Anglican Watch

David Duggan Title IV case illustrates why TEC is its own worst enemy

David Duggan

Imagine a situation in which you’re a parent. Your adult kids have had a major falling out, and one comes to you in the hope of solving the mess. How do you handle it?


a) Show love towards all involved and try to mediate the situation so your kids are again in right relationship.
b) Tell the kid who asked for your help, “I agree with your sibling, not you, so get lost.”
c) Pour a stiff drink and ignore the whole thing.
d) Roll your eyes, clutch your pearls, and start binge-watching, “I Love Lucy.”
e) None of the above.
f) Answers c and d

Hopefully, you chose option a, even if you don’t consider yourself a Christian.

But if you’re the Episcopal Church, you’ve almost certainly chosen options b through f. In fact, in true passive-aggressive fashion, there’s a good chance you skipped the question altogether.

And therein lies the problem for the Episcopal Church.

In the case of David Duggan and his ongoing conflict with the Diocese of Chicago, the diocese chose option B. That’s an issue on multiple levels.

First, the Chicago reference panel overstepped its authority. While it appropriately referred the matter out for investigation, the reference panel is not authorized to assess credibility, veracity or any of those issues. Nor should it express any opinion on these matters. And while the investigatory reports may amplify and expand the intake report, thus influencing referral options, it’s important that the reference panel remember that its only role is referral, with an eye towards resolution.

Second, we come to a matter of philosophy, which we highlighted in our fictional, multi-choice question. If, as the canons recite, the role of the church is to support its members in seeking health, wholeness and reconciliation, dismissing a matter should be a profoundly rare situation. As in, the respondent wasn’t involved in the situation.

In other words, when someone comes to you, as a bishop, a priest, or other participant in a Title IV proceeding, treat it as a request for your help, be honored that they trusted you enough to reach out to you, take the high road, and do what you can to assist.

In other words, don’t be a jerk.

And don’t forget that there is ample reason not to trust the church’s Title IV process. While we are far from objective on these issues, we have seen almost no Title IV cases that were handled well. The best cases typically rise to the level of so-so, and the worst are abject failures that empower abusive clergy to be even more abusive. And it is a rare complainant who doesn’t emerge from the process with some serious scars.

In this case, it does not matter if the Rev. Will Bouvel’s courtroom fabrications were intentional or unintentional. They were still fabrications, and they still caused harm. In that situation, there is a moral imperative to right the underlying wrong, regardless of motive.

We also note that there’s another way to tackle these issues, which is to ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Worst case scenario, Duggan shows up at the ordination, says he objects, gets ignored, and things go on. Wouldn’t be the first time it happened. Won’t be the last.

In fact, had that happened, that would have been a good opportunity to meet with Duggan over lunch or coffee, hear what he has to say, and let him know that he’s a welcome member of the church, regardless of views.

Moreover, the focus of the Reference Panel, as alluded to earlier, is not to assess who’s right or wrong. It’s to refer the case in the manner most likely to resolve the issue.

In that regard, dismissing the case is highly unlikely to resolve the underlying conflict.

Thus, we get to the question: Why wouldn’t the diocese try to mediate the issue? Doing so would be in everyone’s best interest, and Anglican Watch believes that a path forward can be found. But it won’t be found by brushing Duggan off.

And while Bouvel may have believed his misstatements to be accurate, that doesn’t cut it either. As the canons note, clergy are (supposedly) held to a higher standard. If he had any doubts, Bouvel should have looped back and done his homework. That’s what a reasonable person would do, and we expect it’s what a priest would do.

So, Anglican Watch calls on the Diocese of Chicago to stop with the fun and games. It may be that there are issues to discuss on both sides; we express no opinon there. But brushing off the matter is stupid and unhelpful and reflects a broken ethical reference point on the part of Paula Clark and the other members of the reference panel.

In other words, the Episcopal Church has once again shown that it is its own worst enemy. As in, promoting conflict, one brush-off at a time.

And before Marion Phipps and others in the diocese clutch their pearls, sigh, and say, “There’s nothing we can do,” Anglican Watch offers this: we will personally mediate this dispute. And we’re prepared to say we can find a solution that will build positive relationships on all sides.

Doubt it? Call us on it.


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