To state the obvious, the petition against Patrick Edouard and others contains a number of allegations that may or may not be true, and may or may not be established in court regardless of whether they are true. So we have Plaintiff allegations that are of public record and we’re unlikely to see much in the way of public rebuttal by the Defendants. But if we could see some allegations and arguments of the Covenant Reformed Consistory and the URCNA what might they look like? Today we’ll consider a number of them.
For our purposes “Plaintiffs” will refer to the female plaintiffs only.
- The Plaintiffs, by their voluntary actions, were members of Covenant Reformed Church.
- Church membership involves, among other things, recognition of the jurisdiction of the Consistory to make determinations regarding Christian life and doctrine.
- The remedy for church members who are aggrieved by improper actions of a Consistory is to stay in the church and appeal the matter to the broader church. Plaintiffs did not pursue this remedy.
- Throughout the events described by the petition, the Plaintiffs maintained the ability to make moral judgments and, in light of those judgments, act according to their will.
- Plaintiffs had repeated sexual contact with Patrick Edouard.
- Plaintiffs did not report the sexual contacts to law enforcement until after the Consistory became aware of them.
- The Consistory first became aware of the sexual contacts on December 15, 2010 when the husbands of the Plaintiffs (who are actually plaintiffs as well) told them about it.
- The Consistory promptly met with Edouard about the matter.
- Edouard promptly resigned from Covenant.
- Edouard was deposed by the URCNA.
- Edouard engaged in a heinous abuse of power, trust, and office. He did so without the consent or knowledge of the Consistory and the URCNA.
- The Bible, which is authoritative to church members and the Consistory, includes a prohibition against suing fellow believers. There are various opinions about its breadth and application, but hiring a high-profile trial attorney to sue a denomination, a Consistory and individual elders is an action likely covered by that prohibition.
- Under the First Amendment courts have no authority to impose upon a church the Court’s idea of how much supervision there should be over a minister.
These would all be related to the sexual conduct of Edouard and the Plaintiffs. A count worthy of separate treatment is the one alleging defamation. That count – which includes seeking personal liability against named elders – includes quotes from elders that state or imply that the Plaintiffs sinned by engaging in sexual conduct with Edouard. One of these quotes might well go the heart of the clashing positions: “Grooming is a word made up by professionals, in reality it is temptation”, these women fell into temptation and they sinned”. [sic] This may well be revealing a deep divide between the elders’ conception of sin and responsibility over against a psychologized theory that may be held by the Plaintiffs. Such a theory would involve the idea that victims of counselor abuse should not be held accountable for their actions notwithstanding that the acts have the outward appearance of being voluntarily sinful.
This is not the first time Roxanne Conlin has attempted to sue individuals for defamation who are acting pursuant to their office. She is currently suing the State of Iowa along with Governor Branstad and five members of his staff as individuals for defamation. The Iowa Attorney General’s position is that the individuals can’t be sued because they were acting in their official capacity. Conlin is challenging that position.
Conlin may see herself as fighting for the underdog but her attempt here is an assault on the right for an important private sphere to conduct its business without oppressive interference from the government. She would break down something which needs to be preserved: the freedom of churches to make moral determinations regarding their members. It’s an invitation for judges to substitute their moral sensibilities for that of a church. Ms. Conlin would have churches structuring all their activities to avoid being second-guessed by trial attorneys and courts. All of which is to say this is a suit that is potentially destructive of something that is precious and needs to be preserved. Surely Ms. Conlin would like to leave a better legacy and her clients, who presumably had a high regard for the church at some point, shouldn’t want their names to be forever associated with that kind of destruction.