TLD: The “independent” investigatory report of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) has been released regarding Tenth Presbyterian, Philadelphia; abuse at the church; and senior pastor Liam Goligher. The report misses the mark and sidesteps the heart of problems at the church. Yet as bad as the report it, there’s much the Episcopal Church could learn from its findings.
The genesis of the report
The GRACE report resulted from myriad instances of abuse at the church, including sexual, relational, emotional, and retaliation against whistleblowers.
To its credit, church leaders were willing to take a close look at these issues and bring in outside resources.
But as any contracts attorney will tell you, the devil is in the details, otherwise known as the scope of work.
In that regard, it appears that Liam Goligher masterfully manipulated the process to keep issues at arm’s length by limiting the scope of GRACE’s work, including its investigation. Key among the issues that were omitted were the church’s perjury, abuse of process, and fabrications against whistleblower Phil Snyder.
Indeed, while the report makes a passing, implicit reference to Snyder, it quickly sidesteps the issue by saying that some parishioners came to fear him.
Thus, we have a logical fallacy, in which the abuse—which is the mudslinging campaign Goligher initiated to discredit Snyder—is used to justify the outcome.
That begs the question: Did anyone specifically complain about Goligher? As in accusing him of being a liar and a perjurer and engaging in abuse of process involving Snyder?
The answer is yes.
Indeed, in our role as advocates for victims of church abuse, Anglican Watch expressly filed a complaint with the Clerk of Session about Goligher and these issues.
GRACE acknowledged receipt of our complaint but made no effort to interview us. Nor did anyone from GRACE request the results of our investigation, which was thorough, efficient, and handled according to law enforcement standards.
Indeed, to reiterate our previous findings, all roads lead to Liam when it comes to misconduct at Tenth Presbyterian.
In every instance we identified, Goligher occupied one or more of the following roles:
- The abuser.
- The driver behind the abuse.
- Actually aware of the abuse.
- Had imputed knowledge of the abuse.
- Had a legal obligation to be aware of the abuse.
Moreover, in no instance did we identify a single incident of behavior that supported Goligher’s claims about Snyder.
So, the biggest flaw in the report is that it ignores three facts:
- While using GRACE is better than trying to investigate the matter internally, the organization in many ways was co-opted and stepped into the role of Tenth Presbyterian. In other words, the investigation was done by an independent organization, but the result is not an independent investigation.
- In PCA polity, all culture in a particular church, for good or bad, flows from the senior pastor. Given the number of incidents of abuse at Tenth Presbyterian, this is a stunning indictment of Goligher’s failure of leadership.
- Goligher and his inner circle have repeatedly perjured themselves in court apropos Phil Snyder. We want to be very clear: Goligher is a liar and a perjurer. Full stop.
Now, for the better parts:
The report flags Tenth Presbyterian’s profound dysfunction in handling abuse. This dysfunction includes:
- A lack of trauma awareness, including ways to minimize further traumatizing victims.
- A mistaken belief that the church can, or should, investigate allegations of abuse.
- Failure to recognize that a poorly handled complaint of abuse can be more traumatic than the actual abuse.
- A failure to understand the dynamics of power and the abuse that occurs when the church prioritizes its reputation or that of its staff, versus caring for those entrusted to its care.
- A failure to recognize that there is an inherent imbalance of power between clergy and laity, and that when clergy exploit this differential to meet their own needs, the outcome is invariably abusive.
- Difficulty separating charisma from faith.
- Lack of written policies and structures for accountability.
- Difficulty understanding how persons in positions of power may project physical power to control others.
Perhaps most telling is the following quote from the report, which in many ways is at the heart of addressing all abuse, in all churches:
Tenth’s failure to respond adequately to concerns regarding Paul Jones indicated a lack of transparency and accountability, contrary to the principles of honesty and integrity outlined in Scripture. Misleading statements and celebratory events surrounding Jones’ resignation further eroded trust and created confusion. Moving forward, Tenth should adopt a trauma-informed approach, embracing transparency, active listening, and commitment to survivors. By openly acknowledging past mistakes, fostering an atmosphere where survivors feel safe to come forward, and ensuring ongoing education for staff and leaders, Tenth can promote healing, reconciliation, and the safety of its members.”
