Anglican Watch

FBI investigates former DioVA parish, Anglican Watch calls for transparency from diocese

The Falls Church Episcopal during the Civil War

Sources close to the matter tell Anglican Watch that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating sexual abuse at the Falls Church Anglican (TFCA). The parish comprises many former members of the Falls Church Episcopal, who left the larger denomination over a variety of disagreements, including same-sex marriage.

It is important to note, however, that the period covered by the FBI investigation is almost exclusively prior to the split with the Episcopal Church and the ensuing litigation.

Thus, while TFCA is doing the right thing in cooperating with the investigation, we believe the Episcopal Church will not escape unscathed.

Questions about the role of the Diocese of Virginia

Specifically, while the parish enjoyed a large measure of benign neglect under former Virginia Bishop Peter Lee due to the ongoing tensions between the parish and the Diocese of Virginia, that neglect is, in no small measure, the reason former youth director Jeff Taylor and others allegedly engaged in sexual abuse of boys in the parish.

Moreover, we note that it’s unlikely that diocesan officials had no inkling that something was afoot. Indeed, if there’s one thing at which the Episcopal Church is good, it’s gossip. Moreover, Bishop Lee had at least one assistant from within the conservative factions centered around the Falls Church rector, John Yates, and thus must be assumed to have been privy to at least top-level gossip.

Fortunately, there’s another reference point in this matter, and that is the circa 1992 allegations against Falls Church youth volunteer and political operative Jeff Nielsen. These involved allegations of child sex abuse, and were referred to Fairfax County police by none other than alleged child sex abuser Taylor himself. At the time, the Falls Church quietly removed Nielsen from his volunteer role with the church.

While the initial police investigation was hampered by the victim’s denial that anything untoward had happened, Nielsen subsequently was arrested and convicted in 2004 of child sex crimes in California. After a stint in prison (and a very odd mishandling of the child porn charges against him), Nielsen is required to register for the rest of his life as a sex offender.

From this, we draw four conclusions:

  1. Nielsen’s conviction in California, coming as it did on the heels of specific allegations against him at The Falls Church, should have triggered a series of events at the church, including a referral back to law enforcement, disclosure to the congregation, and an invitation for others to come forward. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that all or even most of his victims have come forward.
  2. It was almost impossible for the Diocese not to know about these allegations.
  3. To the extent the Diocese may have been unaware of these allegations, it was responsible to know what was happening. Ignorance of alleged child abuse by the Diocese is no excuse. Moreover, there’s no reason to have a hierarchy if the bishop is going to sit in the silk wall-papered splendor of Mayo House and not address issues of this sort. In other words, if the canons are adequate to give the Diocese an equitable interest in all parish personalty and realty, the canons are damned well sufficient to both allow and require the Diocese to address child sex abuse in a constituent parish.
  4. Nielsen’s political ties, which are straight out of the 1980s neoconservatism long rampant at TFCA and go straight up to California congressman Dana Rohrabacher, both reinforce the notion the Diocese knew of Nielsen’s criminal conduct, and refused to deal with it in order to avoid a split with conservatives.  Simply put, we believe the Diocese didn’t have the backbone to stand up and address abuse at Mayo House.

Regardless of how we parse the issue, however, one thing is clear: the Sleeping Beauty defense by the Diocese is not going to cut it.

Moreover, we call on the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to disclose what it knew about Nielsen, when it knew, who knew it, and what the Diocese did in response to these data.

Yates and his vestry were also responsible

John Yates also has responsibility in this matter, as does his vestry.

On Yates’ part, when he learned of the allegations involving Taylor, his response was to put the latter on a plane in order to meet with him.

No, no, no, and no.

The correct response was to pick up the phone and call the police, followed by the Diocese. Then, Yates should have written down everything and sat still.

We also see efforts by Yates to massage the issue, claiming that because the position of bishop was vacant in 2007 when reports of abuse reached him, he had to handle the allegations alone.

No again.

Yates had been around long enough to know that, in the absence of a bishop diocesan, the standing committee serves as the ecclesiastical authority. But that doesn’t much matter, because the ACNA diocese did, in fact, have a bishop in 2007, Martyn Minns.

Nor was this the first or even the second time that Yates had tried to deep-six allegations of abuse.

For example, in a prior situation involving Byron Bruce Newell, Yates reportedly blamed the victim for Newell’s abuse. Moreover, while the bishop purportedly immediately suspended Newell, testimony in related litigation strongly suggests Newell continued to work at the Falls Church.

Was Newell’s continued presence at the Falls Church due to Yates thumbing his nose at his bishop? Or did the Diocese engage in a bit of revisionist history? We don’t know the answer, but knowing the parties involved, we suspect Yates was the culprit.

Meanwhile, Yates continues to tell church members that he went to his executive committee for guidance and “did what [he] was told.”

Leaving aside the fact that Yates doing what he was told to do would have been a first, as he usually does whatever he damned well pleases, this excuse doesn’t fly.

