Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Church that Sues Itself Is a Church?

The highly litigious Episcopal Church in the United States of America ("ECUSA") has settled a lawsuit with itself, according to a press release from its rump group (which cannot legally be called a "diocese") in South Carolina.

Shall we run that one by our eyes again? ECUSA has settled a lawsuit which it brought against itself.

OK, technically I should say: one arm of ECUSA has agreed to take money from another arm of ECUSA in settlement of a dispute the two arms had with each other, and that went to court. Is that clearer?

No? My, but you are being picky. Let me try one more time, in a bit more detail.

ECUSA is this epiphenomenon that is rather like the village of Brigadoon. One day or so you suddenly see it (if you're lucky enough), and then for a very long time, you don't. It arises (when it does), not out of its own doings, but of those of its constituent members.

Oh, you may think you see ECUSA far oftener than that, for if you follow lawsuits, ECUSA is perpetually in the news. Every time you see or hear of ECUSA in that sense, it is as the plaintiff in yet another lawsuit against one of its own churches, or dioceses.

But the ECUSA who files suit as a "plaintiff" is not the real ECUSA that the Rev. Dr. William White and others formed in 1789. It is simply the Presiding Bishop and her personal attorneys.

Apparently, they have allowed matters to get out of hand -- to the point where this Anglican Curmudgeon must duly report that one arm of ECUSA has agreed to pay money to another arm of ECUSA so that the two arms can dismiss the lawsuits they filed against each other.

Enough about "arms": let us name names. One branch of ECUSA involved in this imbroglio is what ECUSA was forced by the South Carolina courts to call "the Episcopal Church in South Carolina", or ECSC for short.

ECSC has quite a speckled history. Thanks to the machinations of the Presiding Bishop and her enablers, it came into formal existence only at the end of January in 2013 -- but its roots go back much farther than that, as I detailed in this earlier post, in this one, and in this one.

It was formally organized in January 2013 out of the bits and pieces that wanted the Diocese of South Carolina to go the way of General Convention 2012. That would have meant authorizing same-sex partnered clergy and bishops, same-sex marriage blessings and church ceremonies, and all the miasma that ensues from such endless appeasing of the current culture.

As is their wont, the progressive minority who wanted to have everything their way ignored the rules, and took the law into their own hands. They sent out emails purporting to come from the diocesan office; they appropriated the diocesan name and corporate seal; they erected a Web site that purported to be the official site of the Diocese of South Carolina.  They acted as though they had already triumphed over the vast majority that refused to accede to their Kultur-driven agenda, and that instead (under their faithful Bishop) resolved to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints.

As a consequence of the minority's lawlessness, Bishop Lawrence and his corporate diocese brought suit against them to halt their misappropriations of his seal and the diocesan name and trademarks. And lo and behold! They capitulated almost at once, and agreed to an injunction against their further misbehavior.

But they were still the defendants in a suit against them alleging that they had engaged in wrongful behavior. So like any good Episcopalians, they tendered the defense of that lawsuit to the Church Insurance Company of Vermont. That insurer is one of the Church Insurance Companies set up by the Church Pension Fund of the Episcopal Church (USA) to provide low-cost liability and other forms of insurance to Episcopal parishes and dioceses.
Wait -- "dioceses", you say? But I thought you said earlier that the rump group could not qualify as the Diocese of South Carolina under South Carolina law -- so how did they qualify to be a diocese of ECUSA for purposes of the Church Insurance Company's policy?
Simple -- the Presiding Bishop headed up the rump group's organizing convention in South Carolina. Her attorneys, the Executive Council and the Church Insurance Companies could, after that, scarcely fail to recognize the rump group as a full-fledged "diocese" within ECUSA, and so it was. And as a full-fledged Episcopal "diocese", it got its liability insurance policy, and paid its premiums.

The money went to the Church Insurance Companies, but that is really an outfit which (like its parent, the Church Pension Fund) depends for its existence upon ECUSA and its parishes that are its customers. Any "profits" (the excess of premiums paid in over expenses, including monies paid out to satisfy judgments and settlements) earned by the insurance company stay within the larger Pension Fund, and contribute to the ability of that Fund to pay benefits to retired Episcopal clergy.

Now one of the coverages provided under the Church Insurance Companies' general liability policy is  described in their booklet as follows (scroll down to page 12):
Advertising Injury Liability  
Exposure: Liability for plagiarism or piracy of one’s copyright or trademark  
Example: Another business claims that the policyholder’s logo is confusingly similar to its own.
Notice the wording of that example? "Another business" -- in ECUSA TECSpeak™, that would mean what we lay people call "another church" -- "claims that the policyholder's logo" -- that would be the seal used by the rump group -- "is confusingly similar to its own."

"Confusingly similar"?  How about identical? As in, "You stole that from us!"

So the Church Insurance Company liability policy obtained by the rump group had coverage for the particular injury which the plaintiff Diocese of South Carolina claimed the rump group had done to it. The rump group promptly filed suit against its insurers in the federal district court for the District of South Carolina.

The Insurance Company argued that it was not liable to cover willful acts of trade mark infringement, and that under South Carolina's laws, acts of infringement had to be willful to generate liability.   However, the federal judge ruled that liability could be established under South Carolina law for unintentional conduct that amounted to trademark infringement, and so held that the Insurance Company had to pay for the rump group's defense (up to the policy limits of $1 million).

The rump group sued the insurer not only to force it to provide a defense, but also sued it for bad faith denial of coverage -- which claim, if proved, could lead to substantial damages in excess of the policy limits, and based on the entire net worth of the insurance company! The court ruled that it did not have enough evidence before it to rule on that claim, and left it for a future trial.

But stop and think for a moment: in the world of ECUSA, it is nothing for one arm of the Church to sue another arm of the same Church, and claim that it is a victim of bad-faith dealings by its fellow member -- entitling it to wipe out that member's entire net worth! I suppose that all the vestries and rectors whom ECUSA has sued personally for punitive damages and bad faith should take some small amount of consolation from the realization that for ECUSA, it's nothing personal, and nothing that ECUSA wouldn't hesitate to use against its own.

What a Church! What a Christian example to fellow Christians!

And now we learn that the lawsuit by ECUSA against itself has settled -- for the payment of an undisclosed amount of money. Well, that certainly must come as a relief to ECUSA's pensioned clergy, who otherwise might fear that ECUSA's ever-increasing lawsuits would end up preventing the Pension Fund from being able to fund their pensions. At least they have one less such suit about which to worry -- even though they don't know (and will never be told) how much it cost them.

What else is left for ECUSA's clergy to say, in the face of such mind-boggling, imperially-sponsored carnage at the peons' expense?

Ave imperator, morituri te salutant. 

3 comments:

  1. Anybody remember Monty Python's "Twit Olympics"? That glorious moment when one of the contestants scores big points by running himself over with a car.

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  2. I guess they will have to come out with a new Hymnal and Prayer Book the sales of which will be used to pump up the Church Pension Fund.

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