Challenging the Bishop, in Court; Suit Over a Priest's Firing Raises Church-State Issues

 
January 14, 2002, Monday


Challenging the Bishop, in Court; Suit Over a Priest's Firing Raises Church-State Issues

By DANIEL J. WAKIN (NYT)

In the temporal realm, the facts might not raise more than an eyebrow. The boss says an employee abused a company credit card and expense account and fires her. She sues, saying the charges are trumped up so the boss can put one of his pals in the job. But in this case, the employee is an Episcopal priest. The boss is the bishop whom she vowed to obey when he ordained her. And the place of business is stately Grace Church, a landmark at Broadway and 10th Street in Manhattan. The messy legal dispute has roiled the well-heeled congregation and discomfited many of the city's Episcopal clergy members. More broadly, it has raised the issue of where the line between religious and secular authority lies.

The priest is the Rev. Janet Broderick Kraft. She is suing Bishop Richard F. Grein, the former bishop of New York, accusing him of engineering her firing from Grace Church on manufactured financial charges. His motive, she says, was to give her job to his aide and close friend, according to the lawsuit. The aide, the Rev. Anne Richards, was given the position on June 29, the day before Bishop Grein retired. ...

The suit names Bishop Grein; Ms. Richards; the Rev. David Rider, Grace Church's priest in charge; and the church's lay leaders as defendants. ...

Ms. Kraft ... is represented by Michael F. Rehill, a leading expert in Episcopal Church law and chancellor, or chief legal adviser, to the bishop of the Diocese of Newark. ...

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