Epicenter of abuse: The Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem

By | January 5, 2023
Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem

A little-known fact about sexual misconduct in the Catholic church is that it tends to occur in clusters. For instance, the Catholic Diocese of Joliet is famous for the number of cases there. Other dioceses have few reported cases. No diocese is immune. 

Unfortunately, the same pattern exists in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. Most notably, the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem is notorious for abuse. 

We identify numerous cases of abuse in the diocese on this site, and all evidence suggests this is only the tip of the iceberg.

So why has this been such an issue for the diocese?

It isn’t easy to know the answer. Abuse is notoriously under-reported, and we are only beginning to understand why certain dioceses are epicenters of abuse.


Anglican Watch believes that much of the issue involves a lack of leadership. 

For example, in one particularly egregious case involving 4,288 charges of child sexual assault, Bishop Mark Dwyer apologized to the victims. Yet he took no action against the parish rector, who had hired a priest he knew, or had reason to know, had already been defrocked.

No national database

That raises the issue of a national database. So far, the denomination has refused proposals to create an offenders database. Similarly, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has been non-committal. Perhaps he’s too busy love-bombing people to care about the issue.

Nor is the proposal over the top. As discussed during the previous general convention, an Episcopal database would only include formal disciplinary actions against clergy. Given the reluctance of the episcopacy to address misconduct and the fact that an estimated 3-4 percent of sex offenders have backgrounds, creating a database is only a tiny step towards reducing risk.

That said, the church must have this information all in one place. Indeed, there is no reason not to do so — unless you are a bishop with something to hide in your diocese.

Faulty Title IV implementation

The church’s implementation of the Title IV clergy disciplinary canons also is problematic. Look at the Title IV training materials, and we see references to “if you see something, say something.” 

Yeah right.

Seeing something is one thing. Saying something is another.

And woe unto anyone foolish enough to speak up. We have yet to see a well-handled Title IV case, and there’s no reason to suspect we ever will. 

Indeed, the one common theme in the Episcopal Church at every level is a lack of accountability. It extends to bishops, chancellors, priests, deacons, and laity. So why would anyone expect a different approach to manifest in Title IV? (Much like the SBC, chancellors are often a single point of failure in Title IV cases, proferring bad advice and focusing on protecting the organization first.)

The reality is that those who speak up face every sort of retaliation imaginable. This retaliation comes in every form, from every direction, and is often known and tacitly approved by judicatories. 

In closing

We don’t know why some dioceses and parishes are so prone to abuse. But contrary to what the Securities and Exchange Commission says, past performance is a good indicator of future results. 

To this day, we see few signs of accountability within the diocese. Sean Rowe talks a good game, and he is better than most bishops. But there remains a huge gap between talk and reality. And if the abuse is non-sexual in nature, don’t hold your breath.

Let’s hope that the Episcopal Church cleans up its act, sooner rather than later.

If you have experienced abuse in the diocese, we would like to hear from you. Feel free to contact us via comments or our email form

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It makes you wonder how much non-sexual bullying and workplace abuse goes on in their Nativity Cathedral and Diocese.

Colin Ross

Any organization that thinks it doesn’t have a problem has a problem. The churches purity culture is deeply damaging to children. The creepiest people in my life were youth pastors. The last time I ever spoke to my mom was when I said there was absolutely no chance that I would be taking my kids to church. Why anyone donates to the episcopal church which is basically just a retirement and real estate trust fund at this point is beyond me.