Anglican Watch

Bye Felicia: TEC still refuses to deal with impaired clergy and domestic violence

Bye Felicia: TEC won’t address imaired clergy or domestic violence

Since 1979, the Episcopal Church has been grinding through vast forests of trees to make paper for its various reports on the importance of dealing with impaired clergy. And another forest got nuked, probably about the size of Cuba, when the Episcopal Church prepared its 2017 report on Impairment and Leadership.

And yet, even now nothing gets done.

How can we say that? Haven’t we made great strides since then?

Uh, no.

Consider the case of Bishop Singh. The allegations revolve in no small measure around alcohol. So what does PB Michael Curry do? 

First, he tries to ignore the issue. 

Second, he wrings his hands and says, “while I don’t have a quick fix, I do want to be of appropriate help and support to you. I don’t know what that might look like.”

At that point, we fall into the infamous phrase of an elderly relative of mine: “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

That begs the question: if Singh gets plastered one day and has a fatal DUI, will Curry play the “I don’t have a quick fix” card? 

Somehow, we doubt it.

What comes down from Mount Olympus 815, aka church headquarters, will be something akin to:

Once notified of the situation, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry promptly addressed the matter, referring Singh… 

Nor is this the first time

For a long time, folks here at Anglican Watch have been gnashing our collective teeth over these issues. Some of this destruction of dentin has been over small things that point to more significant issues. 

Like DioVA saying, soon after the Heather Cook debacle, that it would quickly update its diocesan alcohol policy. And the diocese did precisely that—several years later.

Similarly, we’ve got the Tom Simmons situation in Virginia, in which allegations of an affair, domestic violence, and drug use swirl. So what does the diocese do? Send poor lil’ Tommy for counseling while ignoring those hurt by his antics. Not cool.

Then we get the Diocese of Newark and the allegations of alcoholism involving Bill Allport. What is the total of the diocese’s response? “He says he’s not an alcoholic.” Whatev.

We could add many more names to the list, but you get the point. 

Meanwhile, our offer to plaintiff’s counsel stands: If one of these bozos kills or injures your client in a DUI, be in touch. We’ll sing a song of the Saints of God, drunk and plastered too.

For the record, this conduct is inexcusable. Alcohol ruins lives and kills people. Indeed, one staff member lost multiple family members to a drunk driver, with the latter suffering only token consequences.

But much like the Catholic church and its decision to “treat” pedophiles and move them around, the examples above make clear that the Episcopal Church still doesn’t take impairment seriously. And just like the mess in the Catholic Church, this decision will eventually bite the Episcopal Church.

Theological underpinnings

Another disturbing thing about the situation is that the 2017 task force gets the theology right. Here’s what it says:

The theological context for the commission’s work is the covenant of baptism in which Christians are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, turned from the old life of sin, and reborn to new life in Christ (BCP 254). In baptism, Christians are initiated into Christ’s body, the church (BCP 298), and are enabled to live together in holiness and righteousness, embody the risen Christ, and exercise ministry in the world. The community formed by baptism is one whose members are mutually interdependent (1 Corinthians 12:12–13), and so the health and wholeness of individual members or leaders of the community are indissolubly bound together with the health of that community. This insight is in contrast with those ways of thinking that place the “rights” of the clergy in opposition to the “rights” of the parish or Christian body. Moreover, it reflects an important aspect of the divine economy with regard to health and wholeness — namely, that what is healing for the individual is, at the same time, healing for the body and vice versa…The leadership is exercised within the baptismal community and is accountable to it. …Instead of an entitlement or privilege, a call to ministry is a sacred trust.

The report goes on to discuss the church’s often flawed theology of forgiveness, in which far too often, clergy miscreants say, “I’m sorry,” and the clouds open up, sunshine breaks through the clouds, flowers burst into bloom, cherubim sing from on high, and — you guessed it — Chardonnay flows in rivers.

The case studies have repeatedly revealed that an inadequate theological understanding of forgiveness has often inhibited or prevented appropriate and effective intervention. The desire to forgive — to offer a second chance and to retain a leader in public ministry — has often conflicted with the responsibility given to committees, commissions, other leaders, and individuals to hold impaired leaders accountable. In many instances, devoid of expectations for substantive recovery and amendment of life, the desire to forgive has undermined the church’s collective responsibility to due diligence in the work of screening, recognizing, and diagnosing impairment in church leaders, as well as intervening and treating when appropriate.