As Yates knew, the first thing you do when confronted with allegations of child abuse is to go to law enforcement. Church personnel are neither trained nor competent to handle such matters on their own. Nor are employees or executive committee members sufficiently unbiased to accurately assess child sexual abuse allegations.

Then we come to Yates’ bit about how he wasn’t a mandated reporter. On this score, we call BS.

Even if Yates’ claim that he was not a mandated reporter is accurate, it’s not dispositive. The Good Samaritan was not legally obligated to act, but he knew right from wrong.

Similarly, immediately reporting possible child abuse is a clear-cut, unequivocal moral obligation, not a nicety. Nor are reputational concerns relevant, either for the church, the alleged perpetrators, or the victim.

Nothing overrides the safety of a child.

As to the Falls Church Executive Committee, it was spectacularly unhelpful for members to second-guess the allegations. The faulty role of the committee and its members is doubly problematic, as there had been no independent investigation of the alleged crimes. Thus, there wasn’t even adequate information on which to make a decision. Plus, as we’ve already said, churches are not competent to investigate criminal activity occurring within the organization.

Wrong-headed apologists for Yates

We also note that a number of Yates apologists came out of the woodwork when we ran our previous post on this case. The efforts of these individuals and their defense of the church’s Cornerstone program is laughable.

Again, if nothing else, the 2004 conviction of Nielsen, following as it did on the heels of multiple complaints within the church about his conduct towards boys, provided Yates with actual knowledge that he had a problem on his hands. Yet nothing happened.

So, with an FBI investigation under way, we invite agents to contact us. We are happy to provide the names of these dolts who are claiming there was nothing wrong at the church, their contact information, and the identity of their current workplaces. (One is in ministry not far from TFCA.)

After all, since the view of these individuals appears to be that everything was sunshine and Chardonnay at the Falls Church under Yates, it would seem important that they share this perspective with the FBI.

If nothing else, we don’t want anyone to mischaracterize the beloved Cornerstone program.

Contacting the FBI

Speaking of the FBI, it is highly likely that there are other victims in this sordid mess. Knowing the Diocese of Virginia, we suspect there also is additional evidence showing that the Diocese knew about child sexual abuse at the Falls Church, but sat on its hands, likely over fears that it would precipitate a knock-down, drag-out free-for-all with Yates.

So, we encourage anyone with information about abuse at TFCA — or any other church — to contact the FBI tipline at https://tips.fbi.gov/home. Reports may be made anonymously, although this may hinder the government’s ability to investigate.

Lessons learned

The hot mess of TFCA also points to some enduring indicia that were, and are, warning signs of potential abuse at TFCA. These include:

  • A charismatic, controlling leader, where people view any disclosure as wrongdoing.
  • A culture that perpetuates the organization at the expense of individuals.
  • An organizational belief that the ends justify the means.
  • A track record of concealing and mishandling abuse. Indeed, contrary to the claims of the Securities and Exchange Commission, past performance is a reliable indicator of future results, especially when it comes to abuse.
  • A lack of accountability.
  • A culture that discourages asking questions.
  • An environment in which persons leap to the defense of a leader perceived to be under attack without regard to the validity of the underlying issues.
  • Governance structures, like a vestry and executive committee, that act as rubber stamps for the charismatic leader.

In other words, TFCA is transitioning from being a cult built around John Yates and the neo-conservatism of the 1980s to being an ongoing church and a flagship for the ACNA.

However, we assess that the church remains highly susceptible to spiritual and other abuse, including sexual abuse and cover-up. This risk comes from a culture built from years of toxic, narcissistic leadership by John Yates and his minions.

In closing, Anglican Watch welcomes tips on this story. We are also willing to pass along tips to the FBI on an anonymous basis if the information in question is actionable and specific, versus vague things like, “There’s more to the story than you realize.”

Lastly, we note that child sex abuse and its cover-up is not confined to the Falls Church.

Indeed, one of the Diocese’s great failings is it has no written policy or protocol to deal with known pedophiles, with the result that there are several who have been welcomed as members of parishes within the Diocese, even as these individuals prey on children. (One was a member at Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti’s former church, Grace Episcopal in Alexandria. Like most members, he had keys to the building and could access the entire facility 24/7 without supervision. Clergy knew about him, and addressed the issue by being rude to the pedophile. A world-class child protection policy, without a doubt.)

So, we remind readers: If you see something, say something. A complaint to law enforcement or child protective services is not an allegation but rather a request for services. And if you are in doubt, err on the side of protecting the child–that is what Jesus would have done, and it’s what we must do.

We also note: The Diocese of Virginia moves slowly, carefully, and often with tremendous concern about protecting against potential legal liability. So, reports should go first to law enforcement and child protective services.

Then, and only then, should consideration be given to notifying the Diocese. We believe doing so is the right thing to do, and folks there deserve the courtesy and the opportunity to help. But we suspect that complainants will find the process to be slow, difficult, painful, and not terribly helpful, so it’s important to balance personal and organizational trauma with the desire to do the right thing.

For far too long, TFCA and John Yates have put their own interests first, the church’s interests second, and those of children and vulnerable adults third, if at all.

That must end.

