Meltdown at St. Paul’s Shelton underscores the importance of suspending clergy early in the Title IV process

Say its name, Episcopalians!

Historically, Anglican Watch has been a fan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT) and its handling of clergy discipline. In particular, we like and respect former bishop Ian Douglas (who would have been an excellent presiding bishop) and the Rev. Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban, who has long been a driving force in improving Title IV. And while Robin doesn’t quite have a handle on spiritual abuse, she’s astute and kind–qualities often lacking in the denomination.

But in the case of Amjad Samuel, rector of St. Paul’s, Shelton, ECCT blew it big time by not suspending Samuel from the get-go.

We are using his example, along with several other examples, to show why it is important in many cases to suspend clergy at the start of a Title IV case—maybe even before it becomes public.

The Title IV controversy involving Samuel involves parishioners who say he forced them out of the parish. That’s surprisingly common behavior in the denomination, which right about now should be begging for new members, thanks to decades of decline in membership.

But in Samuel’s case, we can say with confidence that the claim that he forced people out is valid.

How can we say that? 

We say that because we’ve heard from quite a few of those who forced to leave the church. 

Their stories are remarkably consistent — but not so much so as to lead us to conclude the complaints have been rigged.

Spiritual abuse

Our take on it is that Samuel is that most common of clergy creatures — a grandiose narcissist. We’re not psychologists, and we’ve never met him in person. But the stories we’ve heard paint a picture of a man who craves attention. And like other narcissists, he seems to project that attribute onto others.

So, remember when we said earlier that one of our few complaints about Hammeal-Urban is she doesn’t get spiritual abuse? 

That seems to have happened here, where Samuel got away with too much for too long.

Meanwhile, spiritual abuse remains the dirty underbelly of the church and the elephant in the living room. We all know it’s in there, defecating on the china and chowing down on the sideboard, but no one wants to admit it. 

Unless, of course, the elephant gets so out of hand he starts pooping in the wine cellar. Being Episcopalians, we surely can’t allow that to happen!

Why suspending Samuel was a missed opportunity

As we said, the biggest mistake was not immediately suspending Samuel. Why? Because  we have never — repeat never — seen a Title IV case in which a rector didn’t try to pull in allies, especially friendly parishioners. 

And while Title IV is supposedly confidential, clergy invariably blab about it. Typically, they are clever enough to tell the parish gossip “in confidence,” which results in phone lines throwing flames from here to Texarkana (here’s looking at you, Halt).

And they tell their clergy friends, resulting in waves of trauma across the diocese. In fact, many times, so-called friends of the miscreant are stupid enough to acknowledge they’ve been told about a Title IV case making officious announcements like, “There are two sides to every story. I understand this is no different.”

To be clear, there are not two sides to every story. Racism is always wrong. Hatred is always wrong. Abuse is always wrong.

But if you present evidence to the so-called friend that their buddy really did violate the canons, you’re met with silence. As Hammeal-Urban wisely says, “If it can’t be conceived, it can’t be perceived.” (Rumor has it that’s the unofficial motto of the denomination.)

Meanwhile, any narcissist worth her adulation is grooming her flying monkeys. So those opposed get pushed out, while the loyalists cling ever tighter to the miscreant as she passes out loads of compliments, flattery, empty smiles, and loathsome hugs.

And in the case of Samuel, even his choice of canon law attorney is telling. His attorney, at least initially, was and is one of the great scumbags of the Episcopal Church, Michael Rehill. 

Rehill, who likes to intimidate female victims of abuse, and not pay his debts, follows a litigation strategy of the spaghetti approach. In other words, throw as much as you can at the wall and see what sticks. Nor does it matter if the argument is frivolous, impertinent, scandalous or ludicrous–Rehill has no qualms about filing frivolous pleadings. Guess it’s good to be a canon attorney, because no judge in her right mind would tolerate Rehill’s nonsense. (Rehill is a former municipal judge whose practice has not fared well over the years.)

And while he likes to file ridiculously long pleadings full of nonsense, Rehill, of course, charges for every bit of it. So clients pay top dollar for what we will term questionable work. 

So we now see a situation in which Samuel and Rehill have pulled the parish into their great, stinking crock of goo. No bloody wonder they’re tired, and if Mello had pulled the rip cord on Samuel long ago, neither parishioners nor the diocese would find themselves in this mess.

