Review PC(USA) Staff Dismissals Underway

The Presbyterian Church USA began a process to review the unanticipated dismissals of two top staff members last year, at its headquarters in Louisville, KY., Monday, January 31, 2005.

Last November, the denomination’s General Assembly Council Executive Director John Detterick fired two employees who had earlier been involved with organizing and partaking in the controversial PC(USA) meeting with a terrorist group in Palestine. The two staffers, GAC Deputy Executive Director Kathy Lueckert and Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) coordinator Peter Sulyok, were the two highest PC(USA) members involved with the “fact-finding” trip to the Middle East, during which one retired seminary professors commented that the terrorist group Hezbollah was easier to deal with than Jewish leaders.

The trip, which sparked a fire-storm of criticism from Christians and Jews alike, was all the more troublesome because of its timing: just several months before the visit, the PC(USA) GAC decided to launch its “divestment” policy initiative – a policy highly criticized for singling out Israel through economic sanctions.

While Detterick did not specify the reason for his decision to dismiss the two staffers, observers speculated the firing had much to do with the trip to Hezbollah.

According to the Presbyterian News Service, the appeal process is not meant to reinstate the staffers, but rather to review the process and procedure of the dismissal.

“This will be the meeting to deal with this (process and procedure) issue,” said the Rev. Paul Masquelier, vice chair of GAC and chair of the personnel subcommittee that is reviewing the terminations, to the PNS. “This is not an appeal of the decision. There is an appeal process that is clearly spelled out in the (GAC) personnel handbook. Neither employee chose to do that.”

“Some people had alleged that there had been irregularities in how the terminations happened, and that John had not acted property,” he said. “Our intention is to do a thorough review of how that decision was made.”

Masquelier added that the review is more a response to questions raised b ACSWP about the process in which the employees were released.

“What we are going to do is in response to some requests that came in,” he said.

Meanwhile, Detterick said he welcomed the review.

“I am very supportive of the review by the personnel committee and have encouraged it,” he said to PNS. “The decision caused a great deal of pain for all of us … and unfortunately raised questions.”