Eleven current and former parishioners and a former priest at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue are pursuing a complaint with the Episcopal Diocese against the church's rector.
The complaint, copies of which were distributed at the church on Sunday, alleges that the rector, the Reverend Andrew Mead, regularly used parish money to purchase cat litter for his cats and "large quantities of alcohol" for personal use, hugged a parishioner's husband for "an excessively long period of time while grabbing his buttocks," and flew first class with his wife to Paris to fire the headmaster of the church's Choir School, who was vacationing there.
The diocese's eight-member Standing Committee, which listens to allegations of clerical misconduct, is expected to take up the issue later this week for the first time.
In an unusual step, church officials passed out copies of the complaint following the 11 a.m. Mass this Sunday in order to allay gossip that had been apparently making its way among members of the prosperous 1,600-strong congregation. During the Mass, the congregation's senior lay official, William Wright II, denounced the allegations as "malicious and unfounded" and said the church's leadership continues to back Rev. Mead.
On Sunday Mr. Wright hinted that the allegations would be hotly contested. He said the complaint names several "innocent bystanders" to the alleged events who told church officials that the allegations "were false and misconstrued."
The allegations claim that Rev. Mead engaged in conduct "unbecoming a member of the clergy."
In all, the complaint contains 16 individual accusations, ranging from contract disputes to a disagreement about whether Rev. Mead's wife would get a reserved seat at church.
Rev. Mead "continuously abuses alcohol," which has led to "sexually inappropriate conduct," according to the complaint.
The first incident of alleged misconduct described in the complaint involves Rev. Mead's behavior after being reminded that he had not conducted the wedding ceremony of a parishioner of his, Jessica Getzel, who had wed a Jew. After hearing this, Rev. Mead allegedly made the sign of the cross repeatedly and uttered wedding rites to Mrs. Getzel and her husband, George, according to the complaint. The uncomfortable episode ended with Rev. Mead hugging Mr. Getzel for an "excessively long period of time while grabbing his buttocks," according to the complaint, which is signed by Mrs. Getzel.
One of the alleged disputes involved seating arrangements. When church ushers refused to reserve for Rev. Mead's wife her favorite seat, the rector ordered the seat roped off and a brass plaque reading "Rector's Pew" affixed to it, the complaint said.
In the complaint, a former priest at the church, Park Bodie, claims that Rev. Mead forced him to sign a termination agreement by threatening otherwise immediately to take away Rev. Bodie's health insurance, according to the complaint. Rev. Bodie agreed to sign the contract because he needed health insurance for his son, a cancer survivor, according to the complaint, which Rev. Bodie signed.
Rev. Mead, 60, came to St. Thomas a decade ago, from Boston. St. Thomas, a gothic cathedral on Fifth Avenue, is one of New York's older religious congregations, dating back to the 1820s. Rev. Mead led a service for the British victims of the September 11 attacks that was attended by Prime Minister Blair, according to a biography provided on the church's Web site. Elizabeth II made Rev. Mead an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2002. Rev. Mead is, by several accounts, a popular head of the congregation and was honored at a luncheon commemorating his 10 anniversary at St. Thomas this September.
The editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, who is a member of the church's vestry, made remarks at the luncheon saying that the rector "executes his office with skill and grace." Mr. Meacham described Rev. Mead as "orthodox in an unorthodox era." A transcript of the remarks was obtained from the church's Web site.
Following an opening Bach Prelude at St. Thomas's 11 a.m. Mass Sunday, the senior warden, Mr. Wright, addressed the allegations, according to a recording of the service.
"Rather than have this information become convoluted as it travels by rumor and second-hand interpretation, I have decided to speak with you directly," Mr. Wright said, adding that the bishop of the diocese, Mark Sisk, had approved the decision to hand out copies of the allegations following the service.
"I think once you review the document you will understand why we see these accusations as being malicious and unfounded," Mr. Wright said. " I want you to know in closing that the wardens and vestry are more committed than ever to the rector and his leadership of this church."
A lawyer for the church and Rev. Mead, Thomas Engel, declined to comment beyond what Mr. Wright had said Sunday.
"As a parishioner and as a lawyer it is impossible for me to improve upon the statement by Warden Wright," Mr. Engel said.