Dana Point parishioner’s lawsuit claims diocese mismanaged funds
It was one thing when the faithful at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church raised $8 million to build a new parish center, then heard little more about the project.
But when they learned that the Diocese of Orange planned a $3 million renovation of their beloved church sanctuary – perched on a Dana Point precipice and designed to showcase spectacular ocean views – dozens balked, saying it seemed like a colossal waste of money. They sent a letter to church leadership, trying to stop the renovations and demanded a detailed accounting of money raised and spent.
They didn’t get far. And so last week, with a heavy heart, one longtime parishioner filed a lawsuit against the church and its administator, the Rev. Brandon Manson, along with Bishop Kevin Vann and the Diocese of Orange, claiming breach of trust.
“I have struggled greatly over filing this action,” said Bill Robinson, a parishioner for 39 years, who works in the legal field. “In the end, I have to follow my conscience. We saw what happened in the child abuse scandal in the early 2000s. The shame brought upon the Church was not because of a handful of bad priests, but because of the arrogance of the bishops who considered themselves above the law and not accountable to their congregants.”
It’s a potentially ground-breaking case that’s a microcosm of a larger issue the Watchdog has been talking about lately: Churches and their tax exempt status in America.
The Diocese of Orange declined to discuss particulars, but said this by email:
“It is unfortunate that the plaintiff in this case has decided to file a lawsuit in response to the ongoing renovation of St. Edward the Confessor Church in Dana Point. This long planned project has followed all appropriate fiscal and organizational procedures and has been reviewed and approved by all consultative bodes within the parish (Finance Council & Pastoral Council) and at the diocesan level.
“St. Edward the Confessor and the Diocese of Orange are committed to fiscal discipline and the faithful stewardship of Church resources.”
News was just beginning to get around at St. Edward’s congregation. “Really, really weird,” one parishioner said. Others were surprised that the conflict had escalated into a full-scale legal battle.
“It is sad he has pushed this to this limit. It is a limit he has created for himself,” said parishioner Chris Mino. “There are no reasons he should be pursuing this course. … I think he is missing the concept of church family and community.”
St. Edward is “an amazing parish, rich in Spiritual bouquet” and the people are kind, generous and loving, Mino said. “We live the Gospel.”
Taking on the Catholic Church as a guardian of the faithful’s funds is an innovative approach, observers said. Victor Anop, a Massachusetts attorney fighting a church closure before the Vatican’s highest court, thinks Robinson may be on to something.
“Under civil law and canon law, when a person gives a donation for a specific purpose, it’s supposed to be used for that purpose,” Anop said. “The problem is a lack of accountability and a lack of transparency. The church doesn’t involve people in the decision-making, except in the most obscure way. Decisions are made at the top and then presented to parishioners, which is a sham process and goes against the last Vatican Conference, which gave parishioners more rights.”