The Episcopal Young Adult Caucus has spoken out about the grave problems with clergy discipline in the church. Anglican Watch agrees with and supports the criticisms and recommendations of the group’s statement, but wishes to go on the record as saying that the suggestions do not go far enough.
- The Caucus correctly states that Todd Ousley needs to go. This cannot happen soon enough. Ousley has a dismal track record in responding to abuse, including ignoring pleas from a male adult survivor who was repeatedly raped by a priest while a child. Moreover, Ousley told Anglican Watch staff in front of witnesses that the presiding bishop “does not have the authority to tell bishops what to do.” This statement is false, both based on the canons and on real-life practice. Having this chucklehead teaching other bishops, therefore, is absolutely unacceptable and only serves to further undercut the denomination and its credibility.
- Suspension should be the norm in Title IV cases, not just those with a potential for violence. Far too often, we see priests using their disparate perceived power to play congregations and create the illusion of support. This scenario exists in the case of perjuring priest Bob Malm, Daniel McClain, and PCA pastor Liam Goligher. (Bye, Liam. Don’t let the door hit you.)
- A pastoral response is required in ALL Title IV cases when a complaint is made. Only one diocese understands that this is NOT the same as pastoral care, although the latter may be part of the pastoral response. Yet many treat this as a dismissal — recite the magic words “pastoral response” and call it a day. Not acceptable. A true pastoral response may include things like financial assistance, a safe place to live for victims of domestic violence, and other care that most dioceses don’t even consider. And many don’t even pretend to offer a pastoral response—they figure that you were sufficiently blessed by being privileged to speak to the intake officer.
- Despite a new intake officer for bishops, the process remains broken. For example, a Title IV complaint was filed against Bishop George Sumner for firing a male priest in retaliation for objecting to the sexual harassment of women. Yet nothing meaningful has happened almost a year later, and there has been no follow-up or pastoral response. Indeed, the complainant had to finally threaten the new intake officer with a Title IV complaint after she ignored the first five inquiries about the status of the case. The courtesy of a response the first five times would have been nice.
- Far too many intake officers play games during intake and do so with impunity. For example, Sven vanBaars in the Diocese of Virginia dismissed complaints of criminal perjury by Bob Malm on the basis that no criminal charges had been filed. Not only is no such requirement set forth in Title IV, but vanBaars falsely stated that perjury is a federal criminal offense. That is, at best, marginally true, as it is only an offense if the perjury occurs in front of a federal court or federal official. Intake officers who abuse victims in this manner should themselves face disciplinary consequences. And vanBaars would be well-advised the cease the unauthorized practice of law.
- Bishops who sandbag complaints must be removed from office. Among those known to do so are Paula Clark, Shannon Johnston, Susan Goff, Chilton Knudsen, and George Sumner. For the record, the harm these bishops cause is egregious and lasting. And what other job besides Episcopal bishop can you get where you can pick and choose what parts of the job you want to do?
- The proposal for a national database should include all complaints, including those that are dismissed. Many abusers — including Bob Malm and Daniel McClain — are adept at micro-aggressions that, taken individually, seem innocuous but, taken as part of a pattern, are profoundly abusive. Thus, many egregious cases of misconduct fly under the radar for years, sometimes entire careers. And psychopaths, narcissists, and other denizens of the so-called dark triad know exactly how far they can go.
- The church needs to get with the 21st century. While emotional and spiritual abuse can be every bit as damaging as sexual abuse, there are many cases in which the church treats even criminal conduct as irrelevant. But mention sex, drugs, children or money, and people start running in circles and foaming at the mouth. In other words, the church is mired in a 1960s Madmen-era time warp.
- To say that the church is not trauma-informed is the understatement of the year. One victim, for example, was told by an intake officer, “I want you to think very, very carefully about whether you want to appeal my dismissal. Why should the diocese spend tens of thousands of dollars to investigate because your priest said something you don’t like?” Not only was this profoundly arrogant and dismissive, but it knowingly misrepresented the nature of the complaint. Moreover, even well-meaning judicatories may not recognize the trauma that comes from dealing with an abuser in conciliation.
- When it comes to clergy discipline, the Episcopal Church is the poster child for cheap grace. We cannot tell you have many times, crocodile tears flowing, we’ve heard priests say, “Well, I said I’m sorry,” while not meaning a word of it.