We also note the importance of disclosure — nothing says any part of Title IV is confidential if the bishop deems disclosure necessary for pastoral care, and the gap between perceptions within the parish and opinions at the diocese reveals a shocking lack of conversation and respect on both sides. Perhaps Mello was too caught up in being a bishop, but when you’re too busy to protect the unity of the church and the people in it, we have a problem.

If nothing else, a pastoral directive should have been issued long ago establishing rules of the road, including establishing oversight of parish finances.

And expending parish funds on the sorry likes of Rehill is in no way consistent with the vestry’s fiduciary obligations. Nor does it reflect half the common sense God gave a goat,

We particularly note the language from the church’s now-resigned vestry about running out of money on 12/31, and how it is transferring both assets and liabilities to the diocese. 

In other words, call us suspicious, but we detect the sour odor of a vestry not fulfilling its fiduciary obligations but instead possibly plundering church resources. And if the vestry did so, as fiduciaries, they are personally liable for those funds. Something tells us neither Samuels nor Rehill mentioned that little tidbit.

And yes, we get having a hill to die on, but for the sorry likes of Rehill? No thanks.

Corrupt bishop George Sumner

Similarly, the spectacularly corrupt bishop of Dallas, George Sumner, just suspended his canon to the ordinary over conduct unbecoming. Interestingly, his reference to Title IV invokes a clause that doesn’t exist.

Meanwhile, we’re left wondering how Sumner reconciles his actions in that case with that of David Halt, rector of St. James Texarkana. 

In that matter, Sumner improperly used his chancellor — who should not be a Title IV participant per Title IV — to sandbag a complaint about Halt engaging in retaliation against the Rev. Rich Daly for opposing sexual harassment. 

Since matters complained of are presumed true for purposes of intake, Sumner is left to explain how sexual harassment of women and retaliation is okay in any organization. Let’s just say if there is a hell, we hope not to be anywhere near Sumner when he lands there. He’s bad enough in this life.

Meanwhile, Halt continues to try to trash Daly all over Texarkana, and we constantly get reports about this matter.

Proof positive that both Halt and Sumner should be suspended and removed from office before they cause further damage.

Dirtball Dan, rector of St. Paul’s Dayton

Then we turn to the unsavory likes of Daniel McClain, of St. Paul’s, Dayton, who continues to lie, undercut his wife and kids, spread vile rumors, and more. Yeah, the handful of remaining worshippers may (mostly) like McClain, but the place is fast headed in the same direction as St. Paul’s, Shelton. (For the record, we have a couple of sources within the church who cheerily go along with Dan, then immediately tell us about his nasty antics.)

Meanwhile, McClain’s conduct continues to bring discredit on the church in multiple ways. And we do not think having his bud Plant Lady around, especially when he has kids at home and is still married, is cool. 

Nor is it good for the kids. Adultery is adultery, and Plant Lady is an imbecile if she thinks she’s going to be successful in a relationship with its roots in lies and adultery.

In other words, would someone in the Diocese of Southern Ohio please do us all a favor and suspend McClain? The diocese is trashing its own reputation via its inaction and pushing St. Paul’s along the road to implosion. McClain needs to go, post haste. As for his bit about keeping the main thing the main thing, we’re calling BS. The main thing does not involve lying about your wife, having an affair, not paying child support, And anyone who says it does is a Christian in name only. Feel free to quote us.

And while the diocese is at it, it should consider a drug test. Some of McClain’s behavior falls into the too-weird-for-words category. That is all we are prepared to say on that score.

Perjuring priest Bob Malm

Then we get to the hidden damage of not suspending clergy. In a case near and none too dear to our hearts, Bob Malm, former rector of Grace Church in Alexandria VA, continues to “serve” at St. Peter’s on the Canal in Bourne, MA, even though he is canonically resident in Virginia.

And while Bishop Stevenson, who appears to be a genuinely good guy, says he’s taking the matter seriously, it’s tough to reach that conclusion when Malm is accused of criminal conduct.

Not only will Malm’s need for narcissistic supply ultimately cause problems for the Bourne church, as it did for the Alexandria parish, but it sends an ugly message to the world when a priest accused of multiple instances of felonious conduct in the form of perjury remains in place.

Onlookers are left asking, “Uh, since when was it okay to be a felon in the Episcopal Church?” And the argument Malm needs to be convicted before anything happens is hogwash–if the standard were criminal charges, thousands of pedophiles in every denomination would remain in ministry. So don’t go there.

