A Pyrrhic Victory in San Joaquin

 

A Pyrrhic Victory in San Joaquin

Author: 

Allan Haley

What would you say of a trustee who spent $6.8 million of his trust fund's money to recover just $1 million? Is that a healthy example of how a fiduciary should carry out his duties?

You probably already guessed before I tell you: the trustee in question is the Episcopal Church (USA); the trust fund is ECUSA's endowment (some $366 million as of the end of 2016); the $6.8 million was loaned by ECUSA's Executive Council to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to keep it propped up during its ten-year lawsuit to "recover church properties"; and the $1 million is all that the Diocese of San Joaquin is now able to repay after having been handed more than 25 properties by the crazy California courts.

And actually, those figures are not even half of the San Joaquin iceberg. For as I carefully estimated from all sources and after reviewing ECUSA's budget for the current triennium, ECUSA's litigation machine has spent a good $40 million on just legal expenses in the first six triennia of this century (it began its career of suing parishes and dioceses in 2000). Because the two longest-lasting cases to date have been in California, it would be fair to allocate, say, $8 million of that total to the legal expenses of ECUSA in connection with the San Joaquin lawsuit (recounted in considerable detail in these pages, since yours truly was a participant).

That fact, accordingly, reduces the final return even more: ECUSA spent nearly $15 million to recover $1 million, after all is said and done. That is a pretty egregious fiduciary record under anybody's yardstick.

And what of the plaintiff diocese itself? The ENS story of last week's actions by the Executive Council contains these observations:

Council member Russ Randle, while earlier presenting the loan forgiveness resolution, said Episcopalians “faithfully persevered” through what turned out to be nearly a decade of eventually successful property litigation. There are now 25 properties that will be sold and 21 “viable” congregations, he said, but the latter are struggling financially. There are two paid full-time clergy in the diocese, along with retired clergy and clergy who work full-time but earn part-time salaries. Randle called the loan forgiveness a “significant investment in this diocese.” 

Two full-time clergy; one part-time bishop; and those who volunteer some or all of their services -- all to care for 21 congregations described as "viable". (The only reason they have $1 million in cash to repay ECUSA is that the arbitrary and ignorant judges on the Court of Appeals, without any discussion or reasoning on the point, simply handed them all the money the former diocese under Bishop Schofield held in its investment trust accounts at Merrill Lynch.) Good luck with selling 25 used churches while you maintain them in the meantime -- all because you drove out the congregations that had been paying and caring for them all along.

And as for making "a significant investment in this diocese"? Please spare me. You already pumped $6.8 million of lifeblood into that turnip, and now you are simply acknowledging that you can't get any more blood out of it.

After losing nearly all of his army in defeating the Romans twice, the Greek general Pyrrhus (319/318 - 272 BC) is reported to have said: "One more such victory and we shall be ruined." It sounds as though ECUSA has little to distinguish it from Pyrrhus -- just more dollars to burn than he had soldiers.

P.S.: In light of the above, you should now re-read the first part of the linked ENS story about how ECUSA's budget for the next triennium will have to slash funds for evangelism by 41%. The new proposed figure -- $ 3.5 million over the next three years -- is less than half of the amount they claim to have used for evangelization in the Diocese of San Joaquin.

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