- While it will take six years, or two General Conventions, to pass legislation, much can be done without legislative changes. Indeed, culture triumphs over policy every time, and the Episcopal Church has no concept of urgency or accountability. And culture comes right from the top–meaning that Curry’s successor MUST take clergy discipline seriously if the church is to survive. As for Curry, he’s been a disciplinary disaster.
- Far too often, Anglican Watch sees a “you do too” approach to Title IV straight out of second-grade playground activities. It does not matter if the complainant allegedly behaved badly. Title IV applies only to clergy, and does not involve double-entry bookkeeping. Clergy are always responsible for maintaining boundaries, including on their own behavior. Full stop. No excuses, no explanations.
- Because of Title IV’s reliance on attorneys at the hearing stage level, we see the same small set of players in most cases. That includes Brad Davenport, who may be a brilliant attorney but whose values of protecting the organization at all costs are inconsistent with the values of Title IV.
- The Church far too often treats whistleblowers as the enemy when it is clergy who abuse their power that are the problem. This attitude must change for clergy discipline to work.
- Title IV is very typical of Episcopal polity in that it paints with a broad brush. Much like federal legislation, which requires implementing regulations, or church financial policies, which require the Manual on Church Business Affairs, dioceses and the national church must develop specific, written guidelines to address behavior, including bullying, spiritual abuse, and more.
- The Episcopal Church is one of the worst offenders out there when it comes to spiritual abuse. Even clergy often have zero concept.
- Much of the problem rests with the Church Pension Group (CPG), the church’s captive insurance carrier, which rarely bothers to see if civil complaints are warranted. Instead, it follows the old Catholic playbook of deny, evade, avoid. If those don’t work, it hires the best attorneys it can find and tries to litigate the other side into the ground. This approach is unethical, causes further trauma, and causes often irreparable harm. Thus, CPG and the church often win the battle but lose the war. And the fact someone had to go to the court for justice at all suggests an internal church failing.
- Many dioceses ignore Title IV training. For example, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia received a formal recommendation several years ago from the neighboring Diocese of Washington to improve Title IV competency. Yet the next provincial training had only one person from the diocese in attendance.
- Far too many bishops miss the opportunity to sit down with the complainant and ask, “How can I help resolve this?” As a result, we see some really random outcomes.
- Far too often, the church tries to sweep abuse and conflict under the rug. But disclosure in a safe environment is an essential part of healing. And for the record, having people sign non-disclosure agreements, as happened at the Church of the Advent, Boston, is inherently abusive and unethical. The fact Alan Gates doesn’t recognize this reveals a shocking lack of trauma awareness, not to mention a broken moral compass.
In short, long ago, Anglican Watch concluded that the clergy disciplinary system in the Episcopal Church is broken and causing more harm than good. We just hope it can still be fixed before the church implodes of its own moral rot.
The Young Adult Caucus of General Convention expresses grave concerns about the current state of our Title IV disciplinary Canons and the inconsistent application of the Canons that has been observed throughout the Church over many years. Recently, a number of high profile Title IV issues involving Bishops have raised the notice of the Church to the work still needed to keep our Church safe. We must note, however, that Title IV is not always consistently applied to presbyters and deacons as well, to equally damaging effect. The Caucus notes the Presiding Bishop’s statement on September 5th, 2023 on Church safety and accountability, but respectfully asserts that simply referring these matters to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons without detailed guidance to the Standing Commission from the General Convention is insufficient to restore trust in clerical discipline and Church safety. We urge the Church to take a two-pronged approach towards improving Title IV, calling for action both on the part of the Bishops of the Church and on the part of the General Convention and its subsidiary bodies.
First and foremost, we urge the Bishops of the Church, as well as all of those involved in various roles within Title IV, to faithfully execute their Canonical duties outlined in the Canons to the best of their ability. We have observed too often that the provisions of Canon IV.7.3, which give Bishops the power to restrict a cleric’s ministry or place a cleric on administrative leave when there is a reasonable concern about the safety and welfare of the Church, are not followed. When they are followed, these provisions are often executed belatedly. We urge Bishops throughout the Church to prioritize the safety and security of our Church first and foremost, and to use the powers given to them in the Canons in a protective manner whenever there is cause to believe a Member of the Clergy has committed an offense where they may reasonably assume that the welfare of the Church, person, or any community may be threatened by the Respondent. It is incumbent on the Church to promptly take all precautionary measures possible to ensure that the Church and our communities are safe spaces for all people.
