THE Episcopal Church in the United States is working to tighten accounting controls after revelations that a former treasurer misused $2.2 million in church funds. Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning said in a statement May 1 that Ellen Cooke diverted the money for personal use between February 1990 and January 1995.
The fraud was uncovered when the Rev. Mr. Browning asked for Mrs. Cooke's resignation on other grounds late last year. During negotiation of her severance package, church officials uncovered irregularities and began examining Cooke's transactions. She had served as treasurer of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and General Convention since 1986.
Browning retained legal counsel and met with Cooke, who said she would pay back as much of the money as she could. He also hired the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand to review the New York-based denomination's books and recommend improvements in financial controls.
The church has secured title to a house in New Jersey and a farm in Virginia that Cooke purchased and is conducting a survey of her assets to locate other resources for restitution.
Browning says he cannot comment on whether the church plans to press charges against Cooke.
''It would be difficult for me to describe the sense of betrayal that I have felt over these last few months,'' he says. ''Funds taken from us were meant to serve the least of us.''
''In the way that a family tragedy can bring the family together, I do believe that, out of these dark days, we have found new strength....''