It’s been a long time coming, but on November 13, 2023, the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey reached a Title IV accord with wayward priest Daniel Somers, then priest-in-charge of St Andrews, Lambertville.
Somers was accused of plagiarizing sermons, improperly handling parish legal matters, bullying parishioners, and attempting to avoid mandatory retirement. And while we were happy that the Diocese took action, parishioners tell us the Diocese had been aware of problems for a long time and had done its best to avoid dealing with the issues.
The matter had initially been referred by the Title IV reference panel to conciliation, which was determined would not work within a reasonable period of time.
The case then went out for investigation, and was sent to a conference panel. Ultimately, it went to a Hearing Panel after Somers allegedly violated one or more pastoral directives.
In the meantime, Somers filed suit over various issues, including his retirement and related claims.
All of the claims were dismissed in court except for claims of defamation and tortious interference.
Eventually, an accord was reached between the diocese and Somers. It’s among the better that we have seen, it that it makes public the terms and conditions, involved consultation with the injured parties, and provides other needed specifics.
Many dioceses keep these under wrap, leading to problems and conflict down the road.
Among the terms of the accord:
- A three-year suspension.
- Dismissal with prejudice of the remaining portions of his lawsuit.
- Somer sends a written apology to his former parish for plagiarizing sermons and suing them.
- When Somer’s suspension ends, he may serve as supply clergy, but for no more than three Sundays in a row at any one parish. He may not serve at St. Andrews.
- A pastoral directive provides that Somers will not plagiarize again. Future violations will result in additional discipline. (While we’re at it, why not add “Thou shalt not rob banks?”)
- Somers gets reimbursed for his legal fees per diocesan canons.
Anglican Watch appreciates the integrity of the Diocese as reflected in the Accord, including the transparency.
We also like that the Diocese appears to have a real pastoral response team, including a licensed clinical social worker and other professionals. This is essential for the pastoral response contemplated by Title IV, which is far more than pastoral care, although the latter may be part of the response.
Of course, we also have to point out the glaringly obvious: Somers represents an abject failure of the discernment process. Anyone who is not prepared to treat others with love and respect, to honor church canons, who plagiarizes, or who thinks it’s okay to sue his parish should never have been approved in the first place.
That’s a persistent problem in the denomination: It’s highly conflictive, but it gets all passive-aggressive when it comes to saying no to postulants who are in it for all the wrong reasons. And we can point to dozens of priests who do the job in order to obtain narcissistic supply, because they didn’t have anything else to do with themselves, or because it represented an escape from day-to-day life. This is not the passion to serve that good clergy should have, and it discredits the denomination when we see such poorly qualified clergy. Yes, they are great at textual analysis of the gospels, and they can preach an adequate sermon. (Just say “love” a lot and use the present tense, and you’re good.)
But without genuine love and servant leadership, our clergy are nothing but noisy gongs.
Thus, we encourage bishops and other judicatories to set a high bar for ordination. Better 10 great priests than 100 mediocre ones, and Somers illustrates perfectly the problems with mediocrity in the priesthood.