In March 2022, Anglican Watch forwarded to the Rev. Rob Morpeth the allegations we received regarding Stephen McWhorter. Morpeth is the Title IV intake officer for the Diocese of Alabama. The allegations were that Stephen McWhorter, a retired Episcopal priest canonically resident in the diocese, made unwanted sexual advances against a boy while serving in Pittsburgh.
The result? Profound silence.
For the record, we don’t know if the allegations are accurate. But they come from a credible source. And given what we know about other issues involving Stephen McWhorter, the allegations are plausible.
That also raises another issue: Why is Morpeth, who is the diocesan compliance guy, not doing a little compliance of his own? As in complying with the requirements of Title IV? These requirements include:
- A pastoral response to all who may be affected.
- Notice of status.
We’d also suggest that the appropriate response is to 1) Conduct a third-party investigation. 2) Publish the investigative report. 3) If the allegations are accurate suspend McWhorter indefinitely, including prohibiting him from holding himself out as a priest.
Yet none of this has happened, and we see no signs that Morpeth or the diocese are taking these issues seriously.
Nor are we in the mood for a bunch of empty Jesus-babble, excuses, evasions, or other usual nonsense. The protection of children should be among the church’s highest priorities. It should NEVER result in passive-aggressive silence.
So yesterday, we sent the following to Morpeth, with a copy to bishop Glenda Curry.
We’re profoundly troubled by Morpeth’s passive-aggressive approach to child protection. As the diocesan compliance/risk management person, Morpeth should be leading by example. But the example he is setting tells the public neither he nor the diocese gives a red rat’s rear end about protecting children.
As for potential arguments about McWhorter being retired, spare us.
We are well-acquainted with his conduct, including a Title IV case brought against him for sexually harassing an adult female. He is not someone who should be trusted, at any age, in any circumstances. Nor have we seen anything that suggests a different conclusion.
Nor does being affiliate clergy at St. Luke’s Birmingham cut it. While McWhorter’s role may be limited, any situation in which he is permitted to hold himself forth as clergy invokes an inherent imbalance of power that is inappropriate under the circumstances.
We also note that we have contacted McWhorter and other relevant persons directly about the allegations, including the rector of St. Luke’s. At no point has McWhorter or anyone else disputed the allegations we have received.
Thus, we wind up in a place far too common in the Episcopal Church: The denomination talks about protecting children and a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. But the reality is that it protects white, male clergy and de facto holds to a zero-tolerance policy for criticizing these clergy demigods, even when allegations of abuse arise.
And of all people, Bishop Glenda Curry should understand the underlying issues in light of her background in nursing and college administration. Sitting in splendid silence is not an acceptable option, and serves to only aid and abet abusers.
We also note that, per the language of Title IV, the clergy disciplinary canon:
Members of the Clergy… have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountabilities for doctrine, discipline, worship and obedience.
So, we’d welcome an explanation from the diocese about what, if any, standard Morpeth is being held to. Certainly, neither he nor the diocese are compliant with the requirements of Title IV.
We wrap up with a warning to Morpeth, Curry, and the Diocese of Alabama: If allegations of abuse emerge involving McWhorter during his tenure in Alabama, Anglican Watch will cooperate in any criminal or civil proceeding against the diocese or its employees. All involved had actual knowledge of the allegations against McWhorter, and have taken no meaningful action to address these matters. And they have ignored the express provisions of Title IV.
Finally, to anyone considering hiring Morpeth, we note that failing to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse is, itself, a form of abuse. As in abuse of power.
Morpeth thus is someone not to be trusted, and should not be in any position of authority, including serving as a priest.