Anglican Watch

Episcopal bishops miss the point in Title IV discussions

Why is everyone leaving the Episcopal Church? Let me count them.

The Episcopal House of Bishops met today for the start of a four-day meeting, “The Vocation of the Bishop Now.” Topics emphasize church decline and Title IV, the clergy disciplinary canon.

The conference is being held via Zoom to allow Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to avoid travel pending an upcoming operation.

With much of today’s discussion centered on Title IV, Anglican Watch fears that the bishops will continue a tradition they excel in: missing the forest for the trees.

Much emphasis was placed on perceptions of disparate Title IV treatment of bishops versus other clergy. But from where we sit, cases involving bishops are remarkably consistent with Title IV across the church. Specifically, judicatories try to avoid getting involved whenever possible. The path forward adds layers of trauma, and much of the process is decidedly amateur-hour. And it’s much like the mating of the last two dinosaurs: Noisy, contentious, and nothing to show for it.

Ironically, one of the worst offenders in not wanting to get involved, Michael Curry, hit the nail on the head when he talked about things left undone. In other words, we’d guesstimate that, across the board, 90 percent of issues with clergy discipline comprise things left undone — the official sin of the Episcopal Church.

Our take: The Episcopal Church spends so much time doing church that it forgets to be church. Doing church involves costly and environmentally damaging in-person meetings–layers upon layers of them. People talk at each other, practice navel-gazing, and blizzards of emails and paper fly in all directions. But nothing much happens.

On the other hand, being church involves genuinely caring for others, including the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed. And if priests are called to a higher standard by their ordination vows, bishops are called to a still higher standard.

Thus, as laity, our hearts sink when we experience dioceses that fail to maintain mission integrity, brush off Title IV complaints, and otherwise invite us to make our spiritual homes elsewhere.

In many ways, resolving the issue goes beyond Title IV.

It involves forming a culture modeled on the highest ethics. It requires that priests view their role as a calling versus being the narcissistic center of attention. It involves not fight or flight but engagement. It includes a focused effort to build healthy family systems.

As to Title IV, our experience is that most judicatories are woefully untrained. They fly by the seat of their pants versus sitting down, reading the canons, and rereading them. In doing so, they fail to recognize that they are playing with people’s faith–a terrible space to play fast and loose. 

And, being human, intake officers often play favorites. Time and again, we hear perceptions of favoritism. Ironically, many times it’s couched in terms of, “Fr. Lardbottom is disliked throughout the diocese and has been a problem for years. Still, no one wants to get involved.”

We also note that the requirement of a pastoral response, specifically described as more than pastoral care and intended to be a generous, immediate response to the filing of a complaint, is universally ignored. That ranges from bishops to laity. Done correctly, a pastoral response may involve access to a social worker, safe housing, financial assistance, and many other things. What good is the church if we cannot even care for our own? But most are lucky if they get a priest willing to lend a sympathetic ear.

Anglican Watch also reiterates a previous statement: The denomination is awful regarding domestic violence within clergy families. These experiences are far from unusual, but the best most dioceses can do is to suggest calling the local domestic violence hotline. Given the role of clergy in their communities, this sort of response poses a real problem for victims. Developing models for implementation across dioceses to recognize and respond quickly to allegations of domestic violence or abuse is essential. And frankly, Michael Curry’s handwringing about the Singh situation is shocking, appalling, and horrific. The fact that someone can be in ministry that long and not know to take the issue seriously made us fall off our collective chairs.

Another observation we offer is that disciplinary priorities are often woefully misplaced. Someone will get defrocked because they ignore a pastoral directive, yet bishops often ignore the canons themselves without consequences.  Or the so-called miscreant uses a liturgy the bishop doesn’t like or something equally stupid.

Yet serious matters, like the rape of a child, get ignored.

For example, the Rev. Richard Lough, now facing felony criminal charges for repeatedly raping a boy in the 1970s, was known to church officials for years. Indeed, Glenda Curry ignored the matter for more than two years. Alan Gates brushed it off, and more.

And in several instances, the church claimed it couldn’t move forward because the victim didn’t want to come forward by name. Yet, although we only recently learned the actual name of the victim (which we are not publishing), we verified several key claims in a matter of minutes. So, we’re calling BS without end on the dioceses that claimed they couldn’t substantiate the allegations.

If nothing else, the rapid succession of schools, Boy Scout programs, and other non-clergy activities in Losch’s resume should be a cause for raised eyebrows. 

And Losch is a brilliant guy–we have little doubt he could have become a bishop were there not intervening reasons. We’ve also uncovered several incidents at places Losch worked that, while we cannot tie them directly to him, should have caused grave concern to even the most casual observers.

So why are we bringing up Losch yet again?

The reason is simple: We do not fully accept Curry’s effort to keep Title IV failures at arm’s-length by saying, “We can learn from the past.”

When we have intake officers who dismiss on pretextual bases or refuse to follow the canons, they must be held accountable. Similarly, bishops who “don’t want to get involved,” even in the face of criminal allegations, must be disciplined, up to and including being defrocked.

Ironically, accountability aligns with the church’s survival. No one wants to be part of a church or denomination where social Darwinianism rules.

“Mistakes were made” won’t cut it. And many in the church will vote with their feet until bishops figure this out. And there are even more of us on the periphery of the church with no plans to come back until we see it happen. The days are gone when church officials can expect us to send money, volunteer unquestioningly, and support clergy in their quest for self-care at levels many of us never experience in our own lives.

Bishops, get with the program before it is too late.

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