Two WELS Pastors and Four Meritless Lawsuits

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Recently, two WELS Pastors, Tim Glende and James Skorzewski, and two of their staff members filed four almost identical lawsuits against a WELS layman, Jonathan Donnan, a former member of their congregation.  Specifically, they asked a secular court to issue four restraining orders, ordering Jonathan Donnan to stop “harassing” them.

In the courthouse lobby before the first case was heard, a local attorney who handles a lot of cases in that court (and who had absolutely no connection to this case) looked at the court’s calender, and said, “When you see four restraining order petitions against one person, then usually that person did something extremely bad, or it’s a bunch of bullies ganging up on someone.”  Jonathan’s wife, Mara, who was sitting nearby, piped up and said, “It’s the second one.  It’s a bunch of bullies ganging up on someone.”

History

According to Jonathan Donnan’s wife, Mara, Pastor Skorzewski said numerous sexually inappropriate things to her over the course of months, and on at least one occasion, Pastor Glende also joined in with this disgusting behavior.  (At the time, Mara was a member of The CORE, a WELS church, and also Pastor Skorzewski’s executive assistant).

After a long ordeal involving the Circuit Pastor, District President, and even the Synod President, Pastor Skorzewski finally resigned.  However, Skorzewski almost immediately requested CRM status.  (CRM means that a man is deemed to be blameless, above reproach, and qualified to receive a call as a pastor).

Jonathan did not think the man who behaved so inappropriately toward his wife should become a pastor again, and he thought the WELS pastors from the district who would be asked to comment on Skorzewski’s CRM status should have more information.  So he wrote a letter to the pastors of the Northern Wisconsin District giving them information about Pastors Skorzewski’s and Glende’s behavior toward his wife.  This letter was signed by Jonathan, his wife Mara, and also concerned WELS pastors Lidtke and Suhr.

Having received comments regarding Skorzewski’s potential CRM status from other WELS pastors, District President Engelbrecht then also sought comments specifically from the membership of St. Peter & The CORE, which had been Skorzewski’s congregation before he resigned.  To this end, an informational meeting was scheduled at The CORE for August 13, 2013.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pastor Glende said the purpose of the meeting was so that the congregation could seek direction and make decisions about the ministry “specifically on this campus,” The CORE.  During this meeting, District President Engelbrecht summarized Skorzewski’s behavior and the Donnan’s reaction and the steps the District took to rehabilitate Skorzewski, he solicited questions, and then he gave the members of St. Peter & The CORE thirty days to submit comments to the district leadership regarding Skorzewski’s proposed CRM status.  During this meeting, District President Engelbrecht also said that he was an ardent supporter of Skorzewski and his ministry.

Jonathan Donnan showed up at this meeting because he wanted to protect his wife’s reputation and honor.  After DP Engelbrecht’s summary, Jonathan believed that DP Engelbrecht had portrayed Pastor Skorzewski’s behavior in the best possible light, while portraying his wife’s reaction in the worst possible light.  Therefore, Jonathan sat through much of the Q&A section with his hand raised waiting to be called upon.  Finally, Pastor Glende said that he would allow Jonathan to speak; however, he first informed the congregation that Jonathan was not invited to the meeting, had no legal right to be there, and that if Jonathan started attacking people, then he would be asked to leave.

Jonathan said that was a rude way to call upon him.  The entire exchange then quickly devolved into whether Jonathan had a right to be there because he was not a member of St. Peter & The CORE.  Jonathan believed that as a Christian husband he had a duty to try to defend his wife, and that St. Peter & The CORE’s constitution and bylaws could not overrule his moral obligations.  After a short period of time, Jonathan left the meeting, but announced that he was there to defend his wife, and would be outside to speak with anyone who wanted to hear the whole truth.

While Jonathan was outside, he could hear laughter and applause inside as the meeting continued without him.  While Jonathan was outside, he also received a lecture about forgiveness and about how he did not understand forgiveness.

