Sauls claims a vast conspiracy was in place to oust him

According the lawsuit filed in Mobile Circuit Court in Alabama, Stacy Sauls (former COO of the the Episcopal Church) alleges that there was concerted conspiracy headed by President of the House of Deputies, Gay Clark Jennings determined to oust him from his position.

“Sauls, however, is the victim of a wrongful conspiracy via a calculated, determined, and prolonged series of acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, as carried out by individuals employed by the Church, and others outside the employment of the Church, who repeatedly have attacked the office and person of Chief Operating Officer, including by measures calculated to undermine the authority, stature, and leadership of the Plaintiff and his former office, as part of a scheme to elevate the stature and authority of the President of the Church’s House of Deputies and to constitute that position as an office to be regarded and treated, in respect to Church governance and the exercise of authority over the staff and resources of the Church, as co-equal with the office of the Presiding Bishop.”

The suit alleges that up to 30 people (John Does 1-30) in and out of the Church Center were involved in the conspiracy;

“Defendants John Does 1-10 are individuals not employed by the DFMS who participated in the wrongful acts alleged herein. Defendants John Does 11-20 are employees of the DFMS who, acting outside the line and scope of their employment, joined and participated in the wrongful acts alleged herein. Defendants John Does 21-30 are corporations, partnerships, or other entities that joined and participated in the wrongful acts alleged herein. At present, Plaintiff is unable to identify the John Doe Defendants and expects to be able to do so in the discovery phase of this litigation.”

The suit also gives the first public glance at the charges levelled against two of Bishop Sauls associates which led tho their dismissal and the end of his tenure as COO.

“At the noon meeting, Mr. Beers told the Plaintiff and his colleagues that the allegations against them were grim and serious, including charges of racism, sexism, retaliation, sexual harassment, and creation of a hostile workplace.”

The heart of Sauls’ complaint seems to be that the nature of his termination, being publicly linked to the misconduct of his associates has damaged his reputation, despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, so that he has been unable to find employment anywhere in the church.

“Since April 2016, even though he has had the benefit of the enthusiastic, unqualified, and active support of numerous other Bishops and other clergy in the Church, Bishop Sauls’s efforts to find other employment have been to no avail. He has asked to be considered for employment in numerous vacant positions in parishes of the Church—for each of which, by any reasonable measure, he is eminently qualified by virtue of his education, background, and professional experience; yet, every one of these prospective employers has uniformly and summarily denied him employment. From the inception of the Defendants’ wrongful conduct, carried out by, among other things, their baseless charges and serial unfounded investigations, their knowing dissemination and publication of false, defamatory, and malicious attacks upon the Plaintiff, and their repeated wrongful manipulation, misuse, and abuse of the internal procedures and policies of the Church, for the purpose and with the intent of injuring and defaming the Plaintiff, smearing his reputation, and causing the termination of his employment by the Church, and with the said conspiracy continuing daily, unabated, the wrongful acts of the Defendants have made it impossible for the Plaintiff to obtain employment in the Episcopal Church, anywhere.
Furthermore, at no time has the Presiding Bishop discussed with Bishop Sauls or his colleagues the specifics of the allegations that were the basis of the investigations and its consequences. Bishop Curry has refused to discuss the allegations with the three officers who were charged with misconduct.”

You can download a pdf version of the suit here.

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41 Comments
  1. Prof Christopher Seitz

    Oh boy. Just when one thought it couldn’t get more parlous.

  2. Philip B. Spivey

    Do these conspiracy charges have an increasingly familiar ring to them? Straight out of the Bannon playbook: “Perpetrator as victim”.

    • William (Bill) Paul

      I thought “vast conspiracy” was a trademark phrase of someone else from the ’90’s. 😉 (not meant snarkily).

      • Philip B. Spivey

        Yes, I remember that one. But now it’s been coopted for “populist” use.

  3. Robert Huttmeyer

    If he has “active support of numerous other Bishops and other clergy in the Church” why haven’t they hired him?

