A Montgomery County judge ruled yesterday that the pastor of a Baptist Church in Wheaton must return to his congregation ownership of its parsonage, valued at $75,000, that the minister said he had transferred to him five years ago when the church could not afford to pay him a salary.
Circuit Court Judge William M. Cave said he was "stunned" by the testimony of the Rev. Louie J. DiPlacido, who is at once pastor, head trustee, director of education and president of the corporation of the Faith Baptist Church, 12907 Connecticut Ave.
DiPlacido, who was sued by his congregation, testified that in September 1977 he had ownership of the split-level brick house at 13002 Daley St., Wheaton, transferred to him and his wife at a meeting of the church trustees attended by himself, his wife, his son, Daniel, and one other church member. He testified he wrote in the minutes of the meeting that the church was giving him the property, then used as a parsonage, "for 12 years of faithful service."
The DiPlacidos have since divorced and the house is occupied by the pastor's ex-wife, Lenora, and Daniel DiPlacido.
Diplacido said that while attendance at the church has been as high as 25, membership has not exceeded 10. Lenora DiPlacido testified her then-husband had the property transferred after explaining to his family that the church was no longer able to pay him a salary and saying that it would be better off if it didn't have to make the mortgage payments on the parsonage.
Attorneys Vincent Butler and Ralph Hall, representing Mrs. DiPlacido, argued that the pastor acted legally and within the guidelines of the church constitution, which provides that 75 percent of the church's voting members must be present for a major policy vote.
"Mr. DiPlacido had established a policy that no women or children under 21 could vote, and since he had banished all other members except himself, his wife, son, and one other member, the vote to ratify the new deed to the house was legitimate," Butler said.
DiPlacido had testified that shortly before the vote he had expelled from the congregation three families who "opposed his ministry."
Judge Cave said that when a church owns property its trustees, who hold the property in trust for the congregation, cannot dispose of it.
"There is frankly something wrong with any church that can be established, buy property and then have the trustees and the pastor end up getting the property."
DiPlacido's attorney, Darrel Longest, told the judge his client "doesn't want the property conveyed to him ever again unless it's for an adequate financial consideration."
Butler and Hall said they will appeal Cave's decision.