A few days later, Pastors Glende and Skorzewski and two church staff members filed four almost identical lawsuits against Jonathan Donnan.  They asked the Outagamie County Family Court to issue four restraining orders telling Jonathan to not write any more letters to WELS pastors about Glende or Skorzewski, to not show up at any future meetings at St. Peter & The CORE where they would be discussing personnel issues, and to have no further contact with St. Peter & The CORE or its staff.

Pastor Glende’s case was heard first.  Pastor Glende spent about two hours presenting his case.  He himself testified extensively along with two laymen from his church.

Legal Issues

In order for a behavior to be harassment, it has to serve no legitimate purpose.  Does writing a letter to the men (WELS pastors) who would help decide Skorzewski’s CRM status serve no legitimate purpose?  And does showing up at a congregational meeting where they are discussing how your wife was treated, and where the District President is seeking comments and advice about whether that pastor should get CRM status, does that serve no legitimate purpose?

Is that inappropriate behavior?  Or could those be the behaviors of a man trying to protect and defend his wife?

The allegations Mara made against Skorzewski were not false.  A false allegation would serve no legitimate purpose, but a truthful allegation does.  If certain WELS pastors and a certain WELS congregation are going to be specifically asked to provide comments about whether Skorzewski should serve as a pastor again, is it legitimate that they should also hear from the victim or her representative?

The August 30 Court Hearing

Under oath, Pastor Glende testified that Jonathan’s behavior served no legitimate purpose because it hindered the ministry of St. Peter & The CORE, and it was just an attack.  (Court transcript, page 40).  According to Pastor Glende, Jonathan’s behavior served no legitimate purpose because the decision about whether Skorzewski would serve as a pastor was made back in January and April.  Pastor Glende stated this numerous times throughout his testimony.  Below is just one example.

Under oath, Pastor Glende said that Jonathan’s “behavior was disruptive in our congregation in a meeting.  It is — it attacks me personally.”  Attorney Maurer then asked Glende: “What’s wrong with that, pastor?  What’s wrong with a person attacking on how you handled the situation of allegations of sexual harassment by one of your pastors?  What’s wrong with that?”  To which Pastor Glende responded: “A group of my peers have said it’s been dealt with, addressed, move on.”  (Court transcript, page 39).

In summarizing all of the evidence presented by Pastor Glende, Pastor Glende’s attorney said:

There are statements that have been provided as evidence that … show that Mr. Donnan is not going to let this issue die.  He believes his purpose is to see this through.  The issue has absolutely been resolved, and for some reason Mr. Donnan refuses to come to grips with that.  So his conduct in sending the letters, continuing to contact people, showing up at the church and refusing to leave, clearly, in my opinion, falls within, engages in a course of conduct that has no legitimate purpose …

— Court Transcript, page 75.

Was the issue of Skorzewski’s CRM status absolutely resolved?  No.  This court hearing took place during the 30 day comment period in which members of St. Peter & The CORE were being asked to advise the District about Skorzewski’s CRM status.  And only a few months later, the District granted Skorzewski CRM status, he immediately received a call, and has already been installed as a WELS pastor in Texas.

Attorney Maurer tried to get Pastor Glende to admit that the August 13 meeting was about potentially reinstating Skorzewski to the pastoral office.  Attorney Maurer questioning Pastor Glende:

Q:   Okay, you testified earlier that the issue in the past had been resolved back in January, correct?

A:   There was an initial decision reached on it in January.

Q:   He resigned in April?

A:   Correct.

Q:   And you’re stating that the August 13, 2013 meeting had nothing to do with that whatsoever, with his disposition going forward with the church, correct?

A:   Pastor Ski resigned and is not currently a pastor.  He doesn’t have status to be a pastor.  The church has nothing to do with him going forward as a pastor.

Q:   That’s not entirely true, is it?  Isn’t it a fact that part of the purpose of this meeting was some specific members of the congregation wanted to reinstate the pastor to his previous position, correct?

A:   That’s not true.