As for victims of Malm’s conduct, his continuing presence bespeaks a denomination that doesn’t give a damn. And at every church Malm has served, he’s told judges and others lies about how our editor, Eric Bonetti, “terrorized” Malm and his family. In other words, he uses his role as a priest to perpetuate further harm, while Stevenson just shrugs. 

And any first-year law student would sneer derisively at Malm’s claims of domestic terrorism and harassment via blogging. Something about the First Amendment.

Of course, the juxtaposition of Malm’s lies about being terrorized is laughable, given his noisy posturing as a badass frat boy and jock. Leaving aside the fact he should have outgrown the prep school jock routine long before hitting age 70, the contrasting images of Malm as a precious little snowflake and badass frat boy are laughably ludicrous. “Stop him judge, before he blogs again!”

The Pointy Hat Club

As for bishops, let’s not even go there. Consider:

  • Alan Gates ignoring countless written complaints from a victim of child rape and telling other victims of abuse to go to court with their complaints.
  • Shannon Johnston decreeing he “doesn’t want to get involved,” in issues of clergy misconduct (speaking of precious little snowflakes).
  • Paula Clark saying she’s okay with perjurious clergy in the case of Will Bouvel.
  • Glenda Curry ignoring complaints of a child rapist and a separate pedophile under her supervision.
  • George Sumner, with his bullying LatinX church members and role in sexual harassment/retaliation.
  • Chilton Knudsen, who has said in writing that criminal perjury by clergy is not actionable under Title IV. Moreover, her claims in the Chicago child sex abuse case are improbable, at best.
  • Prince Singh, with his long history of questionable behavior. And while we’re no fans of his family’s efforts at censorship and other snowflake activities, Singh should have been gone long ago. And the fact Michael Curry initially just wrung his hands over the allegations of abuse suggest someone far too clueless and feckless to be an effective priest, let alone presiding bishop.
  • Todd Ousley, who has rarely come across a Title IV case he couldn’t ignore–including the Massachusetts child rape case.
  • Susan Goff, who repeatedly ignored complaints about Episcopal priest Bob Malm trying to bully a dying woman. There is a special place in hell for the Susan Goffs of the world.

All of those folks should be immediately suspended and ultimately removed from office. 

Consider: What would your reaction be if you complained to local or state officials about perjury or child rape and they said, “I don’t want to get involved.” You’d be outraged and there would be hell to pay.

But in the Episcopal Church, we are stuck with an episcopacy where inaction and indifference are the norm. And very few give a damn. Nor are we under any illusion that the corruption of these bishops will be ignored, with possibly a few exceptions along the margins. Or they’ll get the Whayne Hougland Episco-bro penalty—a golden parachute into the good life. Nasty stuff, that.

The effect of inertia

We also want to add that, fiery broadside at the folks at Samuel’s church notwithstanding, we have a pocket of sympathy for them.

Particularly when a priest is accused of criminal conduct (think Bob Malm, accused of perjury and filing false police reports), not suspending a priest sends a powerful message to victims. As in, “Even though we have not formally investigated the matter, obviously it can’t be all that serious. After all, we’re putting him in another position of fiduciary trust.”

That of course wreaks havoc with victims, who may already struggle with PTSD and depression. And it sends a powerful message to the relevant parishes, as in “We take misconduct seriously. Call us in a year and we’ll prove it.”

And even if you are a member of St. Peter’s, Bourne, and even if Malm has successfully charm-bombed you, you might still look askance at a hierarchy that sends someone with outstanding criminal complaints to serve as your interim. And guaranteed, he’s going around telling vestry members that he’s a victim of character assassination, a campaign of stalking, and all his usual narcissistic lies.

That implicit imprimatur even works to the advantage of criminals like Malm. Indeed, in his initial case before the Alexandria courts, one of the very few questions the judges asked was the relationship between the parish and the diocese.

Like any good narcissist, Malm weasel-worded his response, until he realized that what the judge was really asking was “does your bishop oppose what you’re doing?” So, with Shannon Johnston hanging out at Mayo House, prettily saying he didn’t want to get involved, the judge got the answer Malm wanted.

