Hello everyone. Our editor is out this week after a rough week health-wise with his husband’s heart transplant. That includes a near-miss the other day. I won’t share details, but he came very close to losing Mike, whom he loves passionately.
Plus, it’s easier for me to do this post since it’s about his alma mater, Grace Episcopal Alexandria.
My message is simple: Grace Episcopal is an example of the Episcopal Church at its worst, especially when it comes to money.
I can hear you now: “Whoa, Stink. What gives? I know Eric had a bad experience, but people are so nice.”
And, as Sonny and Cher would say, “the beat goes on.”
Nice building, good school, blah, blah blah.
To be clear, having gone to seminary at VTS and having had other contact with Grace (and Bob Malm) over the years, I know more about the joint than the average West Coast gay priest.
I also have some back-door connections to the place I don’t want to share. They’re in the SWPP or Stink Witness Protection Program. And I hear everything. Every last little bit, and that is one damned gossipy church.
It’s also fair to point out that the church has, in many ways, become like Bob Malm: superficially friendly and welcoming but sneaky, dishonest, and ugly right behind the scenes. It’s all about appearances, and the place basically is a Rotary with a little Jesus sprinkled on top. And a lot of wine down the gullet.
But today’s post is about a spectacularly stupid bit of conduct on Grace’s part. Specifically, I’m thinking of the decision to pay adulterous priest Anne Turner a severance.
To borrow a line from The Devil Wears Prada, “Did you fall down and smack your little head on the pavement?”
In the words of Stinkbomb: “What the sam hell? Have you lost your BLOODY minds?,” followed by a quick trip to find a brick wall, so I could beat my head against it until it felt better.
- Anne Turner is, by her own statement, an adulterer. Apparently, she lied about going on church retreats to hook up with her boyfriend. Thus, she betrayed her marriage vows, her vows as a priest, the trust of her congregation, her husband, her children, and her community. Nor was this an intoxicated one-time thing after too much to drink at a holiday party. This was ongoing, calculated, and clueless. Anyone who thinks love can be found in a hookup has issues. Big issues. The sort of issues that should not be around people needing love, spiritual care, and compassion.
- When a sister publication outed Anne, she pulled a Bob Malm and tried to shut down the dissemination of that information. That tells me she is not repentant. Plus it was beyond stupid, as it hit social media where it garnered tens of thousands of hits. That lack of common sense itself suggests Anne is in the wrong line of work.
- Turner lives a privileged life in a million-dollar-plus home in North Arlington. Her husband, who works for Rand, is on leave and serves as an advisor to the secretary of defense. Her mother is an Episcopal priest, so she knows what she signed up for.
- Turner’s conduct brings discredit to the parish, the denomination, the Christian faith, and faithful priests who strive to walk humbly and do justice.
- Turner talks a good game about social justice. Still, when it came to correcting Bob Malm’s fabrications about Bonetti being a “domestic terrorist,” (the exact words of one of his court pleadings, drafted by lying jackass and parishioner Jeffery Chiow, she stood silent.) In fact, she refused to testify. Folks, that isn’t social justice. It isn’t even basic human decency. And don’t even mention the baptismal covenant.
- In other words, Turner is a cowardly, two-faced, dishonest sack of goo with all the integrity of a warthog on crack.
Now, let’s look at the world around Grace:
- In nearby Chiralagua, the median income is less than $55,000. One in three lack medical insurance. COVID has hit residents hard. Many children face food insecurity, unlike Turner’s children.
- Grace spends a trivial amount of its income on the community, less than three percent. (That does not include off-budget contributions via the food pantry.) That is appalling and a much lower total amount than several much smaller area churches. As in Graceites, you should be ashamed.
- Assistant clergy at Grace are badly paid compared to other area parishes. In fact, the same year the vestry voted to give perjuring priest Bob Malm a $100K bonus, it voted a few weeks later to “balance the budget” by implementing cost-sharing on health insurance for employees. This change is a regressive tax that hits the lowest-paid employees the hardest. Folks, health care is a basic human right in this, the wealthiest of all nations. Nor did Malm in any way deserve a bonus, between his lies to his vestry, his bullying, his repeatedly being “out of town,” and his refusal to do the parts of his job he didn’t like. Plus, not paying a living wage in unconscionable and contrary to the Gospel message.
- Grace has been relying on volunteers and slashing expenditures for years in order to indulge its clericalism. Indeed, for many years, one out of every five dollars was going into Malm’s pocket, even though money was missing, financial records were a shamble, and maintenance was a hot mess. (By the way, did the missing parish register ever turn up? Inquiring minds want to know, and that is pretty damned appalling. Identity theft, anyone?)
- The notion that Grace had to borrow to pay for its HVAC replacement project when it was already past life expectancy is an atrocious case of mismanagement. The money should have come from savings. A church with a seven-figure budget should be saving six to ten percent of its budget for capital expenditures—and the day when the baby boomers are gone, which is not far off.
To put it another way: The priority should not be rewarding a liar and adulterer like Turner. It should have been:
- Caring for the community.
