Court of Appeals Upholds Dismissal of Roger Dermody’s Defamation Lawsuit


(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). A Kentucky Court of Appeals panel has upheld a state court ruling dismissing the defamation lawsuit that Roger Dermody brought against the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In a July 28 decision, a three-judge appeals court ruled that the lower court was correct to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, saying that not to do so would involve “excessive government entanglement into an ecclesiastical controversy.”

The three-judge panel upheld a 2015 summary judgment by Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman dismissing Dermody’s lawsuit.

Dermody, the PCUSA’s former deputy executive director for missionfiled the defamation lawsuit in state court in May 2015 when he and three others – Eric Hoey, Philip Lotspeich and Craig S. Williams – lost their jobs following an investigation involving a $100,000 grant sent from the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program to a nonprofit corporation set up in California.

An internal PCUSA investigation determined that the four had violated the denomination’s ethics policy in their handling of the matter.

All of the money was repaid, and Linda Valentine, former executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has said none of the four acted for personal gain. The 1001 program is the denomination’s effort, endorsed by the 2012 General Assembly, to create 1001 new worshipping communities from 2012 to 2022.

McDonald-Burkman wrote in her ruling that for the court to make an independent assessment of whether Dermody had committed ethics violations “would necessitate interpreting court doctrine and policies, which is impermissible under the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine.”

The appeals court panel — presiding Judge Glenn Acree, along with Judges Sara Walter Combs and Debra Hembree Lambert – essentially agreed with that interpretation.


Related article: Presbyterian Church (USA) wins ethics case with wider implications, by Earle Cornelius, Lancaster Online



  1. REPLY
    James H says

    The louisville sluggers got what they wanted out of all this, getting rid of what was left of any Evangelicals in louisville.

    • REPLY
      John says

      So James, you think it would be OK for evangelicals to violate an ethics policy? It doesn’t matter to me if they were right, left, or center, they violated the rules, then tried to justify their actions. We hear plenty of that in politics, but the church should held to a higher standard.

      • REPLY
        James H says

        They did nothing illegal, even by pcusa standards. As far as ethics that left louisville a long time ago…….

        • REPLY
          John says

          I suggest you reread the internal PCUSA investigation cited in the article before commenting on their actions, which are unethical if not technically illegal. Setting up a separate corporation without permission and redirecting directing funds sounds very troubling to me. What is more, I know and have worked with many people at the OGA. As a whole they are hard-working, dedicated, and ethical people seeking to serve God and the church “with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.” Are they perfect? Of course not. But do not attack the integrity of their personal ethics and dedication.

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