Yeah, no kidding.

And the fact that NOTHING, zero, nada, zilch, has been done about these issues is a finger in the eye to church members hurt by impaired clergy, domestic violence, and more. The church equivalent of smirking and saying, “Bye Felicia!” to the countless persons in society affected by these issues.

Ignorance ain’t bliss

Thus, with this information in front of the General Convention and church leadership, we come to an important question: What does the fact that the church is still burying its head in the barstool tell us about these issues?

Sadly, 44 years after the first General Convention resolution, Anglican Watch believes it’s safe to conclude the church doesn’t care. 

Yes, it might care for a few moments when something like the 2017 report lands in front of it. And it might care — more from fear of bankruptcy than anything — when CPG has to pay big bucks to Tom Palermo’s family. 

But other than these fleeting moments of discomfort, the reality is that the church doesn’t care about alcohol abuse. 

Nor does it care about the victims of abuse. It claims that it does, but time and again, we see clericalism get the upper hand when it comes to clergy and misconduct. And we see an us versus them mentality involving abusive clergy, instead of the notion that the entire church is one body.

We also want to make clear our position that much of this problem is due to the church’s Madmen-era time warp. Sex might, just might, count. Kids and money too. Beyond that, the church has no concept of abuse as including domestic violence, emotional abuse, relational abuse, substance abuse, or any of the myriad ways people hurt each other. 

As for zipper problems, just because our priest is having an affair or had a non-consensual fling with a parishioner doesn’t mean we should get our hopes up. Just look at the Simmons case, mentioned above. Or Bishop Mathes of San Diego, who told the female victim of sexual abuse, “I’m praying for you,” in the big brush-off based on the faulty notion that the parishioner consented. 

How could anyone as clueless as Mathes become a bishop? We’d prefer not to know, but there are lots of mini-Mathes running loose in the denomination.

And just in case we weren’t clear, we’ll spell it out for the clueless among us: Parishioners can never give consent. Full stop. Clergy are always responsible for maintaining boundaries. No excuses, no exceptions, no explanations, no negotiation.

Next steps

The Singh case makes clear that the work of the 2017 committee is not finished. Indeed, it is just beginning.

For starters, Anglican Watch supports the Singh family’s request for a Title IV case against PB Michael Curry. That’s important for several reasons:

  1. If the church is to survive, it must stop with its notion that the canons apply only when convenient. And the Singh family has raised profoundly concerning allegations that the church should address immediately.
  2. It should not be this hard to raise concerns. After what the Singh family is going through, does anyone in their right mind think anyone will raise concerns about substance abuse and domestic violence? Not bloody likely.
  3. Taking disciplinary action against Michael Curry will demonstrate that the church takes impairment and domestic violence seriously.
  4. Officials at every level must understand that a credible complaint of domestic violence should be grounds for immediate removal from ministry. Violence towards children is serious stuff. It gets you disqualified from working with children in the Catholic church. So why is it brushed off in the Episcopal Church?

The matter must also be front and center at the next general convention. Given that the Episcopal Church as we know it has less than 20 years left to live, and it’s already ignored these issues for 43 years, can we please do something about it?

Episcopalians and the public have the right to expect accountability from denominational leaders. That includes the church showing that it understands the connection between impairment and abuse—there is a strong and documented correlation between alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

We also note that charity begins at home. Until the Episcopal Church addresses its patriarchal structures, broken family systems, and inability to operate with integrity, no one will take seriously its calls to end structural racism or other social issues. 

As for inclusion, the question comes down to, “into what are we being included?” 

Given the toxic swamp that is much of the Episcopal church, many will rightly choose to take a pass on an organization that cannot even address impairment and domestic violence among its clergy.


  1. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, there would be ethical and legal violations involved if I were to have a sexual relationship with one of my clients. Why is this not the case for clergy? As a former pastor on staff with a church, I can attest to the unequal power dynamics between clergy and congregant. I think all states should pass the same laws for clergy as they have for mental health professionals.

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