(To the credit of Bishop Stevenson and the Diocese of Virginia, it did give lying adulterer Anne Turner the heave-ho in record time. Yes, we are sympathetic to persons in unhappy marriages, and the struggle Anne had with breast cancer, but an affair is wrong and dishonest on so many levels, we don’t even know how to parse it. At the same time, coming on the heels of toxic Bob Malm, the selection of Anne Turner as rector is a devastating reminder that toxic churches don’t change absent outside intervention. And like attracts like, so Anne Turner is every bit as toxic as Bob Malm and Grace Church, just in different packaging)

Yes, evil is banal, and the Episcopal Church still doesn’t see a connection between washing its hands of a matter and evil. Indeed, if we read the story of Pontius Pilate carefully, he was a good man. Maybe even a precursor to an Episcopal bishop. He just didn’t want to get involved. And neither do the members of the House of Bishops.

This breakdown in the episcopacy is, we believe, the single most significant factor in the impending collapse of the denomination as we know it.

Indeed, with all of the challenges the Episcopal Church is facing, any of the feckless bishops identified about would be not the straw that broke the camel’s back but rather the grand piano. And we have far too many of these grand pianos lurking in the church, just waiting to be dropped onto some poor, unsuspecting camel.

As for St. Paul’s Shelton and St. Paul’s Dayton, inaction by the relevant bishops is setting these churches on the path to closure. Our preference would be to see them thrive and succeed, but as toxic as they have become, having these churches close may be the better outcome.

But the problem is that church closures rarely result in the priest who caused the closure leaving the denomination. Like Todd Ousley, who managed to trash his former dioceses in record time, he was rewarded for being a knucklehead by being asked to train other bishops how to be knuckleheads. So even if their parishes close, we are unlikely to be blessed by the disappearance of these two knuckleheads.

One almost-final thought: Folks in Shelton should not be angrily denouncing the diocese if they didn’t request a meeting to discuss their concerns. Yes, Mello mishandled this situation badly, and he’s done too little, too late to preserve the unity of the church — a key role of the bishop. But if folks didn’t have the backbone to speak up, don’t look to us for sympathy. Passive, thy name is TEC, and we’re tired of folks whining behind the scenes, but doing nothing about it.

As for St. Paul’s Dayton, kicking Dan McClain out is about a year overdue. There is no excuse for his conduct, full stop.

As to the morass of misconduct among the bishops, these situations can still be fixed. But it requires backbone, action, and a willingness to clean house, versus protecting the apparatchiks and clinging to faded notions of past glory. And Michael Curry’s handing off the issue of Title IV and its failures to yet another committee, so we can add to the mountain of paper that is the Episcopal Church, isn’t going to cut it.

And for the record, there’s a lot that can be done via pastoral directive from Michael Curry. We get that Todd Ousley likes to say that the presiding bishop can’t tell bishops what to do, but the canons differ. What should come from Curry’s office is the following (no need for stone tablets a la “The Ten Commandments”):

Thou shall fulfill every jot and tittle of Title IV. We will provide you with help if you need it. But fail to do so, and the church will, sua sponte, suspend you in record time, initiate Title IV proceedings, and remove you. And thou shall not get the Whayne Hougland Golden Parachute, but the Royal Kick in the Arse.

Curry needs to grow a spine and spend less time gassing on about love and more time engaging in love, as in dealing with abuse in the church. And we predict only a few of the miscreants we call bishops will need to get fired before the Episcopal Church becomes a very clean ship, indeed.

Lastly, because we try to offer positive suggestions whenever possible, we encourage +Mello to sit down with current and former members of St Paul’s. Yes, this should be a listening session, but spare us the empty TEC listening sessions with no follow-up. What happens should be a discussion of the diocese’s concerns, an exploration on both sides of what went wrong in Title IV, and hopefully a conversation about ways to move forward together.

Even with our dismal experience with the Episcopal Church, we have to believe that people of good will can find a way forward. But there is one caveat there: All involved need to be alert to the possibility that Samuel is a narcissist and/or a sociopath. In those cases, he cannot be a successful part of any constructive dialogue, because like Bob Malm and other narcissists, words have no meaning except as a way to get what you want. You can no more negotiate with a narcissist that you can with Vladimir Putin.

And that is the final point in this post. While we have deep hope for healing in Shelton and Dayton, judicatories need to understand that negotiating with a narcissist goes nowhere. And with about 30 percent of clergy being narcissists, there are plenty of priests who just need the heave-ho. Among those who need to exit post haste are Dan McClain, Bob Malm, and Amjad Samuel.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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