Q:   If I have people come in and testify that there were people at that meeting that were petitioning the church to reinstate the pastor, that’s not the truth, they’re lying?

A:   Were there people there that their opinion was that the pastor should be reinstated?  Yes.

Q:   Were there people at the meeting that said that?

A:   There could have been people in the meeting that said that.  The purpose of the meeting; however, was not to reinstate him.

Q:   The purpose of the meeting was as it related to Jonathan’s wife, correct?

A:   To share information regarding the case.

Q:   So why would you think it’s inappropriate for the husband of the alleged victim to be present at the meeting to hear this?

A:   Mr. Donnan has heard all that information before, and from my knowledge, it was a meeting for the members of our congregation, which he is not one of.

Q:   Why didn’t you simply tell him to leave in the beginning?  Instead you gave him the opportunity to speak.

A:   I didn’t see him there at the beginning, I was up in the front.  I had not had a chance to do anything about it and I didn’t want to cause a scene to ask him to leave.  For two hours of the meeting Jonathan sat there.  From my position he looked agitated and upset when different things were said, which, as I have always said, Jonathan is entitled to his opinion in regards to this case.

Q:   Wouldn’t you be upset if you believed your wife was the victim of sexual harassment by a pastor and they were discussing that at a meeting?  Do you think that’s unreasonable?

A:   I guess I don’t know how to answer that question.

— Court Transcript, pages 35-37.

Attorney Maurer further questioning Pastor Glende:

Q:   Do you believe there was any merit to the allegations against the pastor?

A:   Do I believe it was sexual harassment?

Q:   Do you believe there was any merit to any of the allegations, factual allegations, alleged against the pastor?

A:   The pastor resigned.

Q:   That’s not an answer to my question.  Do you believe there was any factual basis for the allegations of harassment made by Jonathan’s wife towards the pastor?

A:   We have said, declared publicly, that lapses in judgment happened.

Q:   I’m just — yes or no, you personally?

ATTORNEY GILL:  Objection to the relevance, your Honor.

ATTORNEY MAURER:  It’s part of a harassment injunction, conduct that does not serve a legitimate purpose.  Making up allegations of harassment just to attack these people, then that doesn’t serve a legitimate purpose.

ATTORNEY GILL:  Your Honor, the continued behavior has no legitimate purpose.

THE COURT:  The objection is overruled, he can answer.

WITNESS [Pastor Glende]:  Can you repeat the question?

Q:   I’m asking you if you personally believe there was any merit to the factual allegations of harassment raised by Jonathan’s wife against the pastor?

A:   Are you asking me if there were –

Q:   Just yes or no.

A:   You’re asking me a yes or no to — I can’t agree with -­-

Q:   So you don’t believe there was any merit to the factual allegations of harassment?

ATTORNEY GILL:  I’m going to object.  There were eight or nine allegations, your Honor.

ATTORNEY MAURER:  I’m asking about any of them.

ATTORNEY GILL:  What specific allegations are we talking about, your Honor?

THE COURT:  Overruled, he can answer.

[Attorney Maurer questioning Pastor Glende]:

Q:   To any of them in general.  Yes?

A:   Sure, yes.

Q:   Okay, so would you personally condone that type of conduct by one of your pastors?

A:   No.

Q:   Okay, so you believe that there were indiscretions by the pastor directly towards Jonathan’s wife that occurred by the pastor, correct?

A:   Yes, which were addressed.  And then once he resigned, it was over because he is no longer a pastor.  That happened in the middle of April.

Q:   Okay, but again, the August 13 meeting was to address possibly the allegations that had happened in the past?

A:   It was to share the summary of everything that had gone on from the end of October, November to that point.

Q:   What precipitated that meeting?

A:   Because of the letter that Jonathan and Mara sent out.  Our district president said it was appropriate, at this time, to set it out.  Until that point, we had not shared publicly with anyone in our congregation that this involved Jonathan or Mara.

Q:   Your superiors told you, let’s have a meeting with the congregation on this to let everyone know what happened, and it’s your position you didn’t want him and his wife to be there?

