So here’s the story: Carrollton Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) of New Orleans has been locked in judicial combat with the Presbytery of South Louisiana, the Synod of the Sun, and the denomination over a decision the 20-member congregation made to sell its property. This item from the Layman Online is a pretty good summary of the two sides:
Among property law cases, this litigation is unique, in that the Carrollton church is a member congregation of the PCUSA that says it has no intention of leaving the denomination. At issue is Carrollton’s decision to sell its property to a Catholic school next door in order to facilitate the school’s classroom expansion. The plan includes Carrollton’s intent to continue using the sanctuary for its own Sunday worship services, even after the sale. Carrollton session members see this as a win-win arrangement: They will facilitate sound Christian education for New Orleans children while continuing to use the building for worship. Further, they can use the proceeds from the sale for their chosen ministries, and the Catholics will assume expensive maintenance costs.
All was well until PSL intervened, clouding Carrollton’s title and blocking the sale.
Carrollton was formerly a Presbyterian Church, US (southern) congregation, and, as did many southern churches, it voted for an exemption from the requirement that it gain presbytery permission to purchase, sell or otherwise encumber its property. Based on the language of that exemption, Carrollton believes that it is entirely permissible for the congregation to sell its property to the school next door, and that PSL has no right to intervene.
PSL argues that Carrollton’s “real intention” is to leave the denomination with its property or to dissolve itself without presbytery involvement – acts that PSL believes are forbidden by the denomination’s trust clause. In documents filed with the 19th Judicial District Court, Carrollton has denied that it has any of these intentions, and PSL has cited no evidence to substantiate its suspicions.
For some reason, the presbytery, synod, and denomination decided that this was a place to go to war, and have spent well over a million dollars in legal fees pressing their claim. In the process, the presbytery was hit with a contempt of court citation for trying to hide relevant evidence from Carrollton, evidence that indicated that higher-ups have been directing much of the maneuvering.
Well, it looks like the battle is over, and Goliath lays on the field, dead and bleeding from who knows how many different bank accounts. The presbytery has been practically bankrupted, and is being sued for sanctions for bringing unnecessary litigation against the congregation. The synod and denomination may have to pay even more to make this go away (or, alternatively, can through good money after bad by pursuing appeals). They are also enjoined from further action against the church, according to the latest from the Layman:
The order, signed by Judge Kay Bates on Dec. 4, warns the presbytery and any higher PCUSA governing body that may consider itself connected to it not to initiate “any disciplinary or other retaliatory action” against Carrollton’s ministers, officers or members, “which directly or indirectly arises from or is connected to any property issue raised in, prompted by, or related to the subject matter of this litigation.”
In an apparent slap to the Synod of the Sun, whose administrative commission tried to dissolve the Carrollton church in defiance of the court’s earlier temporary restraining order, Bates ordered higher governing bodies of the PCUSA not to appoint administrative commissions or otherwise attempt to wrest control from Carrollton’s elected leaders with respect to the congregation’s real and personal property rights.
The court has also enjoined PCUSA governing bodies from “otherwise interfering with the normal duties and responsibilities of the officers, ministers and employees of Carrollton Presbyterian Church … in any way that pertains to the ownership, control, use or disposition” of Carrollton’s real and personal property.
Further information can be found here, here, here, here, and here. If there’s any justice, a lot of people are going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do as a result of this monumentally bone-headed fight, starting with that of Mark Tammen, the General Assembly Office attorney whose name is all over the e-mails that PSL tried to hide.