By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook.
A state court judge in Kentucky has lifted a stay in the defamation case that Eric Hoey, a former director of Evangelism and Church Growth for the Presbyterian Church (USA), filed against the denomination. The PCUSA promptly appealed that ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
The church’s lawyers are attempting to stop the action in state court – contending that under the precedent set by a Kentucky Supreme Court decision from 2014 (St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society v. Edwards), the Hoey case should be dismissed on the grounds that courts lack jurisdiction over religious organizations on internal matters involving theological controversy, church discipline or ecclesiastical government.
The PCUSA also is seeking to avoid turning over to Hoey’s lawyer, Dale Warren, an investigative report prepared for the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board that examines the handling of funds from the denomination’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities program. The Alston and Bird law firm prepared the report and gave it to the board in April 2015, but Warren said in court that Hoey has never been allowed to see it.
The investigation was initiated after it was discovered that in December 2013, an unauthorized corporation called the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Development Inc. was set up in California, and that later $100,000 of PCUSA grant money was sent to that corporation. All of the money was later returned, and Linda Valentine, who then served as executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has said none of those involved were acting for personal gain.
Hoey and three other former employees who were cited for ethics violations in connection with the matter lost their PCUSA jobs in June 2015. Shortly after that, both Hoey and Roger Dermody, the denomination’s former deputy executive director for mission, filed defamation suits against the PCUSA in Kentucky state court.