Following more than six months of investigation into how funds were routed from the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 1001 Worshiping Communities area to an outside organization, four employees are “no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency,” and one of those four men has already filed a defamation lawsuit against the denomination.
During a 4 p.m. (EST) conference call on Monday with various news organizations, PMA Board Chair Rev. Marilyn S. Gamm read the following statement:
At its April meeting, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board empowered attorney John Sheller to work with the Executive Committee and Executive Director to take appropriate steps to resolve employment issues with four staff following the 2013 creation of an independent corporation related to the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovations, Inc. The four employees are no longer with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Because this is a private personnel matter, we cannot provide any other details. These four individuals have made significant contributions to the Presbyterian Mission Agency and to the wider denomination over the years. They have been and continue to be faithful servants of the church.
The four, now former, employees are:
- Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission
- Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism and Church Growth;
- Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth, and
- Craig S. Williams, staff person for the western regional office of the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development
When asked if the employees had resigned or been terminated, Gamm refused to say, calling it a private, personnel matter and reiterating that “they are no longer with the PMA, effective today.” She said that the four employees did not receive any financial or severance packages from the PMA, but did receive approximately $242,000 while they were on paid administrative leave during the six month investigation.
The four employees were put on paid leave on Nov. 15, 2014, following an internal investigation which revealed the formation – without PMA authorization – of an independent organization called Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovation Inc. A $100,000 grant orchestrated by one or more of the identified staff to that corporation. Another grant was stopped before it could be sent to the new corporation after the scheme was discovered.
A report from the PMA’s audit committee stated that if fully developed, the plan would have removed a major mission agency program from the PMA’s oversight.
Linda Valentine, executive director of the PMA has said that the grant money was returned in full after the investigation began. She also stated in the past that there was no indication that any of the four employees were trying to benefit personally from the plan.
According to Leslie Scanlon of The Presbyterian Outlook, Dermody filed a lawsuit on May 29 “against the Presbyterian Church (USA) A Corporation (which is the denomination’s corporate identity) in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville. The lawsuit alleges that PCUSA statements that he and done something ‘unethical’ were ‘false and defamatory, have caused Dermody substantial public embarrassment and shame, and have substantially compromised Dermody’s future employment and financial prospects.’”
Dermody claims in the lawsuit that he didn’t know that the other employees had set up an unauthorized independent corporation or that PCUSA funds had been sent to it.
Scanlon reported that Dermody is seeking “a jury trial; a judgment against the PCUSA for defamation; and ‘an award of compensatory damages in an amount, to be proven at trial, that will compensate him for public embarrassment and humiliation, compensate him for the adverse effects on his future employment prospects and career, and compensate him for the adverse effects on his future earnings and financial stability.’”
Costs of investigation
Gamm said that legal fees for the investigation into the $100,000 grant to the outside corporation have cost the PMA approximately $850,000, but that total, she said, does not include all the fees owed to the current lawyer — John Sheller – who is now representing the PMAB.
It was an “expensive way to go about it,” said Gamm, but the PMAB felt it had “an obligation” to conduct an independent investigation into how the church’s funds were used.
The fees will be paid from the unrestricted reserve fund, or the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund (PMPF), said Gamm. That account, however, is an area of concern for the board’s financial committee. Projections by the committee indicate that the PMPF will total less than $1 million over the required minimum by the end of the year and that by 2017, there may not be enough money in the reserve account to balance the PMAB’s budget. Depletion of the reserve account is already having a negative impact on World Missions.
Scanlon also reported that during an April 10 conference call, the PMAB voted to remove all documents and articles about the 1001 investigation from the PCUSA web site. She wrote that the board voted “to instruct Barry Creech, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s director for policy, administration and board support, to ‘identify and remove from the public domain’ documents related to the investigation, with the action to be taken by April 15, and ‘to create a list of those documents for inclusion in these minutes’ of the April 10 meeting. The documents that were removed from the PCUSA website included minutes of board and committee meetings and Presbyterian News Service articles related to the controversy.”
Read the complaint: Roger Dermody v. Presbyterian Church (USA), A Corporation