By Gregg Brekke, The Presbyterian News Service.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, through its Louisville-based lawyer, John Sheller of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, issued a response on June 25 to a defamation lawsuit filed against the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation, by the Rev. Roger Dermody.
Dermody, former deputy executive director for mission, filed a defamation suit against the PC(USA) May 29, 2015, in Louisville’s Jefferson Circuit Court.
He is one of four PC(USA) employees placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 14, 2014, while an independent investigation was conducted regarding the establishment of an unauthorized nonprofit corporation, the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovations, Inc. (PCNCI). An announcement was made June 1, 2015, that the four were no longer employed by the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
The Rev. Eric Hoey filed a similar suit on June 16, 2015. A response to Hoey’s suit is due on or before July 8. Hoey is the former director of Evangelism and Church Growth at the PC(USA).
The PC(USA)’s response claims Dermody is barred from bringing civil charges against the church by the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine or ministerial exception.” These clauses assert Dermody, as a teaching elder of the PC(USA), agreed to the disciplinary process—including reporting of disciplinary actions—as a condition of his ordination.
The response further claims the reporting of disciplinary action against Dermody, made to the presbytery and the wider denomination, were “required by the Church’s policies and practices informed by its faith and polity.”
The church denies Dermody’s claims of defamation, asserting, “Any statements made by or attributed to the [PC(USA)] were true or substantially true.” The defense states moreover that the church is not legally responsible for rumors or gossip that spread after these truthful statements were made, or for reports published by third parties such as the Presbyterian Outlook.