Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:3
Anglican Watch previously covered the never-ending saga of sexual harassment of a young woman connected with St. James in Texarkana and what likely will be an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proceeding for retaliation. In conjunction with that coverage, we’ve repeatedly addressed the refusal of the Presiding Bishop’s office and Todd Ousley to abide by the requirements of Title IV. That includes the necessity of a pastoral response from the beginning of the process.
So why is Todd Ousley playing games? Shouldn’t he lead by example and follow the canons? And what does the Episcopal Church’s refusal to play by its own rules bode for the future?
Let’s start with federal law.
Under the civil rights acts, it is illegal to engage in sexual harassment (among other things.) And it is unlawful to retaliate against anyone participating in an EEOC case, or opposing sexual harassment, even if the person facing retaliation doesn’t expressly use legal terminology.
Here’s what the EEOC has to say about retaliation, the most common and frequently successful EEOC complaint:
In other words, Sumner, Halt, Ousley, and several others are setting themselves and the church up for legal and reputational disaster.
And no non-disclosure agreement out there will fix things because that horse has already left the barn.
Then there is the issue of St. James parish, the diocese, and the larger Episcopal Church. Does anyone want to give time, talent, or treasure to a denomination where sexual harassment is okay? Where it’s okay to retaliate against someone who does the right thing and opposes sexual harassment?
Not so much.
Anglican Watch predicts litigation in this matter, raising a related question: Even if the Church Pension Group steps in with a settlement, insurance rates will increase. And we predict that women, already angry about the church’s dismal track record on #metoo, aren’t going to wait another 100 years for the church get its act together.
And any attorney worth her salt is going to go for punitive damages. These typically are not covered by insurance and can be devastating in scope. Moreover, it in unconscionable for George Sumner, David Halt, and the rest of the Episco-bros to put women or the parish in the crosshairs.
So, bye-bye pledges. And it’s not unreasonable for those who remember the denomination in their wills to expect that funds will go to spreading the Good News, versus paying off victims of clergy who prey on women by exploiting the inherent or engage in retaliation. George Sumner, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Nor is there any doubt Sumner is complicit. None. Feel free to quote us.
Next, we turn to ethics issues.
While ignoring the rubric that the priest takes communion first is one thing, it’s another to ignore sexual harassment and retaliation, which should be unacceptable in the church.
And it shouldn’t take a lawsuit or even a Title IV case to address the issue. But just in case Ousley and Sumner were among those who got up and left for the #metoo part of General Conference 79, here’s what the canons say about retaliation. And while these provisions are in the context of a Title IV complaint, we’re prepared to bet that the men and women who voted for this measure would say any retaliation is wrong—especially since it is illegal. But then, the need for this provision is, itself, telling.
Sexual harassment must be treated as a zero-tolerance offense, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or other factors.
Same for retaliation. The correct response is an HR reponse, as in, “you’re fired. And don’t let the door hit you,” followed by a pastoral response to those injured. As adults, those of us with real jobs know that retaliation is verboten, and Episcopal clergy can deal with it. Simple as that.
Nor is this Ousley’s first bite at the apple when it comes to sexual misconduct. Indeed, he was part of the panel that reinstated Bennison as bishop of Pennsylvania, despite his alleged role in child sexual abuse. The ruling, which was predicated on the statute of limitations, is a case of world without end BS, full-stop. We don’t care about the statute of limitations, and Ousley is just fine with ignoring the canons when it suits him. Child abuse is wrong, always and everywhere, no exceptions, explanations, or excuses. Bennison needed to go, and everyone else related to those sordid issues.
And we’re prepared to bet that a couple of high-profile cases in which bishops are told to hit the bricks over sexual harassment and retaliation would result in significant reductions of abusive behavior.
That raises the question: Why is Ousley acting like a spineless wonder?
The best answer is because he can. His boss, Michael Curry, babbles away about “loving, liberating, and life-giving.”
But the practice in the presiding bishop’s office far too often is “lying, losing, leaving.”
As in, once people realize that Curry’s slogan is a lie, they lose trust and leave the denomination. Or organized faith altogether.
Do Curry or Ousley care? We can answer that question by looking at several factors, including:
- The implosion of Ousley’s former diocese.
- Ousley’s raiding of church coffers to pay Episco-bro Whayne Hougland a golden parachute for having an extramarital affair.
- The utter indifference in the Presiding Bishop’s office to the dignity and respect of women or those who support them. Something about the Baptismal Covenant. And it doesn’t stop there–survivors of all forms of abuse consistently find that the national church won’t get involved if the bishop diocesan doesn’t want to get involved. Or engage in a cover-up. (Shannon Johnston, here’s looking at you.)
Ousley and Curry also appear to be afraid to push too hard, given Sumner’s claim to being conservative. Nothing like another Episco-spat, right? Litigation, here we come. Gotta hold onto the buildings at all costs, even if there is no one in them.
The irony is that the longer they play this game, the more ACNA looks attractive. Yes, ACNA has issues regarding inclusion, but the Episcopal church doesn’t look any better when its claim to inclusion proves to be a lie.
But then, why should Curry or Ousley care? Participants in one of the last defined benefit plans in America, their futures are secure, even as they scuttle the ship that got them there.
So, these two knuckleheads will ride the “loving, liberating, life-giving,” gravy train off into the sunset, even as TEC collapses due to its corruption.
For the record, sexual abuse is wrong. Ignoring sexual abuse simply adds insult to injury and further reduces trust in the church.