Let me be the first to admit: I am no great fan of the ACNA crowd. (They are the dissident, supposedly “orthodox” folks who tried to usurp the Episcopal hierarchy and carry off church assets.) But I’m also prepared to give credit where credit is due. And in that respect, the situation that led to the recent resignation of the ACNA bishop of Pittsburgh is an example of how The Episcopal Church (TEC) should act, but almost never does.
The matter involves the mishandling of a complaint of clergy sexual misconduct that involved two clergy within the diocese, but did not involve physical contact. In other words, sounds like sexual harassment.
The diocesan standing committee got involved, which is the formal group comprising clergy and laity that serves in a governance and advisory role to the bishop and diocese.
Per the official diocesan website, Hobby:
- Failed to act with urgency, transparency, and timeliness when an accusation of sexual misconduct by a member of the clergy was brought to his attention. To be clear, this misconduct involved another adult who is a clergy member.
- Repeatedly failed to properly follow the Canonical process for this accusation.
- Inexplicably delayed in advising the Standing Committee of other formal complaints about the same clergy member.
- Did not share material information regarding the investigation with the Standing Committee and the Canonical Investigator in a timely manner.
- Failed repeatedly to act in a manner that demonstrated proper concern for the victims of an abusive priest. To be clear, this abuse related to adults and did not involve physical contact.
After unanimously concluding that Hobby had acted improperly, the standing committee consulted with senior church officials. The committee then asked Bishop Foley to resign, with the understanding he would face formal church discipline if he did not.
Way to go, ACNA.
Before we go further, an important disclaimer.
To my knowledge there are no female clergy in the Anglican diocese of Pittsburgh. Thus, the matter almost certainly involved same-sex harassment. That raises the ugly question: If the matter involved a woman being sexually harassed, would the outcome have been the same? Or did ACNA’s loathing and opposition of LGBTQ+ rights lead to this result?
We may never know the answer to these questions, but of one thing we can be sure: The outcome in the Pittsburgh ACNA diocese is almost unheard of in the Episcopal Church.
In discussions with numerous male and female victims of abuse within TEC, there are several consistent themes:
- The victim faces a profound uphill battle, with diocesan officials almost inevitably deferring to the denials of the perpetrator.
- Despite canonical provisions allowing the bishop to waive confidentiality in order to provide a pastoral response when one is needed, clergy discipline is almost always handled in secret.
- The only things that count in most dioceses are sex, children, and outright embezzlement. Anything else, forget it.
- Bishops diocesan routinely ignore the canons, particularly the requirement of a pastoral response — which, by the way, is NOT the same as pastoral care. Yes, you might get a “I’m sorry this happened to you,” or even worse, a non-apology, but beyond that, don’t hold your breath.
- Church standing committees are almost invariably comprised of allies and sycophants. Consider the mess involving Bishop Bruno and his autocratic Corp Sole — the standing committee was good with just about anything, if it was involved at all. And the same pertains here in DIoVA, where I can assure you the standing committee would never put its foot down and say, “no mas.”
- There is zero recourse if your bishop diocesan fails to follow the disciplinary canons. And national intake officer Bishop Todd Ousley and the office of the presiding bishop neither understand the church canons, nor are willing to get involved. In short, both are about as useful as a three-legged bull on wet ice. On second thought, that may be generous.
- Church officials clearly do not understand the disciplinary canons, and make no effort to do so.
- Intake officers in TEC are held to no meaningful ethical standard. In my case, one openly lied about her own actions, while two others claimed they would only get involved if the priest in question faced criminal charges.
- Clergy often continue to serve after engaging in sexual harassment. For instance, I know of one particularly egregious case here in VA where the priest in question is still in good standing, and the only thing the victim has been told is, “Sorry we can’t tell you more.” How’s that for a pastoral response?
- Implementation of the canons often is nothing short of disastrous. In one case with which I am closely familiar, the parish was lied to about what was under way, and the Canon to the Ordinary showed up unannounced one Sunday to say, “Your priest has been suspended, and I’ll be holding services.” No meaningful pastoral response was offered to the parish or its staff, and the wardens made a hot mess of things in their efforts to protect the church.
In other words, ACNA has its own issues, but when it comes to clergy misconduct, there are signs that it is light years ahead of TEC in how it handles issues.
Conscientious Episcopal bishops would be well-served by taking a close look at the ACNA situation and comparing it to their handling of clergy misconduct.