  4. Jay Croft

    I don’t know how old Bp. Sauls is, but I think he’s old enough to collect a Church Pension Fund stipend, plus Social Security. He can do a bit of supply work on the side–that’s what I’m doing.

    Why is he filing in a Mobile, Alabama court, while the DFMS is headquartered in New York?

    • Jon White

      That’s where his lawyer’s office is. From the lawsuit: “Venue is proper in this jurisdiction because (a) the TEC was and is doing business by agent(s) in Mobile County, Alabama at the time of the accrual of the causes of action herein; (b) a substantial part of the events and/or omissions giving rise to some or all of the claims herein occurred in Mobile County, Alabama.”

      and as to readiness for retirement, he’s 62 and was ordained a deacon in 1988 and priest in 1989 so I can understand why he’d want to not retire just yet

  5. Jon White

    I can understand how his dismissal has “tainted” him despite being found not culpable for the workplace issues that were outlined by the investigators. Many people likely presume that the Chief Operating Officer either would have or should have known about the apparently toxic atmosphere at the Church Center. Whether that is a fair presumption or not is debatable. That said, I think his better strategy would have been to lay low for awhile until many people had forgotten about the incident. This lawsuit, even if ultimately proven to have merit, will do nothing to restore his image. Instead it will put him, and the church he sought to serve, in the worst possible light.

    • Jay Croft

      I agree that he would be better off “laying low.” However, by the time this has blown by, he would be in his mid-60s. I suppose he could become an assisting bishop somewhere, if not a parish priest in a small congregation.

      However, an applicant for any clergy position is thoroughly vetted, and must have a license from the local Diocesan. With the lawsuit, that pretty much wipes out his chances.

    • John Miller

      The complaint alleges that the harm done to Bp. Sauls reputation is irreparable. He is not seeking to restore his image as, according to the complaint, that ship has sailed. He is instead seeking financial compensation for the loss of said reputation.

      • Jon White

        Clearly. His aim is not in dispute. My thought was that if he had waited a bit longer and not filed a high profile lawsuit then the chances of his reputational rehabilitation were probably pretty fair. Clearly he thinks his chances are good, but I wouldn’t want all the dirt on me coming to the fore under oath.
        One line particularly struck me; it was in the list of jobs he didn’t get: “Rector, Parish A, one of the few positions in the Church that is comparable in salary to Bishop Sauls’s former position as COO.” This suggests that for Bp. Sauls, his vocation has been about wealth and prestige – which is sad as clearly he is someone with real gifts to offer.
        Though he might prevail and gain some recompense, his reputation will be forever trashed and I suspect that hurts WAY more than the loss of money.

      • Benjamin H. Terry

        You state “This suggests that for Bp. Sauls, his vocation has been about wealth and prestige.”

        Yes, I’m quite certain that’s why he left a lucrative legal career to go to seminary at age 30.

    • Philip B. Spivey

      “Whether that is a fair presumption or not is debatable.” If the charges are true—and we’d only have to ask the victims—then at best, this is a dereliction of duty. At worst, it suggests complicity in fostering an unholy environment.

      The outlines of this story remind me of other instances, inside and outside the Church, when leadership looked the other way when abuses occurred.

      I’m glad our Church leadership had the gumption to take the victims’ reports seriously.

  6. Dave Jones

    I knew him when he was Bishop of Lexington. Glad he left that office

    • Howard Whitaker

      Legal outcome aside, reputation is determined by a pattern of behavior over time. DioLex was but one brick of witness on a long path of hubris and unpleasantness which leads to the present.

    • Benjamin H. Terry

      I knew him when he was my Rector in Atlanta. I was sad when he left that office.

      Yes, I’m trying to be clever, but also truthful about a differing opinion. As a cradle Episcopalian (and horrible tenor in our choir), I suspect the situation is more complex and nuanced than anyone posting here (me included) cares to admit.

      The odd accusations don’t match the man I remember. Could I be wrong? Yes. Would I bet anything that I am? No.

    • Jane Owen

      Huh, really? I’ve never been super-hip to diocesan affairs, but I got the impression he was pretty well liked when he was at DioLex. I remember him being praised for his work with the smaller congregations in the eastern part of the state.

