Anglican Watch

Clergy discipline, Title IV, and the importance of administrative suspension

One of the Title IV topics we have touched on is administrative leave. Specifically, we’ve talked about its importance and its timing.

It’s that latter issue — timing — that we are exploring today.

Administrative leave is one of several actions authorized during the intake process (Title IV.7.10). We believe it is vastly underused, and here’s why.

The most evil actors aka predators out there are often the most beloved. That’s because they’re narcissists, sociopaths, or inhabitants of the so-called “dark triad.” As a result, they are often serial charmers and bullies, Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes.

They’re also master plotters. Many times, when we talk to those hurt by the church, they reach a moment of epiphany when they realize that the clergyperson had it planned all along.  And in almost every case, they are correct.

The steps are predictable.

First, the predator charm-bombs their way in. As they do, they learn what makes their target tick. It might be a need for affection, recognition, positive reinforcement — whatever it is, the predator will figure it out and supply it in spades.

Then, once their target is on the hook, the predator will get what he wants. It might be money to put a new roof on the church. It might be an affair. Or paying for a seminary education. Or it might be doing something the predator doesn’t want to do directly, like pushing someone off the vestry.

But even as the victim does the predator’s bidding, the predator is one step ahead. As he sees he’s close to getting what he wants, he begins teeing up for the discard phase. 

That teeing up typically takes the form of rumors. “Well, you know he’s a bit unstable.” 

Or it may be the “secret,” typically shared with the biggest gossip in the church, “You know, I am so worried about her I bought a gun. I trust you, so please don’t share that.” 

And, of course, the predator knows full well that everyone in the parish will learn about the gun within an hour.

The predator has already set the other person up for failure by handling things this way. And once they have their ducks in a row, they’ll precipitate with great cunning the incident that leads to the Title IV complaint–it may be physical abuse, stealing money, hurting a child or pet, or bullying the parishioner.

So, if the person does file a Title IV complaint, it’s game on for the predator. They’ll pull the classic DARVO (deny and reverse victim/offender) and say that folks have known for years about how the complainant is mentally ill, a domestic terrorist, or “dysfunctional.” You name it, they’ll try it. And they have an astonishing ability to pull in fellow narcissists and sociopaths, using them as allies.

And so by leaving the respondent in place, judicatories often unwittingly cause irreparable harm to the church community, even as they further traumatize the complainant. The predator keeps upping the ante, trying to crush the complainant, pulling in allies, and spinning off rumors.

As they do so, they also derail the Title IV process. Parishioners with adverse information fear retaliation if they speak out. At the same time, the predator’s flying monkeys and other allies will sing his praises, tell the investigator that it’s all just a grudge and more. In fact, listen closely, and they will parrot, almost word for word, the party line as articulated by the Great Leader. And right behind the scenes, the flying monkeys are a highly efficient spy network, alerting the predator to any signs of disloyalty.

In other words, it is tough to have a successful Title IV outcome if the respondent has any active role in the church. And they will work the traps vociferously, calling old pals from seminary, mutual friends, you name it. Just as a snake in a corner always bites, a predator also leaves no stone unturned in his effort to win.

And there is no better example than the Singh case. While we are not prepared to lobby for his family, given the underlying dynamics, we note that Singh himself called for a Title IV investigation. 

Why? Because he knew his good buddy, Episco-bro Michael Curry would be the bishop responsible for the case. In other words, nothing would happen absent behavior so egregious that Curry couldn’t ignore it.

But when Curry recused himself, Singh’s bluff got called, and he immediately pulled up stakes. In other words, he couldn’t game the system.

Similarly, bishops often are reluctant to go after priests at bigger parishes for fear that the parish will cut funding. Or the priest may have close ties to ACNA, and the bishop fears an uproar. And the list goes on.

So, Anglican Watch advocates that the default response when a Title IV case is filed be administrative suspension. And yes, there are other options, including pastoral directives not to discuss the matter, but these typically only work with honest people. 

Serial bullies can and will sidestep anything short of absolute zero contact and do it in record time. And they will continue to make trouble for their victim, even from hundreds of miles away. And we have identified dozens of Title IV cases that were dismissed or brushed aside as the respondent was left in place, even though there was irrefutable evidence of major canonical violations.

We urge judicatories to re-examine the trauma caused by leaving abusive clergy in place during a Title IV proceeding.

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