The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, the rector of the historic Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, has announced he will retire in 2015, even as a congregant has sued him for voting improprieties in an internal election last year.
"The Trinity Vestry has accepted the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper's intention to retire in February, 2015. The parish will engage in an 18-month search process in order to find Dr. Cooper's successor," says the Episcopal Church in a letter to Cooper this week, which is posted on its website.
The 20-member vestry was responding to a letter Cooper had written last week to church leaders. "In fulfillment of my commitment to serve at least ten years as the 17th Rector of Trinity Wall Street, and in confidence that Trinity is well positioned for the future, I write to request that you accept my intention to retire from Trinity February 28, 2015," the rector wrote.
Cooper – a former rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and who was appointed as the rector of the 314-year-old Trinity Church in 2004 – also reportedly fought with church officials over his retirement, insisting on a burial plot in Trinity's historic Lower Manhattan graveyard, which stands near Ground Zero.
On Monday, church member Jeremy Bates filed a lawsuit, alleging the voting for the vestry and its two wardens in April 2012 was "improper and unlawful," according to New York Daily News. As a result of that election, the vestry was packed with supporters of Cooper, the suit charges, and requests a copy of Trinity's financial statement.
"The 2012 election wasn't a real election, in my opinion," Bates told Village Voice. "There were 22 candidates for 22 slots and the church ignored votes against those candidates. An election along those lines strikes me as an empty exercise and an insult to the voters."
However, in his letter to church leaders, Cooper said the parish community has thrived in its worship and mission and met many challenges during the past nine years. "Trinity has truly become a vital presence and voice in Lower Manhattan, enriching our congregation, neighbors, and community. We have accomplished this by living into a depth of Christian commitment that has transformed and multiplied our ministries and expanded opportunities for engagement near and far."
Cooper heads the world's richest Anglican parish with over $1 billion in Manhattan real estate.
Bates says the Trinity church has "a culture of secrecy which helps create a lack of accountability." "I think it is healthier for nonprofit organizations to disclose their finances publicly, and I believe the law expects this."
Last year, former directors accused Cooper of departing from Trinity's original mission and wasting money.
Accusations against Cooper included misreporting of numbers of worshippers on Sunday services; demands for a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse; an allowance for his Florida condo and a fat salary; trips around the world at church's expense; wasting more than $1 million on development plans for a luxury condo tower; and spending $5 million on a publicity campaign. His compensation was worth $1.3 million in 2010 and it included a salary of $346,391 and deferred compensation of $507,940.
In 2011, Cooper agreed to step down in exchange for lavish retirement package, but later refused to go.