Frank Griswold’s legacy speaks to Curry’s questionable ethics

By | March 6, 2023
Frank Griswold photo, courtesy Episcopal Church

Frank Griswold, former bishop of the Diocese of Chicago and a presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, died yesterday. His role in promoting the inclusion of all persons in the Episcopal Church, including his personal participation, speaks volumes about issues with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the latter’s practice of ignoring corruption in the denomination.

Among Griswold’s actions was his personal participation in the consecration of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson, despite death threats, resulting in Griswold and Robinson wearing bullet-resistant vests under their vestments. 

Robinson says:

He could easily have avoided presiding at that service of ordination to be a bishop, and he didn’t, and that was a remarkable thing on several levels,” he said.

Griswold’s participation communicated that the Episcopal Church’s welcome to LGBTQ people “went to the very top,” Robinson added, “and there’s almost no comparing it to anything.”

That personal participation was not just symbolic. It showed that Griswold dared to take a stand.

As presiding bishop, Michael Curry takes a very different approach.

For example, Curry knows the problems with +Todd Ousley’s handling of Bishop Whayne M. Hougland Jr.’s alleged affair, in which Hougland got a golden parachute, even as those he hurt got the big brush-off, thanks to Ousley’s intervention.

Not only would Curry have been apprised of details of the clergy disciplinary process involving Hougland, but General Convention 80’s Resolution D90 made clear that the Michigan dioceses were profoundly unhappy with the outcome and that the unhappiness extended both to Ousley and Curry.

In the resolution’s supporting documents were sharply worded statements, including the following:

This Title IV process actually reflects a deep systemic problem: when our former bishop had an affair, the system not only took care of him, it did so in extremely expensive ways, to the financial and emotional cost of those whom he had vowed to pastor, in the name of “healing” and “reconciliation.” The dioceses were hurt by the affair itself. Relationships and trust were damaged. The financial support expected from us for the one who had violated these relationships was not only surprising, it was unjust.

True to form, Ousley stated that it would be inappropriate for a church employee to speak about the measure.

However, that begs the question: Where does that leave the House of Delegates Chair or the General Convention Executive Officer? Church employees can, do, and should speak to proposals before General Convention. In other words, Ousley’s response is pure BS.

And he wasn’t nearly as taciturn when it came to having the denomination send out a press release touting this handling of Hougland’s affair as “living into the highest ideals of our Title IV process.” 

So what has Curry done to fix problems with Ousley and the Office of Pastoral Development, where Ousley works, and which is part of Curry’s office? Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Meanwhile, Hougland serves as interim of St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago, which we referenced in the ethical debacle involving Bishop Chilton Knudsen. The church is, by Episcopal standards, a large, affluent parish and undoubtedly pays well.

Oh, and guess who invited Knudsen to serve as assisting bishop of Chicago? None other than Todd Ousley, acting on behalf of Curry. The nomenklatura strikes again.

By now, the observant are asking, “Well, how do you know Ousley hasn’t changed his ways? How do you know Curry hasn’t told him to clean up his act?”

The answer is that Ousley is behaving in the Title IV disciplinary complaint against Dallas Bishop George Sumner precisely as he did in the Hougland matter.

Everything is happening behind closed doors, and the pastoral response mandated by canon as one of the first priorities at all phases of a Title IV matter is absent. 

In other words, nothing has changed, even as the Episcopal church looks out for its privileged bishops and ignores clergy misconduct.

Speaking of courage and misconduct, Griswold endured death threats and the threat of schism to ordain Gene Robinson. But Michael Curry won’t even take a stand on whether he supports a national registry of abusive Episcopal clergy. That should be an inherent part of the “Jesus Movement.” After all, Curry himself says:

Love is not an emotion or sentiment. Love seeks the good, the welfare and wellbeing of others.

So why is a database of clergy sex offenders even an issue?

In fairness, Griswold’s track record was far from perfect. Apropos a priest who sexually abused minors, The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

The case also unearthed letters from 1991 from Griswold to a church member after Kearney’s arrest in which he wrote about Kearney: “As charges have been pressed against him, he must unfortunately undergo a public trial. I had very much hoped that by my taking clear disciplinary action in an open and forthright way the anger of a number of those whose children have been victims of his illness would be somewhat assuaged. Unfortunately, it was not.

“I am very glad that I was able to give Father Kearney a leave of absence while he underwent an expensive therapeutic program at a residential facility which attended not only to his illness but also to his spirit as well,” Griswold wrote. “As I think I told you, he commented to me after he came back that he was alive now as a Christian for the first time and that at last he had experienced God’s grace.”

Griswold also wrote that Kearney “has been punished enough just by having to live through these past months.”

Griswold’s comments are, at best, clueless. And the bit about Kearney being “alive now,” even as Kearney allegedly continued to abuse youth, suggests a predator was playing him with alarming ease.

Indeed, Griswold’s comments illustrate the need for a database. It’s hardly a panacea, but it’s a much-needed first step. And consider: A national registry would help prevent situations like Chilton Knudsen’s claim she vividly recalls calling the sheriff’s office to report Kearney’s sexual abuse. She just can’t remember with whom she spoke. Spare us.

But even as bad as Griswold’s comments are, he showed much more integrity than we see coming from Curry and his direct report and minion, Todd Ousley. 

Nor are these the only issues with Ousley. We know of myriad other instances where Curry and Ousley have refused to hold bishops accountable under church canons, including situations in which bishops have refused to address allegations of illegal conduct by clergy.

So, don’t be fooled by Curry’s rhetoric. He’s a great talker, but the Way of Love quickly falls apart when it comes time to take action, including holding bishops accountable. Despite his flaws, some major, we’d take Griswold over Curry, each and every time.

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Colin Ross

Jack spong was right, the theology is total nonsense. Can’t wait for this awful church to die away. Even when I was a Christian I couldn’t help thinking these are the last people Jesus would hang out with.

Colin Ross

One of the weirdest moments for me leaving Christianity happened when I read an article about Episcopal Bishops having a retreat to discuss whether the unbaptized could partake in communion. The church is in total free fall and these highly paid men were sitting around debating if the magic of the cannibalism ritual worked if you didn’t have the magic water ceremony performed on you as a baby. At what point should I take any of it seriously? Maybe the Episcopalians should talk to their own kids why they left


Okay, I’m feeling grumpy again. Curry’s ethics aren’t questionable. They are despicable. Any for-profit would have shitcanned his lapdog Ousley years ago.

Come to think of it, a for-profit would never have hired either in the first place. The dude-bros of TEC at it again.

Eric Bonetti

Preach it, Stink!

Ellen Nesbitt

What is the racism situation at Sewanee?