- Caring for low-paid church employees.
- Caring for the building.
- Saving for the future.
We’re not going to publish the amount of Turner’s severance. But it would have prevented many children in Chiralagua from going to bed hungry.
And while outgoing senior warden Bill Malone and others gas on about growing the parish, I’m here to tell you that it’s not going to happen.
Churches grow only when they live what they preach.
Malm’s lies about Bonetti costs tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And Malm initiated that litigation, although now, like any true narcissist, Malm portrays himself as the victim. Malm’s claims are lies.
Meanwhile, here on the West Coast, I regularly hear additional lies coming from Malm about how Bonetti “terrorized” and “stalked” Malm and his family.
Not only are those fabrications, but they beg the question: Why would anyone bother? Living with Malm is its own punishment.
(Despite putting up with him all these years, Leslie Malm might still reincarnate as a slug, but that’s beside the point. Besides, if she does, and she shows up in my Mom’s garden, it will be a very short run indeed before she takes another step down the karmic ladder and returns as a dysentery-causing amoeba.)
Right about now, you’re asking, “What does that have to do with Turner and her adultery?”
The answer is plenty, and it ties together issues of integrity and growth for Grace Church.
Until Malm is held accountable for his criminal conduct in the form of perjury and filing false police reports, no one’s interested in becoming a member of Grace Church. The few that are are not members worth having.
Similarly, Chiow and his courtroom lies must be addressed. While there is no remedy available under Title IV, that doesn’t mean that a bishop can’t put his foot down and say, “If you don’t want barred from the churches in this diocese, you apologize, fix the harm you’ve caused, get counseling, and avoid all leadership positions until I approve otherwise. I don’t need you trashing my diocese.” Yes, I have had to do this with parishioners, and it’s not fun, but I get paid to care for all my people, not just the powerful ones.
How do those things happen?
They start with an investigation, so no one is just taking Bonetti’s word for things. That’s basic due diligence, and I’d say that about even one of my closest friends.
Then, the church needs to tell the truth about its conduct. Even the vestry lied with its “talking points” about the situation and claims that Bonetti resigned as a member.
He did not, and Malm both knows it and admits it. Malm’s exact words, said in Fredericksburg in front of Pat Wingo and Shannon Johnston explaining his conduct, “I don’t know what planet you live on, but when someone does something to me, I do something to them.”
Disclosure should come from the bishop himself, and it needs to be kind but brutally candid.
As for the vestry, there’s no excuse for lying, even if the lies were provided to you by Jeffery Chiow. Vestries serve as fiduciaries, not talking heads. Major written apologies are in order, along with specific tangible acts to make amends. A fauxpology in the form of, “Sorry if you were offended,” just makes things worse and isn’t worth the time of day.
To be clear, I expect my vestry to hold me accountable. If it doesn’t, I’m not doing my job, and my vestry isn’t either. That even extends to putting my foot down when folks try to be too kind. I get paid, I get great benefits, and no, I don’t need another week off this summer. There’s way too much that needs to be done around the parish and the community, but thanks so much. (By the way, how long has it been since Grace Church actually tried to grow? Elizabeth Locher was still there, if that tells you anything. And saying you want to grow without doing anything to make it happen is simply lying to yourself.)
And let’s not forget that Malm went after Eric’s husband, Mike, who never did anything to anyone. Malm’s vendetta extended to instructing parish staff to remove Mike from the parish directory, refusing to publish Mike’s memorial donations in honor of his late mother, and more.
In other words, even if I were just Mike, I’d indeed be ticked. Members of Grace might think about that as Mike fights his way back from a heart transplant—but I’ll bet not one person in that church has ever reached out to say, “How can I help?”
No longer a member, no longer useful. Nice.
And plenty of jackasses at Grace piled on, including Kelly Gable with her lies about embezzlement. If she really believes that, then she should have the spine to file a police report. After all, there’s no statute of limitations in Virginia for most embezzlement. In fact, Christopher Malm knows a thing or two about those issues.
Once the church tells the truth, it needs to reimburse Mike and Eric for their legal fees. It’s called reparation, an essential part of Christian forgiveness. And I’d be looking at other ways to make their lives better, including offering to pay for counseling.
Speaking of dead parents, Bonetti’s mother, whom Malm tried to drag into court as she was dying, is now gone. That’s the thing about bad behavior—we can’t always fix it.
Folks at Grace and the Diocese should remember that.
If the church does these things right, Mike and Eric should feel welcome to walk into Grace any time. Not that anyone in their right mind would actually do that, but they should know that they are welcome. That’s what real Christianity looks like. That’s what a radical welcome looks like.
As for the Diocese, I have zero respect for Shannon Johnston and his precious, narcissistic, “I don’t want to get involved.” He is a loser and a dirtbag, and he had no business ever becoming a priest.
Susan Goff is every bit as bad. Her reneging on the diocesan commitment to assist in maintaining a previous ceasefire between Malm and Bonetti is the cause of much of this debacle. Thus, she bears a high level of culpability in this matter.