8 comments

  1. As a member of TFCA who is advocating for victims/survivors and pushing for greater transparency at our church – I feel your headline does a disservice to the truth. Our church is not the subject of the FBI’s investigation, as the headline suggests – Jeff Taylor is. Presumably that very important distinction is understood by the author because the latter claim is made in the first sentence, belying the headline. I understand this might have been a honest mistake, but please don’t misrepresent the facts up front. We’ve had enough of that from our own church leadership!

    1. According to several law enforcement officials we interviewed, Jeff Taylor is the primary target of the investigation, but the investigation is not limited to any one person, and extends to multiple individuals, the parish (which at the time in question was not ACNA, but TEC), and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. We are told that Yates is also getting scrutiny.

      Of specific concern is that the church, acting as an organization, declined to take the matter to law enforcement when the issues first came up, despite the fact that Virginia is a mandatory reporting state that expressly includes clergy. Moreover, Yates claims that the executive committee told him not to go forward — an option not available to Yates, the church, or the executive committee under applicable law. Indeed, TEC policy, which controlled at the time, expressly required all involved to report the matter, and waives any privilege of the confessional.

      That said, it does not sound like criminal charges against the church itself are in the offing. There is concern, however, about possible false statements made under oath to law enforcement officials. And multiple civil suits are in the offing, which will almost certainly name TEC and ACNA as defendants, as well as Yates, members of the executive committee, and others. As in all such cases, expect a deep bench of defendants—and don’t be surprised if it emerges that Mayo House knew of the allegations, but declined to rock the boat for fear of engendering WWIII with conservatives.

      In other words, don’t expect ACNA or TEC to come out of this unscathed.

      And, of course, there have been rumors swirling for some time about the Episcopal Church potentially being under investigation for its concealment of child sexual abuse.

      We haven’t been able to confirm the rumors, despite having a very well-placed source in the law enforcement community. However, we know with certainty that Bishop Chilton Knudsen has concealed a second child sex abuse case, while Bishop Shannon Johnston has covered up adult sexual abuse by clergy. And it is indisputable that Alan Gates and Glenda Curry have acted to cover up and ignore clergy sexual abuse allegations involving Richard Losch who, as a priest, took a minor across state lines in order to rape him.

      And we have reported a second alleged pedophile in her diocese to Glenda Curry, who won’t even reply to our messages.

      As to Glenda Curry’s claim that she is investigating the Losch case, that is horse poo. We have more information about the case than anyone else, including the victim, and we have not heard from anyone in the church. How anyone can claim to be conducting an investigation when they are ignoring the largest single source of evidence is beyond us.

      So if the reports that TEC is being investigated are not true, we hope they become true.

      Moreover, we have been very open about the fact we are happy to cooperate should Gates or the other bishops named face criminal or civil charges. We have tons of evidence showing that they knew of the the abuse allegations, deliberately sandbagged them, and did so knowing that criminal activity was involved.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. If there are specific details or concerns you want to share with us as this unfolds, please let us know. We will do everything we can to support victims in this case.

    2. Your church SHOULD be under investigation. And every single person who ever worked there. I know a priest from The Falls Church, circa Jeff Taylor days, who currently has a sex abuser on staff, who has been thrown out of at least 1 church for rape, abused his ex wife, and has knowingly been exposing women to genital herpes for 30 years. How many more priests have moved on from The Falls Church, and have kept the tradition of covering up abuse? There’s your churches legacy- all the people it harmed and continues to harm.

    3. My church has sex abuse committed by the rector and everyone is looking the other way. I wish that the FBI or anyone at all would investigate. Bring on the transparency and protection for victims! Investigations are an opportunity, whether it’s a title IV investigation or an FBI one.

  2. I hear, now and then, from friends that allegedly the sexual misconduct of clergy and the ensuing cover-ups by bishops, clergy and laity in a few states might have caught the attention of federal agencies. I hope to high heaven this is true! It is way overdue. These individuals think they are above the law or can outsmart the law. I would love to have these allegations verified and confirmed. As soon as they are, you can bet I will be praying the investigation is thorough, complete and brings many to justice. It could be the start of healing to the many victims wounded by TEC.

    1. Dear FBI:

      As you investigate issues at TFCA, we hope you will consider investigating other criminal conduct in the church, including the efforts by Louisiana Bishop Glenda Curry to cover-up the criminal actions of a priest in her diocese who is a child rapist. Relatedly, Bishop Alan Gates of Massachusetts ignored complaints from the victim altogether, and brushed aside criminal conduct by Robert Malm, a priest now “serving” in his diocese.

      If anyone asks, feel free to say we brought these matters to your attention. We’re happy to be quoted — or to talk with you directly.

  3. It has been particularly interesting that the Episcopal Church has managed to somehow escape most of the attention related to all of this. Maybe it is because the vast majority (over 90%) of the congregation and staff left with TFCA went they split off from the Episcopal Church, so it is difficult to pin down exactly which individuals and entities to hold culpable during which different point in the history. I’m hopeful the FBI have some bright agents and that they will be able to sort this particular wrinkle out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *