SC Episcopal diocese alleges retirement savings held hostage

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 4, 2013 

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina says the national Episcopal church, from which it separated last year, is holding on to retirement savings of about 80 clergy and lay employees of the diocese.

The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, an official with the diocese, said the problem surfaced in February.

Phone calls and emails inundated Lewis' office from clergy and employees saying they weren't able to roll over their retirement accounts, which were held by the Church Pension Group. The group handles retirement, health and other benefits for employees of the national Episcopal Church, Lewis said.

The diocese has made public an exchange of emails related to the problem, saying it wants the issue exposed.

Frederick Beaver, Church Pension Group senior vice president, wrote in one email that there were "significant complexities" surrounding the retirement accounts and that his organization was "reviewing the implications of such transactions given the nature of the situation in South Carolina."

The diocese, headed by Bishop Mark Lawrence, split from the national church last year. Lawrence has been an outspoken opponent on issues including gay marriage and the ordination of gays.

"As you know, there are stringent Internal Revenue Service requirements, for both employers and participants, relative to plan distributions," one of Beaver's emails said.

Church Pension Group issued a statement Tuesday saying it is trying to ensure that clergy and employees in parishes that have left The Episcopal Church have access to their funds, in accordance with federal laws.

"In doing so, we are following protocols required by the Internal Revenue Code to avoid any adverse consequences for the participants in the plans," the statement said. "We expect to complete this process shortly. In the meantime, all funds remain invested in the options selected by these employees, and all accounts are fully viewable on (a) website."

Lewis said he has consulted lawyers for the diocese and is unaware of any legal issues precluding employees from rolling over their plans. He believes that preventing employees from doing so could be illegal.

Communication between the diocese and Church Pension Group has dropped off, Lewis said.

"We're in the dark, and it feels like rather incommunicado at this point, which is why we're making this situation publicly known, since there seems to be no other way," Lewis said.

The diocese and the national church split after the national church's disciplinary board ruled Bishop Lawrence had "abandoned" the church by approving amendments to diocesan law that distanced it from the national church.

Churches in the diocese include the Parish Church of St. Helena, Beaufort; The Church of the Cross, Bluffton; and St. Luke's, Hilton Head Island.

St. Mark's Chapel in Port Royal and All Saints' Episcopal Church in Hilton Head Island are part of the national church.

Related content

  1. 3 Beaufort County churches join diocese lawsuit against Episcopal church, Jan. 4, 2013
  2. Questions loom as Episcopals try to split, Nov. 22, 2012
  3. Local Episcopal churches bracing for possible switch to Anglican banner, Oct. 19, 2012

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