The UCC has settled a defamation lawsuit brought by a non-UCC pastor who had claimed that staff persons from two UCC Conferences in Pennsylvania had made false statements about him to local church search committees. The suit was brought against Conference staff, the two Conferences and the UCC as a whole.
The settlement of $400,000 will be covered by insurance and, therefore, will not involve members' contributions to Our Church's Wider Mission.
The UCC has long maintained that secular courts are prohibited constitutionally from adjudicating ecclesiastical matters, such as the one presented by this claimant, said UCC Nationwide Special Counsel Donald C. Clark Jr., who represented the UCC. He said that a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge agreed that the issued involved provided significant room for difference of opinion.
"We believe that we would have ultimately prevailed on this issue on appeal," Clark said, "but given the cost of pursuing further litigation and appeals, we agreed to amicably settle the matter."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, said he is relieved that the issue is resolved.
"The colleagues named in this case acted in good faith and with the best interests of our local churches at heart," Thomas said. "While this case is settled, the importance of exchanging accurate factual information about candidates for ministry positions continues to be important within the UCC."
Thomas said the UCC's Parish Life and Leadership Ministry will work with Clark and Conference Ministers on how best to exchange information about ministerial candidates with churches in the search and call process, including "diligent use" of the authorization and release form which is part of the ministerial profile.