South Carolina Episcopalians

An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans

not affiliated with the Episcopal Church or its dioceses

August 3, 2018

Lawrence Playing the Victim Card is Hard to Believe

In Walterboro, in front of a crowd of 200, he demonizes Church leaders, refuses to admit any blame, then urges them to raise more money for lawyers


Lawrence: They seek to take every dime of my stipend received during my time as your bishop.


The road show that former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence and is lieutenants have put together for this and next week has turned into a circus.  The main feature, of course, is Lawrence himself but reports from participants, as relayed by Dr. Ron Caldwell's reporting, suggest he is out-of-touch, adrift, and playing for sympathy.


Last night Lawrence continued his years-old diatribe against Church leaders whom he insists were responsible for his one-sided "war" against them.  Incredibly, his advice to parishes still sympathetic to him was to raise more money to pay lawyers.  At one point in 2015, Lawrence's legal team appeared to number between 40 and 50. 


Apparently he also told the group tonight at St. Jude's Episcopal Church that Church lawyers were coming after him as part of an effort to recover what could be millions of dollars of Church funds misspent under his leadership. 


"They seek to take every dime of my stipend received during my time as your bishop," he reportedly said.   In the view of SC Episcopalians, he will be lucky if that is all he has to pay.


Lawrence has not suffered financially as a Bishop


As nearly as we can tell, Lawernce is doing pretty well financially, and every day this craziness goes on the better off he is.


Lawrence is entitled to a full pension as a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church which we assume he is receiving. 


That pension combined with a $105,000 annual salary from his 'diocese', its generous contributions to yet another retirement fund for him, the free maintenance and upkeep on his home, a seemingly open-ended travel budget, and a lease allowing him to live in the official residence of the real Bishop of South Carolina for a dollar-a-year probably gets him close to pulling in the equivalent of between $250,000 and $300,000 a year.  That would be before any social security income he and his wife receive.


Greed and hubris


The problem for Lawrence and his cohorts is that they got greedy when they left the Church in 2012, assumed they were going to win their lawsuit against the Church, and helped themselves to the financial assets of the Diocese they believed they had successfully commandeered.  


These assets included proceeds from trust funds under their control that were intended for the work of the Episcopal Church.   Annual disbursements from those funds stopped this year, but they have been providing the Lawrence crowd with approximately $300,000 annually prior to that. 


It is hard to imagine how they could have been so foolish.  They obviously knew there was a legal question about their claim on these funds as the lawsuit they filed against the Church in January 2013 specifically asked the courts to determine who the rightful owners were.  


When the state Supreme Court handed down its ruling last August, it answered the question asked in the lawsuit four years earlier:  the Diocese of South Carolina is now, and always has been, part of the Episcopal Church.  Even though Lawrence and his diocesan trustees controlled these trust funds, they were not free to use the money anyway they chose. 


There is also evidence we believe shows that the trust funds were not properly managed by the Trustees in the best interests of the Church or the people who created them.  Bishop Lawrence is President of the Trustees.


However, this is not the only reason Lawrence & company are panicked right now. 


There's more


Aside from the trust fund problem, Lawrence and his team on Coming Street have spent the diocese of South Carolina into oblivion.  In 2017 alone they ran up a $280,000 operating deficit, and they are on track to do it again this year! 


When they lost their case in the Supreme Court, they did nothing to reduce their operating expenses, kept staff they didn't need, and even sent a delegation to Jerusalem for nearly a week at a conference at which they appeared to have no official role.  (Lawrence's office has refused to tell SC Episcopalians who paid for the trip.)


This gets even darker.  More than $200,000 of that deficit was the result of money Lawrence paid to ACNA in 2017.  At the annual meeting of his 'diocese' last spring, Lawrence asked the delegates for an even larger amount for the group this year.  


There are only seven parishes under Bishop Lawrence that are part of ACNA. 


SC Episcopalians has every reason to believe that one day in the near future as this lawsuit is settled, we are going to hear that Bishop Lawrence and his top lieutenants are on the payroll of ACNA.


Why more money for lawyers?


Here's why we think Bishop Lawrence told the folks in Walterboro tonight to raise more money for lawyers:  The leaders of the 36 congregations that followed Lawrence out if the Church are not only on the hook for any misspent funds in their own parishes, they are also liable for what Lawrence's financial mess.


The full impact of this only now sinking in.  However, the wardens and vestries of these parishes are their legal representatives.  By participating in the governance of Lawrence's rogue "Diocese of South Carolina," they too will have to share responsibility for the financial disaster he brought about.


Currently pending before the Chief Administrative Judge of the First Judicial District of South Carolina is a motion by Church attorneys requesting a full audit of the Diocese of South Carolina from 2008 forward.  This would include the four years Lawrence was the legitimate Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.