That, of course, strikes at the heart of the matter: By entirely ignoring Liam Goligher’s role in this mess, Tenth Presbyterian now can claim the air cover of the GRACE report while doing absolutely nothing to address the corruption at the top.
As we said of St. Paul’s, Dayton, an evil priest/pastor cannot build a righteous congregation (or diocese, for that matter).
Lessons for the Episcopal Church
Now for the second part of this post, which is that even as troubled as the GRACE report is — and it is a hot mess — it still has valuable lessons for the Episcopal Church. Indeed, GRACE’s investigation is far superior to the way most Episcopal dioceses handle allegations of abuse.
- Instead of trying to hide everything behind non-disclosure agreements (like Bishop Alan Gates and the s***storm at Advent, Boston), GRACE actually contemplates truth, transparency, and accountability.
- Unlike the Diocese of Virginia, where intake officers like Sven vanBaars routinely brush off misconduct on the basis that there are no criminal charges, GRACE took the matter seriously and made a serious effort to investigate.
- Unlike the national Episcopal church, Tenth Presbyterian eventually tried to address issues of abuse. Typically, the Episcopal church ignores problems. Or, in the case of Bishop Houghland, it takes care of the clergyperson and tells laity to pound sand.
- The description of cheap grace in the report is a significant problem. Far too often, we see Episcopal clergy say, “Well, I said I’m sorry,” as if that somehow addresses abuse or equates to repentance.
- The Episcopal Church would do well to focus on the trauma-informed care advocated in the GRACE report. Even well-meaning Episcopal judicatories often fail to understand abuse and trauma outside the context of sex.
- Anglican Watch commends the following quote from the report to Episcopal judicatories:
Churches are not qualified to assess or investigate disclosures or evidence of abuse and it is important to recognize that a church typically knows individuals involved so it is not fair to ask the church to serve as an objective party. It is best to report any information and let the authorities decide on appropriate next steps. It is also important to have reporting protocols for any type of reporting situation, not simply situations where the allegation pertains to abuse within the ministry or on church property. (Emphasis added.)…In order for a worker or member to intervene, the church culture must be one where it is safe to do so. For example, a church where it is safe to intervene and/or report educates everyone to recognize abuse, empowers everyone to speak up about abuse as well as concerning behaviors and suspicions of abuse, and responds well by supporting the witness and victim and holding the bad actor accountable.
Far too often, Anglican Watch has seen the Episcopal Church retaliate against victims, shun them, bully them, and more. And the earlier bit is true—having celebrations for bullies, a-holes, and incompetents who resign, retire, or get the heave-ho is far from helpful.
Indeed, Grace Episcopal Alexandria (alma mater of AW editor Eric Bonetti and his husband) named part of the building after a priest, Bob Malm, who engaged in criminal conduct towards them in the form of repeated instances of perjury. Always nice to know that the Episcopal Church has its priorities straight, even as Malm serves a parish in Massachusetts — despite a press release about the matter from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Indeed, one Episcopal intake officer, a priest, told a victim of abuse, “I really encourage you to think about whether you want to appeal my dismissal [of your complaint]. Why should the diocese spend tens of thousands to investigate because your priest said something you don’t like?”
There’s much more we need to say about Liam Goligher, who, like many abusers, is adept at appearing as an angel of light.
The reality is that Goligher is profoundly evil, and GRACE’s inability to address that issue is saddening and disturbing.
At the same time, issues at Tenth Presbyterian — both those identified by GRACE and those it ignored — are common in the Episcopal Church and profoundly damaging.
Anglican Watch is deeply disappointed with the failure of the GRACE report into the mess that is Tenth Presbyterian. As a result, we encourage church members to withhold funding and transfer to other churches until Tenth Presbyterian removes Goligher and his minions.
In the meantime, we intend to reopen our investigation in an effort to understand why GRACE made such a mess of such an important endeavor.
Finally, we call on Liam Goligher, Tenth Presbyterian, and PCA to repent of their treatment of Phil Snyder, including their perjury and abuse of process.