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LONG ISLAND, NY: Title IV Complaint Filed against Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano

LONG ISLAND, NY: Title IV Complaint Filed against Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
October 10, 2018

A Title IV complaint has been lodged against Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano, eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, on charges that he exceeded his authority in declaring St. James’ in Elmhurst, Queens, a mission church of the Diocese, and transferred its real and personal property to the Trustees of the Estate belonging to the Diocese of Long Island. It is further alleged that Bishop Provenzano used predatory practices to obtain control of the real and personal property to extend the Garden City campus, the Diocese’s administrative and spiritual seat, and is surreptitiously converting St. James into a training and learning center for the international Anglican community.

Charles Martellaro, a former member of the LI Diocesan Council, filed the complaint, saying the bishop violated a specific court order protecting St. James from his action and in doing so, he violated NYS Religious Corporation Law.

The complainant and similar-situated persons of color at St. James’ have suffered both disparate impact and disparate treatment as a result of the respondent’s decision to declare St. James’, a mission church of the Diocese and subject to his direct control.

It is further alleged the bishop has and is intentionally weakening the lay leadership and the bonds between congregants and the church in order to declare the church unviable.

Bishop Provenzano intentionally and willfully disregarded the reconciliation process in The Episcopal Church canons to resolve deeply embedded systemic issues at St. James’ and detrimental actions taken by the church’s Priest-in-Charge, maintains Martellaro. Those actions have severely harmed the temporal and spiritual health of St. James’, he said.

Mr. Martellaro said he felt compelled to file the complaints after the bishop disregarded several attempts at conciliation and compromise. The complaint to the national church was filed 560 days after Mr. Martellaro requested the bishop to help reconcile differences between the priest-in-charge and the congregation. Mr. Martellaro remains hopeful that litigation could be avoided as there is room for compromise and cooperation.

Bishop Provenzano failed to act on a Title IV complaint filed against the current the Priest-in-Charge of St. James’, who it is alleged, has caused severe harm to the unity, spiritual well-being, and viability of the church and its community.

Bishop Todd Ousley, bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development has received the complaint, according to Martellaro.

“There are parallels between this complaint and St. James the Great in Los Angeles,” Martellaro told VOL. (This complaint resulted in the forced departure and a three-year suspension of Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno).

As a result of the complaint, Provenzano made a snap visit to the church to speak to the congregation on Sept 18. “He faulted the congregation for its ills,” Martellaro told VOL.

Martellaro said he had a personal 90-minute meeting with Provenzano earlier in September. During the meeting, the bishop said; "This has the potential of damaging reputations and costing a lot of money." Shortly after the meeting, he visited the church.

Martellaro alleges that there is a racial component to the actions of the bishop. “The complainant and similar-situated persons of color at St. James’ have suffered both disparate impact and disparate treatment as a result of the respondent’s decision to declare St. James’ a mission church of the Diocese and subject to his direct control.”

The former warden of St. James filed a Title IV complaint regarding Bishop Provenzano’s dismissing the vestry and transferring its property to the Diocese in 2013. The complaint alleges the bishop treated St. James differently from Holy Trinity in Nassau County, resulting in disparate treatment and disparate impact for the St. James’ and its members. The complaint further alleges the bishop violated a 2008 NYS Supreme Ct. decision, NYS Religious Corporation Law, and the national and diocesan canons.

Martellaro said the bishop may have violated his own policy. In 2013, the bishop converted St. James from a parish to a mission church. This effectively stripped the congregation from hiring a rector, acting as stewards of their church, and electing a vestry to oversee the church’s temporal affairs. It's unclear where the bishop claims the authority to change a parish’s status from an autonomous independent religious corporation to mission of the diocese and subject to the bishop's direct control. The Title IV complaint raises this question.

Additional information can be seen at this website: https://www.savingstjames.com/

VOL reached out to Bishop Provenzano for a response, but received no reply to our email.

END

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