Litigation strains Episcopal diocese

moolahWashington Times reporter Julia Duin has written dozens of pieces on the big religion story happening in Virginia -- the realignment of 11 Episcopal congregations from the Episcopal Church into the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. We've read, if not highlighted, her various stories about the incremental updates in the lawsuits the Episcopal Church filed against the departing flocks. Her blog also makes for lively reading, helped along by her writeup of her failed dramatic stakeout of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola. Anyway, her latest story shows why it's good to read denominational news. The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia revealed in a church publication that its attempt to keep the property of the departed congregations is costing a pretty penny and stretching their resources. They're taking out a $2 million line of credit, among other things, to keep the fight going:

The diocese says it will sell off "non-strategic" diocesan properties to raise the money needed to win back $30 million to $40 million worth of real estate and assets.

The diocese has spent $1 million to date on the lawsuits, but instead of paying back the sum, is simply paying the interest -- $80,000 -- on the loan. The diocese borrowed from restricted endowment funds for the money, spokesman Patrick Getlein said. ...

The diocese plans to sell surplus property -- what Mr. Getlein termed as "unimproved, unconsecrated land" -- to pay back what it borrowed from the endowments. Still, the $80,000 will appear as an item on the diocese's 2008 budget, which must be approved during the annual diocesan convention Jan. 25 and 26 in Reston.

And there's more. Half a dozen churches haven't paid their 2007 pledges. Meanwhile, the national Episcopal Church isn't revealing where it's getting the funds for its legal efforts. Some retired bishops have requested the information because they're worried the church might be violating federal pension fund laws. And there's another issue lurking here that often pops up in religious conflicts. It's crucial to find out if the national church -- or anyone else for that matter -- is spending endowment funds for purposes other than the purposes designated by the donors.

Duin follows the money on both sides of the legal battle:

The Anglican District of Virginia, representing the 11 churches, spent $1 million on legal fees last year and plans to spend another $1 million this year, Vice Chairman Jim Oakes said yesterday. Its members have pledged to raise $3 million.

"If people in the pews knew how much money was being spent on this stuff, there'd be pressure to put an end to this," he said. "We just hate spending this money on lawyers."

Just some great, straight forward reporting by Duin. And, again, the story shows why keeping up on denominations' internal news pays off. I think that's doubly true for the Episcopal Church.

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