Demands increase for bishop accountability
Following the lackluster response to the allegations of domestic violence by Bishop Singh and the purported sexual assault of Julia Ayala Harris at a church meeting, there have been demands in both Houses of the General Convention to revisit bishop discipline and the related disciplinary canons. But these efforts miss the point and are another layer of whitewash in the Episcopal Church.
Let me explain.
Some bishops have extramarital affairs, molest children, steal money, bully clergy, and engage in destructive behavior. But in the scheme of things, the number is minor.
The real, larger issue is that bishops regularly misuse Title IV, sandbag cases, ignore complaints and more. Culprits include:
- PB Michael Curry
- Todd Ousley
- Chilton Knudsen
- Alan Gates
- Shannon Johnston
- Susan Goff
- Glenda Curry
- Paula Clark
All should be defrocked.
When did it start?
The first glimmer of the real issue shows up in the Whayne Houghland affair, where Houghland got defrocked over adultery, even as he enjoyed a full salary for a year (the sixty percent reduction didn’t count for much since the Michigan dioceses had increased his salary by the same amount shortly before disaster struck, clever guy).
Thanks to Todd Ousley’s intervention, Houghland landed a plum gig as Interim Rector of St. Chrysostom’s in Chicago. In short, the dioceses spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a golden parachute for Houghland and got nothing in return. And frankly, what we see suggests that Houghland deserves anything but a good kick in the backside.
Nor is Houghland’s arrival at St. Chrysostom’s, located on Chicago’s Gold Coast, a surprise. With no one interested in buying the St. James Commons office building and the Chicago Diocese lurching towards bankruptcy, seedy little eyes have been glinting at the prospect of getting their hands on St. Chrysostom’s generous endowment and beautiful campus. Some might even say it would make a beautiful cathedral.
The real problem
But the real problem is actually not the behavior of bishops. The problem lives yet another layer down.
That problem is the many bishops who don’t want to deal with the Title IV clergy disciplinary canons. So, the problem isn’t holding them accountable. It’s getting them to hold canonically resident clergy responsible for their actions, both done and left undone.
And their desire not to go there is understandable, even if unjustified. Bishops get away with murder–why shouldn’t their subordinates get the same honors?
Other reasons for this lack of accountability include:
- Chancellors who improperly insert themselves into the Title IV process.
- Chancellors (think J.P. Causey) who tell bishops diocesan “don’t get too involved.”
- Naiveté. We’re thinking of one bishop who says, “But he says he’s not an alcoholic,” even as the priest sits in his office and gets plastered all day.
- The captive Church Pension Group provides insurance to the church and often prefers to litigate versus settle disputes amicably. This is costly, stupid, and un-Christian.
- Narcissistic bishops who “don’t want to get involved.”
- Clueless judicatories who say, “Well, he says he’s not an alcoholic and similarly insane statements.
- Bishops trapped in a Madmen-era time warp, where the only thing that counts is chasing your secretary three times around the desk as you tell her what hot legs she has.
- Intake officers who ignore complaints that don’t involve sex, women, and children — and maybe not even those. Get with the program, folks: Abuse covers a broad continuum of deeply hurtful behaviors.
- Relatedly, there is such a strong focus on sex in the Title IV training materials that things like bank robbery or embezzlement get scant attention.
- Bishops who do not recognize that Title IV is not the nuclear option but a series of discussions designed to promote healing and reconciliation. Thus, they are reluctant to pursue a Title IV case.
- There is a lack of clarity around the materiality clause in the canons. Sometimes deliberate, sometimes based on cluelessness. When intentional, intake officers use the clause to sandbag illegal conduct by clergy.
- The echo chamber of the House of Bishops, where once a complainant gets a bad rap, it’s almost impossible to overcome.
- Poor understanding of true evil by bishops. Some of the most profoundly abusive clergy are the most charming, so trust but verify.
- There is a profound lack of training by intake officers who often make statements like “I determined” or “the reference panel found.” Neither is a finder of fact per the canons. Any intake officer who doesn’t recognize this most fundamental aspect of Title IV needs to be removed from office immediately.
- A lack of understanding of domestic violence and coercive control. These can be difficult to understand, but these situations happen far too often with clergy. Indeed, I remember the anguish when my father threatened to kill my pets over a bad grade on my report card. No visible marks, but the scars persist to this day. So don’t brush it off when someone tells you they are terrified of their spouse.
- Many judicatories do not realize how manipulative bad actors are. For example, a priest may go home and tell his wife, “Everyone at church thinks XXXX is going to bring in a gun and shoot up the place.” They then do shuttle “diplomacy” and tell parishioners, “My wife knows XXXX well and is terrified that he will shoot up the place.” And so, in this real-life example, the priest created an alternate reality with a few simple lies and persuaded his bishop to take his side.
- “The-you-do-too trick.” This antic went out in second grade, but many intake officers ignore that Title IV only applies to clergy. So stop the sin-leveling games. It doesn’t matter if the complainant burned down every Episcopal church in Manhattan–they still get to file a complaint if, for example, a priest sexually abused them.
- Relatedly, it’s not unusual to see bad behavior on both sides in egregious misconduct cases. People misbehave when they are hurt. Deal with it, and don’t use it as an excuse to ignore a complaint. Title IV only applies to clergy, full stop.
- The fuel that powers the Episcopal Church is passive-aggressive behavior. And the worst offender is Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who shrugged off repeated, written pleas from a boy raped in the 1970s. He didn’t pass them on, send them to authorities, nothing. So don’t let his sudden Road to Emmaus moment fool you–he’s got zero empathy in these situations.
- A special note on Todd Ousley: He has no business in the office of pastoral development, having once told me in front of witnesses that the presiding bishop has no authority to discipline bishops. Leaving aside the express language of the canons, it sounds suspiciously like a case states’ rights to me. And this is a man utterly devoid of human compassion.
The solution: Fire him.
The upcoming General Convention should have a mandatory Title IV training session. Leave the session or hang out for a Mimosa, and you are excused for the rest of the meeting.
The canons expressly state that any judicatory who refuses to cooperate a Title IV case will be defrocked.Title IV charges against Todd Ousley and PB Curry are warranted. Contrary to Julia Ayala Harris’ comments, a reference panel sent her case out for investigation, not a church attorney. That reference panel consisted of PB Michael Curry, Todd Ousley, and a third, unknown party. The fact that these buttheads have no issue with sexual assault tells us something. And don’t fall for the game of “Well, I like Michael Curry.” Far too many miscreants get away with it.We plan to forward this document to both houses and to the Presiding Bishop. If you would like to sign, please put your name exactly as you would like to appear. We’ve also added a field for comments—please keep them kind!