has not been as profitable as expected.

To make this situation even more bizarre in the middle of this Cathedral crisis, the Diocese decided to attack the Soper Trust Fund and become embroiled in an angry dispute with PNC bank, who has roughly two billion dollars under management in the greater Washington DC area. This disaster-preparedness action by the Diocese raises grave questions about its viability. Why are they attacking both the Soper Trust Fund and PNC bank, when they should be trying to broaden their base of support? Is the Diocese in that much trouble that it is ready to default on a loan? In a PNC bank's March 4, 2010 letter, PNC provide evidence of their many unpaid efforts to help with the financial state of the Diocese. Yet now, another expensive Episcopal lawsuit consumes money and energy. Isn't it time for the Episcopal Church to recognize that building a healthy community is not accomplished through aggressive and unprovoked attacks on others?

This lawsuit provides a rare and shocking view into the inner workings of the diocese with more details about this adversarial lawsuit with PNC bank becoming public through legal documents. The Diocese of Washington under the leadership of Canon of the Ordinary Paul Cooney (who in the documents says he works as Chief Operating Officer) aggressively seeks to get its hands on the Ruth Gregory Soper Trust Fund. PNC notes that the Diocese now "wants to break the trust and raid its assets so that it may control the principal as it wishes." (Document 26, pg. 20-21) Through the legal documents, PNC describes the diocesan leadership as attempting to destroy the original intentions of Ruth Gregory Soper, a woman dedicated to her Episcopal Church and generous to it beyond all expectations.

Ruth Gregory was married to Richard Grey Soper, president of the Dallas Gas Company, a company later acquired by a Texas energy firm. Moving from Texas to Washington DC in 1944, Richard Soper died in 1947. Mrs. Soper became an active philanthropist who donated her resources to George Washington University, St. Alban's School for Boys, and the Washington National Cathedral. She wrote her will in 1967 and died on October 25, 1973. In her will, Mrs. Soper gave direct gifts to many charities, including five Episcopal organizations: All Saints, Chevy Chase; the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation; the Episcopal Home for Children; Virginia Theological Seminary; and St. Alban's School for Boys. In her trust, she also allotted money for a friend, a cousin, and her sister Katharine Gregory Thomas (who later gave her own generous bequests to St. Alban's School). Mrs. Soper placed the remainder of her money in trust with the income given to the Diocese of Washington. In 1995 after the death of all these persons, the Diocese became the sole beneficiary of the Trust.

The Diocese first changed it tactics with the Soper Trust in 2004 when it voted to allow use of the fund for operating expenses. Currently about one third of the operating budget for the Diocese of Washington comes from the annual one-and-a-quarter million dollars accrued as interest from the Soper Trust Fund. Waiting fifteen years after the death of the other beneficiaries, in its 2010 lawsuit, the diocese now requests complete control of the twenty-three million dollars in trust.

The Diocese claims that they want the Soper Trust in order to avoid the roughly one hundred thousand dollars annual management fee. PNC points out the disingenuousness of this argument, saying that diocesan officials would also charge management fees. Also, the Diocese alleges that the Soper Trust should "provide the Diocese with the highest income stream possible," an idea that PNC says may be in direct conflict to Mrs. Soper's wishes. A PNC bank official, Fredric T. Wallis, states that the Diocese request for maximum income differs from an investment "in perpetuity" that Mrs. Soper requested. Wallis states that these different types of investment require different percentages of equities and bonds. By requesting the highest possible income, the Diocese is already changing the provisions of Mrs. Soper's will which would "violate Mrs. Soper's intent." (Document 45, Filed 8/10/11, pg. 8)

In what seems to be its deepest concern, PNC attorney Sean F. Murphy states that to give the money to the Diocese opens the Soper capital to actions by the creditors of the Diocese. If the Diocese claims the money as its own, even with restrictive terms placed on it, if creditors are not paid, they legally can plunder the Soper Trust. If the money remains at PNC bank, the Soper Trust has full protection from creditors. With the Diocesan's shaking financial state, keeping the Soper Trust at PNC is clearly the prudent choice. (Document 45, pg. 8)

PNC states that if the Diocese is allowed "unfettered" use of this money and the destruction of the trust, the very principal of "freedom to give property as one chooses is undermined." If Mrs. Soper had wanted to allow the diocese to handle this money, she would have chosen to give the money directly to the Diocese rather than setting up a trust. The action of the Diocese is a "direct contradiction of Mrs. Soper's intent." (Document 45, pg 9)

PNC requested that Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler intervene to protect the public interests for charitable trusts. In a letter dated February 23, 2011, Gansler refused to enter into this case, saying that the adversarial action between the Diocese of Washington and PNC could decide the outcome. At the January 23, 2012 trial, much additional information will emerge about the troubled finances in the Diocese of Washington.

The social engineering of the Diocese of Washington has reached new heights in this aggression against the Ruth Gregory Soper Trust fund. In recent years, the Diocese of Washington has worked to proclaim its particular vision of reality throughout the globe with its syncretistic blending of images. Buddhism, Islam, Native American, and Christian prayers all blend together in worship services. And yet its most disturbing manifestation of syncretism is seen in the Washington National Cathedral and the Diocesan obsession with money and increasing its revenue. In sermons, announcements, and meetings, the request for money has become its continual theme with the leadership pushing past any boundaries of respect for others and the love of God to talk about increasing the money flow.

The biggest shock of this situation lies in the Cathedral and Diocesan refusal to address the real issue: what is causing many in this country to leave the Episcopal Church and refuse to support it with their money? The lack of respect for Ruth Gregory Soper who blessed the Episcopal Church with her generous gifts is a warning to any future donors. Yet with a damaged Cathedral, declining revenues and this ugly lawsuit, a new and frightening era begins on Mount St. Alban where the empty Cathedral appears haunted and defiled by mismanagement.

You can view the audit links here:

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