GC2009: Episcopal Church Allocates $4 Million to Litigation
By Michael Heidt
The Program Finance and Budget Committee (PBF) unveiled a slashed budget to both Houses of Bishops and Deputies Convention at a joint session of the Convention this afternoon. Over $4 million of this scarcity budget is earmarked for litigation costs.
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori opened Wednesday afternoon's session with prayer for those who "will be wounded by this budget" which reflects the "scarcity we are experiencing across this Church."
Respondents to The Episcopal Church's ongoing litigation will certainly be among the casualties of the 2010-2012 budget, which assigns $4,003,000 to legal costs and Title IV assistance to dioceses. Title IV refers to the canonical process of removing bishops and priest from ministry for "abandoning the communion of The Episcopal Church". This Canon has seen unprecedented use as it's been deployed to prosecute over two hundred clergy leaving the Church in protest over TEC's homosexual activism.
The greatest number of Title IV depositions of clergy in TECs two hundred and twenty five year history go hand in hand with lawsuits around the country, with TEC suing parishes for attempting to leave the denomination with their buildings. Departing dioceses have added to their number.
The dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy and most recently, Fort Worth, are being litigated against for attempting to leave TEC with their infrastructure and assets intact, and the legal battle will cost an estimated $1, 403,000 in 2010 and slightly less, $1,300,000, for the two years following. Where this money comes from is opaque, after a resolution calling for transparency was roundly defeated in the House of Deputies.
Still, disregarding the consensus of both Houses and the PBF that much needed dollars were being well spent on lawsuits, the figure I question was briefly discussed. A Deputy from Albany addressed the Convention, suggesting that projected legal fees would be better spent on mission and called for the amount to be reduced. He met with a terse response from the Vice Chair of the PBF Committee, "It already is reduced". There was little mood for further questioning on the issue.
Other casualties of the budget are Mission Direction, cut from $1,392,317 to $211,406, Congregational Vitality and Stewardship, down from $2,235,600 to $1,494,451, and The Episcopal Church's primary communications media, the Episcopal Life newspaper. Funding for that has been dramatically reduced to $3,195,064 from the 2006-2009 total of $9,570,494. The General Convention itself has been shortened by two days and its budget cut back to $11,889,563 from $13,367,282. Projected expense for the new triennium now stands at $140,856,531, reduced from the Executive Committee draft forecast of over $160 million.
Even this figure might be hard to sustain if TEC continues to lose a thousand people a week, as indicated by 2008's alarming statistic, which is part of a longstanding negative trend of declining membership. As this looks set to accelerate with the Convention's radical departure from the Church's teaching on Faith and Morals, in favor of LGBT rights, it seems likely that further cuts will be in order.
With this in mind, it may not be the case that the $4 million set aside for litigation will be enough to frighten people, parishes and dioceses, into staying with a denomination whose focus is more on gender equality advocacy than the message of salvation found in the Gospel. Stay tuned for higher lawyer's fees.
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