COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) — A Chicago circuit judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Serra International against Serra’s USA Council to pave the way for bishops to help settle the dispute.
But the more than two years of internal strife in the vocations organization has caused at least one former U.S. Serra Club to strike out on its own.
“Some of our members agonized over this, hoping that a satisfactory resolution might unfold. But it took so long that everyone lost heart and we voted unanimously to leave Serra,” read the June newsletter of the Vocations Ministry of Savannah, Ga., formerly a Serra club.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011, after Serra International’s board of trustees voted to dissolve the USA Council, citing the need to cut costs, and the latter refused to comply. After nearly two years of legal wrangling, the USA Council was on the verge of breaking off from Serra International and forming an independent vocations organization.
In an effort to end the stalemate, Serra International president Tomi Asenuga visited U.S. Serra leaders last September. With the encouragement of Serra’s episcopal advisers — Bishop Peter F. Christensen of Superior, Wis., for the U.S. council and Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago for the international group — the two sides agreed to work on coming to an agreement out of court.
A “Resolution of Unity” was issued in May, and several days later, Judge Neil Cohen of Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, meaning that it can be reinstated if no agreement is reached by May 2014.
The resolution seemed to address two issues that had initially led to the lawsuit by calling for the combining of headquarters into one office and integration of websites. But the two entities’ reaction to the court order showed that other issues still need to be ironed out, especially when it comes to finances.
Immediately following Cohen’s decision, USA Council president Greg Lynch issued a message to all Serra clubs in the U.S. advising them to resume paying dues to the council. Some clubs, such as the one in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, had been withholding national dues pending the resolution of the dispute.
Asenuga responded by sending out a message May 20 stating that no club was obligated to pay dues to the USA Council.
“We hope the ‘Resolution of Unity’ and the possible mediation of our episcopal advisers will lead to a full and final resolution of all issues, but there remains much work to do,” he wrote.
The resolution stipulates that an ad hoc committee to review fundraising activities of all Serra councils be appointed before Serra International’s annual convention June 20-23 in Majorca, Spain.
However, one U.S. Serra Club decided it had had enough of the dispute. The newly-formed Vocations Ministry of Savannah, Ga., announced in its June newsletter that members had voted in April to withdraw from Serra.
“During the prolonged disagreement, resources have been squandered on legal costs. This has made the club members realize that we get little or nothing from Serra for the dues we pay and can do better on our own by keeping our money here in Savannah to support vocations locally,” the newsletter read.
The Savannah group has already come up with its own logo, since it was no longer allowed to use that of Serra.
Ambuul is assistant editor of The Colorado Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.