For the past forty years, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has been the beneficiary of the Ruth Gregory Soper Trust fund. Constructed as a trust handled by Riggs Bank and then its successor PNC Bank, the diocese received interest from the body of her money. Under PNC’s careful investments, the trust had developed from about $7 million into over $27.4 million dollars.
In 2010 in a bold attempt to get control of the money, the administration of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington initiated legal action against the Ruth Gregory Soper Trust and its trustee PNC bank. This bank waged a valiant battle against these Diocese of Washington officials, yet ultimately failed. Secret maneuvers and agreements sealed the fate of the Soper trust.
Even though PNC bank persistently asserted that the Diocese of Washington’s plans violated the expressed intentions of Ruth Gregory Soper, on April 11, 2013 a judge from the circuit court of Montgomery County, Maryland, signed a court order terminating the Soper Trust.
Two years ago I wrote a piece entitled The Church of the Palm Crosses Becomes the Church of the Double-Cross. In that piece (which concerned the Diocese of Virginia, just across the Potomac from this episode) about property disputes I wrote the following:
I’ve said many nasty things about Episcopalians and their church, but I’d never have believed that I would come to that conclusion about this church. The Episcopal Church was supposed to be the place where this kind of thing didn’t happen, but happened it did. In the past Episcopalians, lay and cleric alike, could comfort themselves in the conceit that, while rude “Bible-thumpers” went on television to enrich themselves at the expense of the impecunious, the Episcopal church was basically above such tasteless social climbing. One can only conclude that the church is currently held captive by a bunch of left-wing arrivistes who, while attempting to maintain the appearances of the past, are at best no better than those they ridicule.
And it happened again; the cash-strapped Diocese of Washington had the Soper trust broken so that they could “make expenses” because their congregations are so shrunken and devoid of stewardship consciousness that the Diocese, including the National Cathedral, can’t keep up the day with the regular income.
It’s conventional wisdom that trusts are basically inviolable. That’s not always the case. My guess is that PNG, with no help from the MD AG and probably none from Mrs. Soper’s family, decided to throw the towel in before the legal expenses drained them and trust alike.
But it’s bad policy for any non-profit to use its trust money (or proceeds from real estate for that matter) to cover its operating costs. It’s a sign of desperation, usually caused by a lack of income combined with poor management of expenses. At one time there were enough people with business sense in the Episcopal Church to head this off, but they’re gone.
Some would say that the Episcopal Church was the place for people with more money than brains. There’s some truth to that, but now they look like the church for those with neither.
FWIW, I took interest in this because my grandfather was a member of the Board of Directors of Riggs National Bank, where this trust was set up to start with, and because I went to Episcopal prep school with a Soper.