In times of conflict or crisis, it is essential that communication from parish leadership be considered and accurate. But the recent messaging from St. Paul’s senior warden Jay Woodhull contains an important misstatement.
Woodhull’s message states that “it is a requirement that the Diocese conduct an investigation any time a Title IV complaint is made.” That is categorically false.
Under Title IV, the church clergy disciplinary canon, the intake officer evaluates the complaint and asks two questions:
- Assuming the matter complained of to be true, would it be a violation of church canons?
- If so, is it of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church?
If not, the complaint may be dismissed, and the only requirement is that of a pastoral response from the bishop.
If the complaint meets this two-pronged test, the intake officer prepares a report, which then goes to the reference panel. The reference panel makes no findings of fact, nor does it evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Its only role is to refer the matter out for possible resolution.
Under Title IV.6.8, referral options include:
- Take no action other than appropriate pastoral responses
- Refer the matter to Conciliation
- Refer the matter to the Investigator for further investigation and report back to the Reference Panel
- Refer the matter to the Conference Panel
- Referral to the Bishop for possible negotiation of an Agreement for Discipline
It also is possible for the reference panel to choose multiple options simultaneously. For example, it may start an investigation, even as it refers the matter to conciliation.
In each case, the matter returns to the reference panel for further referral unless resolution is obtained.
We are concerned about the flat-footed, ham-handed messaging coming from the parish, particularly in light of Woodhull’s purported expertise in organizational dynamics.
Also concerning is the one-sided aspect of parish communications, which appears to be a thinly veiled call to circle the wagons under the guise of “compassion, love and respect.” These communications also ignore the trauma and other issues that face other parties impacted by the Title IV process, including those who may be referenced in a complaint.
We also caution against rumors and speculation. One individual, now banned from commenting, made multiple comments yesterday expressing his opinions about the outcome of the case, even as he admitted he doesn’t know anything about the Title IV complaint. Such conjecture is profoundly unhelpful.
Lastly, we remind all involved of the famous phrase: “As you have done to the least of these, so also have you done unto me.” With that in mind, the church’s “compassion, love, and respect” is notably missing on several fronts. And we caution against blind clericalism. The most toxic clergy often are those who appear as “angels of light.”