We also call upon the Church to consider pastoral response as a part of reconciliation and accountability, rather than the sum total. We particularly urge the Church not to use pastoral responses as the sole disposition for cases where sexual misconduct is alleged and substantiated. We also urge the Church to provide greater pastoral care to Complainants in Title IV, noting that this is outlined under Canon IV.8.1-2, but often not followed. We have observed, too often, that an emphasis is placed on protecting the reputation of the Church and providing grace to the Respondent rather than providing support and justice to Complainant(s). While we recognize the importance of grace and forgiveness in the Gospel and in our Church, we must realize that justice, accountability, and grace are not mutually exclusive, but are rather all-important elements in healing and reconciliation.
Second, we call on the 81st General Convention to provide specific guidance to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons about what changes it wishes to see from the Standing Commission. Any major Canonical Changes to Title IV will take many years, and it is important for the General Convention to direct the Standing Commission on specific reforms it wishes to see. We fear that, without specific guidance from the General Convention, the Standing Commission may not generate the Canonical changes that the Church needs to restore faith in the safety of the Church and the efficacy of Clerical discipline.
Specifically, we urge the General Convention to prayerfully discern potential proposals to strengthen the weak areas within Title IV in the role of the Intake Officer. We have observed, too often, that Intake Officers fail to follow Canon IV.6.7 by failing to limit their determination to the question: “if the complaint is true, would it constitute an Offense?” Rather, we observe they often conduct their own investigations and other actions outside their Canonical Scope. We should discern how to address this weakness, and consider the possibility of a Church-wide intake office for all complaints, rather than simply for those filed against Bishops.
Additionally, we urge the Church, through the bodies of General Convention, to discern the value of third-party intake officers, particularly specialized in this area, such as Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), or other similar organizations, to provide greater trust in the integrity of the Title IV process, particularly at initial intake.
We also encourage the General Convention to review Canon IV.19.30.d, related to the Canonical Requirement for a database to track Title IV Complaints–specifically Canon IV.19.30.d.3 that forbids such a database from listing respondents. It is vital that faith communities throughout our Church are made aware of any sustained Title IV determination against a member of the Clergy when considering whether or not to invite them into a pastoral role in their community. It is imperative for the safety of the Church that such a database exist and be made accessible in a responsible way. We encourage the General Convention to discern the best steps forward to recommend to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons.
Finally, given the specific obligations of the Presiding Bishop in Title IV processes as relates to bishops, we have a unique opportunity to prioritize these concerns during the election of our next Presiding Bishop. To that end, we ask General Convention, through the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, to inquire of all prospective nominees their views on Church safeguarding, their past approaches to Title IV, and their plans to wield the powers of the office of the Presiding Bishop to further promote safeguarding and healing in the Church.
This caucus does not profess to have all the answers about Title IV reform, but we are gravely concerned about revelations, past and present, demonstrating instances in which Title IV has failed to protect our Church and the faith of our communities that we love and serve. We acknowledge and decry the negative experiences too many have had to endure, and lament the departures of many from our faith communities because of the same. It is incumbent on us, as leaders in the Church, to ensure that we do better–taking these steps now and ensuring they lead to concrete changes in the future. We urge the Church to do the hard work of soberly reflecting on our Title IV process, identifying how we can better follow the existing Canons, and consider how to improve the Canons to provide greater protection and justice for all. We must have a community of faithful where everyone feels safe and assured that any inappropriate act will be met with an appropriate combination of grace, accountability, and justice. By acting now we have the opportunity to build trust in our Church and demonstrate how we care for each other.
The Steering Committee of the Young Adult Caucus of General Convention
Eva Warren, Ohio
Nathan Brown, Washington
Laura Curlin, California
Lindsey Hardegree, Atlanta
Tracy Dugger, Central Florida
Elizabeth Rousseau, Connecticut
Isaac Martinez, Massachusetts
Kevin Miller, Massachusetts
Steven King, West Missouri