  7. Scott Slater

    I find it ironic that in the gospel for this Sunday from Matthew 5, Jesus reminds us to “be reconciled” to one another and uses the context of a legal dispute to drive home the point. I appreciate what I view as an appropriate level transparency and action from the Presiding Bishop on this matter.

  8. David H. Johnson

    This kerfuffle is a precise example of why I have chosen to withdraw from national church (yes, I know that expression is frowned upon) involvement. The larger institution is detrimental to living faith. The denizens of the national hierarchy (in many cases) are major distractions and, in some cases, significant obstructions to the faithful journey. I have learned that life is too short to “spit into the wind.” I love the Church, but I think she is not well-served by some leaders. There is a difference.

  9. Prof Christopher Seitz

    Anyone know what’s happened to Mr Beers? He was pretty constantly in the news during the previous tenure. One can feel sorry for the difficult situation the present PB has inherited.

    • David Virtue

      Beers is working for the Virginia school of theology as a fund raiser

  10. John B. Chilton

    In my eyes, there is a sense of privilege and entitlement here. In his complaint, he describes not being able to get a job at the same level as COO of 815. Well, I’m sorry, but should that be the expectation of someone who leaves that position? No one should expect that his or her career moves will be parallel or up.

    He’s set his search very narrowly to those kinds of moves. He’s bearing the consequences.

  11. I find myself humming the song from the film White Christmas, “What do you do with a general/when he stops being a general?” For a moment, setting aside the question whether Bishop Sauls’ motivations are prestige and income as ends in themselves, there simply aren’t that many positions in the Episcopal Church for which he wouldn’t be over-qualified; and any calling vestry would have to consider whether, in fairness, the congregation could pay what those over-qualifications might justify.

    I am a hospital chaplain, but also a system-level administrator of chaplains. There simply aren’t that many equivalent positions in the United States that I might move to laterally – and, with the consolidation of healthcare institutions and systems, fewer all the time. I have a wonderful place; but if I discovered I wasn’t going to have it, there simply wouldn’t be many lateral moves to consider, or that might consider me. That describes the economics, without any considerations of what my motives might be.

  12. Joan Gundersen

    There are many parishes that would be hesitant about hiring as a rector someone who had been both a bishop and COO of the DFMS. Simply because being a rector requires working WITH laity and clergy, and letting others have jobs like COO. If there are bishops who are his supporters, then one of them should offer him an assisting bishop position. It would be a good transition, helping him get back into a mindset where he is not solely in charge. Frankly his creating the UTO mess while at the church center is enough to turn off many a parish, especially ones where women have any influence.

  13. Philip Snyder

    I find the “conspiracy” aspect to be rather interesting. I present Phil Snyder’s three laws regarding conspiracy.
    1. For those who accept the conspiracy, any evidence that seems to support the truth of the conspiracy is absolute proof of the conspiracy.
    2. For those who accept the conspiracy, any evidence that seems to detract from the truth of the conspiracy was actually manufactured by the conspirators and, thus, is further proof of the conspiracy.
    3. Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean that they are NOT out to get you. (e.g. some conspiracies are true).

    I don’t know, nor have I ever worked with Bishop Sauls. I do know that Jesus and Paul both urge us to forgo courtroom battles. I also know that both TEC and the Continuum (including ACNA) have forgotten this.

  14. Hiring folks to do the work that we promised to do at our Baptism has gotten TEC and many other denominations in quite a pickle.

    Sell the churches’ property holdings, stop selling the Eucharist, and get about the tasks given to us all: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, and comforting the lost and lonely.

    • Jay Croft

      Huh? Who is “selling the Eucharist?”

      • Phil Taylor

        Find a congregation celebrating the Eucharist without a priest who 99% of the time is being paid for his attendance.

  15. Nathaniel W. Pierce

    In my opinion Bishop Stacy Sauls was the best COO of DFMS since PB John Hines hired Bishop Roger Blanchard in 1970. From a family systems perspective, I believe that the issues involved go back to the early 1970s. The ongoing systemic conversations tend to focus on the role and authority of Bishops in the present day church.

