If the Defense Could Speak

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 argumentsurcna-logo 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.

  1. The Plaintiffs, by their voluntary actions, were members of Covenant Reformed Church.
  2. Church membership involves, among other things, recognition of the jurisdiction of the Consistory to make determinations regarding Christian life and doctrine.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Plaintiffs had repeated sexual contact with Patrick Edouard.
  6. Plaintiffs did not report the sexual contacts to law enforcement until after the Consistory became aware of them.
  7. 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.
  8. The Consistory promptly met with Edouard about the matter.
  9. Edouard promptly resigned from Covenant.
  10. Edouard was deposed by the URCNA.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.

roxanneThis 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.

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14 Comments

Filed under Courts

14 responses to “If the Defense Could Speak

  1. Pingback: Presbyterian Blues Blog on the Edourd, Covenant Reformed, URCNA Lawsuit « Literate Comments

  2. But a true worldview or following the OT would fix this, right? Please reassure me.

  3. MikeInIowa

    I can appreciate the hurt that all parties are have had to deal with in this unfortuneate situation. But having said that, what I don’t get is why folks would want to continue this with a lawsuit and keep it in the public eye with its constant daily reminders for plaintiff and defendant alike. Edouard is being punished for his crime, period. I would think for the others it would be best to move on.

    • Mike, that’s really the bottom line assessment of this whole thing. A lot of people have suffered. Some will continue to suffer. This lawsuit will not undo any of that, but only ensure more and deeper pain. We can only hope there’s someone close to the plaintiffs that can help them see this.

  4. Mike in Iowa – Money. Note that one of the plaintiffs is an attorney who probably finds it very difficult to practice law at this point, either because of her mental state or because of damage done to her reputation.

    • MikeInIowa

      Ah, yes. Money. Her being a lawyer you’d think she’d understand point 2 as stated by MM above. Your point of having no liability and renting vice owning is well taken. Like you said, what are you going to get?

  5. One interesting question is, unless a church carries liability insurance, what exactly does a church have to take that you want if you win a judgment? Some money in the bank and maybe a building, but how marketable is the building? This presumes the elders won’t be liable as individuals, which seems kind of likely given they were doing unpaid, volunteer work. Lawsuits are maybe a reason for churches to rent, not own, and to keep minimal funds on hand. If a church gets sued and folds what’s to stop the people from forming a new, different church? When Jesus was doing his ministry he was pretty judgment proof.

  6. Maybe just don’t even carry liability insurance. It just makes you a target.

    • Guys, I tend to think that we have no lessons at all simply based on the fact that a lawsuit has been filed. It’s only responsible for a church to have liability insurance for injuries or the like that might happen on church grounds.

      Unexpected facts could be established, but Edouard is the only defendant for whom ultimate liability seems likely.

  7. MM – You express faith in the same Iowa Judiciary that discovered that two dudes or two chicks have the right to marry. I think carrying a lot of insurance is a two-edged sword — it pays for your defense in a lawsuit but it also kind of invites a lawsuit. Even though it pays for your defense you are still having to spend a lot of time dealing with it. I know it may not be responsible to be uninsured, but just once in life I aspire to be the judgment proof guy instead of paying the judgment proof guy’s bills as usually happens in our welfare state.

    • But as you know, three of the judges who voted on that case are gone. Anyway I don’t necessarily see how finding a right for gay marriage necessarily gives us much clue as to what they would do in this case. But hopefully it won’t go to trial as it looks like it would get extremely ugly for everyone, perhaps especially for the Plaintiffs.

  8. Part of me aspires to be the guy living alone in the van down by the river.

  9. “Frank Gaudmer” your five comments don’t contribute much to a conversation here. Name calling, telling us what Jesus thinks of all this, and identifying entire denominations with those who crucified Jesus isn’t helping anyone to understand this situation better.

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