A:   He wasn’t a member, he was an uninvited guest.

Q:   Okay.

A:   Wanted or not wanted, I wouldn’t have thought of inviting him, he wasn’t a member.

— Court Transcript, pages 40-43.

Also at issue during the hearing was whether the August 13 meeting at The CORE was about how Pastor Skorzewski treated Jonathan’s wife, and Pastor Glende admitted that was true.

After Pastor Glende finished presenting all his evidence, and before the defense called a single witness, the court ruled on the case.  The standard the court used was this:  It put the best construction on everything Pastor Glende and his witnesses said, it considered Pastor Glende’s case in the kindest possible light, and gave Pastor Glende the benefit of the doubt on everything.  Nonetheless, the court ruled that Pastor Glende’s case had no merit, and dismissed his case.

Pastor Glende’s case was dismissed even before the defense called a single witness or presented any evidence.  Glende had nothing.

Aftermath

Immediately after the court dismissed Pastor Glende’s case, Attorney Maurer suggested that Skorzewski and the two church staffers should voluntarily dismiss their own virtually identical cases.  (Because Pastor Glende’s case took so long, the other three cases were rescheduled to a later date).  However, Skorzewski and the two church staffers refused to dismiss their cases, and instead attempted to negotiate a settlement out of court.

However, Jonathan refused to give up any of his legal rights in return for them agreeing to dismiss their cases.  In response, Skorzewski and the two staffers waited until the very last hour to dismiss their cases, thereby forcing the Donnans to endure the maximum amount of stress, and to pay the maximum amount in legal (attorney) fees.

Soon after, the Northern Wisconsin District denied Skorzewski CRM status, but made no announcement.  In congregational meetings at both St. Peter & The CORE, Skorzewski then advised the congregation that they should move on without him.  (“Around the Council Table,” November 2013 church newsletter).  The November 2013 church newsletter also had a special section entitled: “MOVING FORWARD AT THE CORE” which stated:

The announcement has been made that Ski will not be returning to that position [pastor at The CORE].  Although he applied for it, his reinstatement to the pastoral office was not granted at this point.  In a special meeting at The CORE, Ski expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to serve in our midst, but encouraged all in attendance to move forward.  That is the intent of our leadership on both campuses.  We will continue to pray for Ski, his family, and his reinstatement.

Shortly after that, Skorzewski applied for CRM status a second time.  This time, the Northern Wisconsin District granted Skorzewski CRM status (under the condition that he not be a pastor in the Northern Wisconsin District), and almost immediately Skorzewski received a call to serve as a WELS pastor in Texas.  St. Peter & The CORE then announced in their church newsletter that they were holding a farewell party for Pastor Skorzewski to wish him God’s blessings as he prepared to leave for his new call.

So a WELS pastor resigned, for cause, because of sin, but before he left for his new call at another congregation, his former congregation threw him a farewell party.

On Sunday, April 27, 2014, Skorzewski was installed as pastor at Christ the Rock (a WELS) church in Texas, and Pastor Glende preached at Skorzewski’s installation service.  (Vimeo 93511608).  At 28:20 in the sermon, Pastor Glende said that Skorzewski was his best friend, and that he wished he could work with Skorzewski forever, but God had a different plan: to bring him to Texas.  At about 28 minutes into the sermon, Pastor Glende said, “I’m sure down the road or in the course of time, you’ll hear a great deal about what it is that God used to bring him here.  It’s an amazing story.”

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3 thoughts on “Two WELS Pastors and Four Meritless Lawsuits

  1. Even if the allegations of sexual harassment were untrue, no pastor should be granted such leniency after having sued a brother in Christ, in defiance of God’s command in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8…

  2. This is just an absolutely amazing story. Was the Pastor in question ever exonerated? If not how could he possibly be admitted back into the public ministry? (At least not without years of public penance and contrite repentance.) Surely the sermon preached in Texas is not from a Lutheran Pastor – he must be reformed or Baptist.

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