Even worse is Goff’s ignoring the heads-up that Malm was going after Bonetti’s mother as she was dying. It takes a special kind of jackass to reach that level of hypocrisy, and any place that hires her in retirement is too stupid to live. (Will Bob Malm claim that was a terroristic threat? That’s his usual modus operandi.)
As for the Diocese under Stevenson, my initial reaction is not positive.
He seems like a genuinely good guy, but so far, efforts to deal with Malm are too little, too slow, and too late. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say it’s not possible to negotiate with a malevolent narcissist. Nor can one do so with an antisocial personality, which is my take after personally checking out Malm’s lies, including numerous ones made under oath.
In other words, if Bishop Stinkbomb were ever a thing (damned unlikely, but still), Malm would get the heave-ho in about 1/80th the time it took to pay Turner to go away. I’m no fan of adulterers, even less of a fan of clergy adulterers, and even less of a fan of rewarding adulterers with cash. Eight steps below that is any priest who in any way abuses her or his authority or someone under their care.
Abusing a parishioner — especially Mike Smith — makes Malm the lowest of the low.
Indeed, the best outcome is for Malm to reimburse the legal fees he caused Eric and Mike (perhaps with contributions from Jeffery Chiow), issue a written retraction of his lies, and have Stevenson read it to the parish on a Sunday morning.
Eric and Mike should be invited. The retraction should be posted on the parish website as one of the most important posts in recent years. It’s called repentance, and Grace is utterly incompetent in this area.
Afterwards, Malm should be instructed in writing to decline all interim work. Old age is ugly for the narcissist, and giving Malm time to contemplate his conduct is an appropriate outcome.
The diocese also should refer the results of its investigation for possible criminal prosecution. Nothing deters future misconduct like a good lump on the head for current miscreants. While Malm is unlikely to serve jail time, a referral sends a powerful message about playing by the book.
Meanwhile, Grace remains its typical bass ackwards self: Throw money at misconduct. Ignore abuse.
Nor should we discount the role of Stevenson in this. A pastoral conversation about putting our money where our hearts are would have been an appropriate precursor to discussing Turner’s departure.
In fact, given the damage she’s done, including the hurt to the church and various third parties, Turner should be paying out money, not the other way around. But like Whayne Hougland, the denomination’s clericalism leads it to spend money on all the wrong things.
And for the record, I’ve had plenty of parishioners who’ve had affairs. Often, it’s a response to stress, needs not being met in their marriage, or issues with a sense of self. In most cases not involving abuse, I’ve tried to be profoundly sympathetic and caring.
I’ve also worked closely with colleagues who’ve had affairs, albeit rarely with the cunning treachery that appears to have been Turner’s stock in trade.
But as clergy, we’re held to a higher standard. Or should be.
The fact that Turner had the unmitigated gall to accept a severance makes me think even less of her. She’s a self-entitled jackass, and the correct response on her part would have been to reject any such offer, apologize, resign holy orders, and leave the church for good.
As for those who voted on the idea of paying Turner one red hot penny, undoubtedly vestry members, I will merely say you may infer my reaction. I also will tell you that if you ever ask me, or my parish for money, I will smack you silly.
Indeed, as Turner likes to put it, “We’re a resurrection people,” and that is correct.
But to come into resurrection, we have to die first.
In this life, we die to sin and are reborn into new life. When this life ends we are resurrected into an eternal life. But we cannot have resurrection without death, and nothing about Turner or Grace Church suggests either is on the path to resurrection.
Yes, Grace is on the path to death, but not in a way that results in resurrection. Nor should folks ignore the warning signs—plunging pledging units are being offset by people increasing their giving in an effort to ward off the inevitable. But that can’t last forever.
No wonder the Episcopal Church is dying. And if this is what people can expect–that their donations go to pay for adultery–good riddance.
And now you know why a Bishop Stinkbomb is never going to be in the cards. I actually believe the Christian faith.
Just in case you haven’t figured it out, as a priest I am deeply offended by the appalling conduct of the church in this matter. It’s also very troubling that Stevenson has not dealt with Sven vanBaar’s misconduct as an intake officer. His dismissal of allegations of criminal allegations is an express violation of the canons, and contrary to his cover-up, there is no requirement of a criminal conviction. Nor is he authorized to make that determination pursuant to the express language of Title IV. His conduct is corruption, pure and simple, and feel free to quote me on that.
P.S. If you get time, read the Grace Annual Report and laugh, especially the bit about being public with salaries but not sharing with outsiders. Every publicly traded company and every non-church non-profit has to publish that information. Get over your bad selves, people, and grow up. Us-versus-them is a classic trick of spiritual abusers.
And think about the fact that more than 97 percent of Grace’s budget goes points inward or to the diocese. The phrase you’re looking for is “narcissistic organization.”
P.P.S. Eric should return next week. It’s been a tough, tough week for him. For those so inclined, your prayer and kindness would be most appreciated.