Former finance director sues Jackson diocese

Jackson, Miss., Oct 22, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Jackson and its ordinary, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, are being sued by the diocese’s former director of finance, who says he was unjustly fired last year.

Arie “Aad” Mattheus de Lange was fired from the diocese Oct. 3, 2018, which was later changed to an administrative leave. In May, he was told that he was no longer employed by the Diocese of Jackson. He filed the lawsuit earlier this month, saying his firing was in retaliation for his complaints about how the budget is handled.

“The reasons proffered for de Lange’s termination were false, pretextual, and did not rise to the level of grave reason,” claims the lawsuit. The suit further states that it is “inexplicable” that de Lange was fired for a grave reason due to the lack of any sort of performance review during his employment.

“De Lange’s discharge was retaliatory in nature based upon his reasonable objection to the unrealistic budget proposed for Catholic Charities and the potential adverse impact it posed to the diocese,” said the suit. According to the filing, the Diocese of Jackson serves as the guarantor of Catholic Charities, and Catholic Charities does not need permission to remove money from the diocese’s checking account.

In the suit, de Lange claims he was wrongfully terminated, and that he had been defamed by the diocese, which negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. He is not asking for a certain amount in damages, but requested that the jury determine an appropriate amount.

When de Lange was initially fired in October 2018, Kopacz sent him a letter stating that he was being fired due to a “weakened financial and administrative condition of the diocese,” an “unexpected large deficit” during that fiscal year, “internal problems reflected in the prior year’s audit report and anticipated in this year’s report,” and a “lack of leadership, communication and collaboration” between his office and diocesean leadership.

de Lange disputes these claims, and instead says that Kopacz had been looking to terminate him since 2016. That year, de Lange did not support Kopacz being named as the interim executive director of the diocesesan board of directors. De Lange said that he believed Kopacz being in this position created a conflict of interest, as board members of the board of directors were employees of the bishop and therefore could not fire him.

Normally, the board is able to terminate the executive director – but this would not be possible if the interim executive director is the bishop himself.

In a statement given to the Clarion Ledger, the Diocese of Jackson said they stood by their reasons for dismissing de Lange in 2018 and that is the “general policy of the Diocese not to comment on pending litigation and personnel matters.”

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