  16. Prof Christopher Seitz

    Sounds like a lot of ambition swirling around. Jennings wanting to be Co-PB. Sauls wanting to stop that. Schori wanting Sauls to stop it, then retiring. Curry inheriting a mess. Sauls moved on, Jennings advancing. Legal bills to be settled. Kostel and Beers warning of a melt-down.

    • Ann Fontaine

      Dear Prof Christopher Seitz – the former presiding bishop’s last name is Jefferts Schori. Please respect her wishes.

      • Prof Christopher Seitz

        Ms Fontaine, I hope this helps. Sorry for causing offense inside an already offensive debacle at 815. We can but pray that the Kostel-Beers predictions prove only partly right. And prayers for the incumbent PB.

        “Sounds like a lot of ambition swirling around. Jennings wanting to be Co-PB. Sauls wanting to stop that. Jefferts Schori wanting Sauls to stop it, then retiring. Curry inheriting a mess. Sauls moved on, Jennings advancing. Legal bills to be settled. Kostel and Beers warning of a melt-down.”

      • William (Bill) Paul

        Should we ever refer to her as Dean KJS, I’ve wondered over the years, as she advertised herself as the Dean of a School of Theology?

  17. Fr. Anthony C. Dinoto

    The best part of the phrase “Former P.B. Jefferts Schori” is “former”. It appears (from what little we all know) this “mess” began building under the previous PB’s disastrous tenure. The Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church are quite clear on the “pecking order” (i.e. hierarchy) regarding the relationship between the Office of the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. If the current POHD is seeking a position with more: prestiege, power and prominence, she submit her name as a candidate for bishop somewhere in the church. Rampant careerism, not hierarchy, will be the death of this Church yet!

  18. Nathaniel W. Pierce

    I disagree with Fr. Dinoto. My sense is that the roots of this issue go back to COO4sa as adopted by the 71st General Convention. The process was hijacked by Executive Council in 1997 and the Rowley Report (named after the Chair of the Dialogue Committee, the Rt. Rev. Robert D. Rowley of NW Pennsylvania) became the catalyst for 15 years of litigation which has cost DFMS an estimated $40 million. For those interested in taking the analysis one step further into the past, I would cite the magnificent 1977 statement from our House of Bishops on the Anglican understanding of the theological, biblical, and spiritual foundations of the role of conscience. By 1994 many had come to disregard the important teachings in this pastoral letter.

  19. Prof Christopher Seitz

    “…became the catalyst for 15 years of litigation which has cost DFMS an estimated $40 million.”

    Frankly, scandal upon scandal, massive funds gone, and dreadful witness.

    Could you amplify? Was this C004sa about PHD being co-equal?

  20. Nathaniel W. Pierce

    Resolution C004sa was adopted by the 1994 General Convention. It called upon the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to “appoint a committee to promote dialogue and understanding and to discuss how the Canon [III.8.1 pertaining to the ordination of women] can be implemented in every diocese of this church” and to “report to the interim meeting of the House of Bishops in 1995 and subsequently to the Executive Council.” The Committee met twice in 1995; a majority proposed four canonical changes even though it was not authorized to do so. A minority report stated: “absolutely no time was allowed for any meaningful dialogue or even an attempt at understanding.”
    As I predicted in an article published in 1997: “The tide of ecclesiastical litigation which will follow will turn the Righter trial into a minor historical footnote.”
    My sense was and continues to be that one underlying issue is our understanding of the role of personal conscience in our Anglican tradition. No less important is the continuing discussion of the role and authority of Bishops in our ecclesiastical polity.

  21. Prof Christopher Seitz

    “My sense was and continues to be that one underlying issue is our understanding of the role of personal conscience in our Anglican tradition.”

    Fascinating…

    This is still obscure in the context of TEC’s present neuralgias.

  22. Gale Forswarth

    Have they ever managed to hire a replacement? I know of at least one brilliantly qualified candidate who was approached and, after looking into it, declined further consideration.

    The PB is wonderful, but the governance around him makes Game of Thrones look like an after-school special.

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