Attempted takeover of St. Paul’s Darien tossed from court
DARIEN - An attempt by former parish leaders to seize control of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has been thrown out of court.
On July 2, Connecticut Superior Court dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have the property of St. Paul’s relinquished to the control of estranged former wardens and vestry members. The court’s decision stated the accusers had failed to present facts sufficient to invoke the court to try and wrest control of the property.
The dismissal marks the second failed lawsuit brought forward by former church members since April.
Tensions at the church began late in 2017 after allegations that the church’s then-newly hired rector, George Kovoor, had obtained his position with falsified credentials.
Church leaders tried to fire Kovoor, despite orders from Rev. Ian Douglas, bishop diocesan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, to keep him in the position. The disagreement between the two parties led to the first of the two lawsuits, as well as the church’s demotion from a parish to a worshipping community.
Control of the church was ultimately ceded to Douglas in October 2018. Once in power, he decided to keep Kovoor at the church. This decision, however, led to a second lawsuit.
In the wake of that second lawsuit’s dismissal, Douglas thanked the Episcopal Church of Connecticut’s legal team and community at large for their perseverance during what he called a “sad circumstance.”
“I thank God that the Court has unilaterally supported the position of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut by dismissing all of the legal claims asserted by the former Wardens and Vestry members of St. Paul’s, Darien,” Douglas said. “I pray that these court rulings will allow the people and Worshiping Community of St. Paul’s, Darien to move forward.”
Douglas spoke to Hearst on Wednesday about the decision means for the St. Paul’s community.
“It means that the actions initiated by the former wardens and vestry members have been brought to a close in our mind and allows us to move forward,” he said.
Douglas acknowleged that the parish has “been hurt by these actions.”
“A large number of parishioners identified with the former vestry and wardens and so during these actions they’ve stayed away,” he said.
While there’s been a “faithful smaller group” who continued to worship at the church, Douglas said he is hoping and praying the dismissal means those who have left will “find their way back and we can begin to rebuild together.”
“I was saddened they chose to depart but have kept the door open. The parishioners, clergy and bishop very much to reconcile and work on the hard issues which caused the alienations,” he said.
The close of the legal case means that the parish can finally move forward without the uncertainty of the future hanging over their heads.
“It’s hard to make plans and determine where we could exert our energy, not just on the parish level but the whole diocese. Now we can determine how we can best support them as they design their future,” Douglas said.
The church also wants to welcome new members.
“St. Paul’s as an Episcopal Church is committed to God’s mission in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. That mission is one of wholeness, restoration and reconciliation — if someone is looking for a new spiritual home where the love of God is made manifest,” he said.
On Wednesday, Anthony Miscimarra responded to an inquiry on the church grounds via email. He told Hearst “the Church Vestry is reviewing the most recent decision by the court and is not prepared to comment at this time.”
“However, the case that has been referenced by the diocese regarding fraud perpetrated by the former rector, George Kovoor, is now on appeal. It was, and is, our contention that due to serious misrepresentations made by Kovoor during his hiring process, his contract was fatally flawed at inception - such that it never existed,” Miscimarra said.
“Thus, all actions by the bishop and his godly judgments are moot, with the exception of the removal, without notice or process, of St. Paul’s Church from the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut at their convention,” he said.
Miscimarra added that “unfortunately, Bishop Ian Douglas, The Diocese of CT, nor George Kovoor appears to care about the spiritual health of our 200 plus members of the congregation.”
Miscimarra said the two are “attempting to destroy a storied-parish which is described in the book ‘Miracle in Darien.’” He added the church’s congregation is now “2 to 3 people, including Kovoor each Sunday.”
“The shepherds have driven all of the sheep away —are these actions not more like wolves?” he said.
Miscimarra said the vestry will have further comment after more review of the court decision.