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Earlier today, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts posted some relevant documents in the Douglas Anderson Title IV case. That’s good news, as the public has the right to be informed about allegations of clergy misconduct. Moreover, transparency engenders trust and accountability, both sorely lacking in clergy discipline in DioMass.
True to form, it is allegations of sexual misconduct that got Bishop Gates’ attention. Illegal activity by clergy receives a pass, but when sex rears its ugly head, it’s DEFCON 1. All hands to battle stations, open the silos, get the birds rumbling down the runways, and prepare to launch.
At the heart of the Anderson case are claims that he had sexual relations with the executive director of a Texarkana nonprofit that partners with Anderson’s former church, St. James. Anderson was married at the time. The specifics are the usual recitation of manipulative behavior on the part of any Title IV respondent, including the predictable bit about “if there’s no future for us, I’m taking the job in Boston.” And the allegations include the usual lies and denials on the part of the respondent.
Anglican Watch has identified the complainant, but out of respect for her and the Title IV process and to avoid causing further trauma, we will not be naming her at this time. Nor have we contacted her directly.
In reviewing canon lawyer Michael Rehill’s response, we note several things:
- There’s the usual Rehill reliance on purported canonical deficiencies. But the canons say that unless they prejudice the outcome, these errors don’t matter. And Rehill has enough information in the pleadings to understand the charges and plead responsively. So spare us.
- Rehill’s denials are suspect in the extreme. As to whether Anderson was the complainant’s boss versus her board chair, that’s irrelevant. Faced with demands for sex, the complainant would have been in a difficult position regardless of the legal niceties.
- We also see suggestions that Anderson may have sidled up to the complainant for some time. By Rehill’s admission, Anderson ran interference for the complainant when her board of directors criticized her. Those are tricky situations, as nonprofit boards often are erratic and irrational. Thus, confronted with demands for sex, the complainant would have been in a challenging situation, especially considering her youth. And the allegations about calling the complainant, texting her, and confiding in her are Grooming 101.
- We’d be prepared to bet that complainant saved documentation, including the alleged plane tickets and love letter from Anderson. Even if she didn’t, it’s a small matter to call the airline up and ask. If that’s the case, Rehill does his client no favors by denying the veracity of these claims. Far better to ‘fess up, discuss what about his marriage led him to look outside of it, get counseling, and work to get better. While it’s no secret we don’t think much of Alan Gates, it’s a safe bet that denying everything will serve only further irritate Gates and the other relevant judicatories.
- One factor that weighs in favor of the complainant’s veracity is the trauma and other costs of coming forward. Anyone who has done so knows it’s a difficult thing to do, and you run the risk, as happened to Anglican Watch’s editor, that the diocese will ignore the canons and brush you off. And once the diocese does that, there is zero chance that it will back up, take a look at the situation, and try to fix it. Integrity doesn’t run that deep in the Episcopal Church.
We are posting the attorney statement and response below so they remain publicly available.
Meanwhile, we have
not received a response from the DioMass comms person received a “no comment” from Tracy Sukraw, the diocesan comms person. That’s a shame because even the average Episcopalian has only a vague awareness of Title IV, its purposes, and how it progresses. And far too often the public is left with the impression that everything is handled behind closed doors by the good old folks network — which may be spot on. Hopefully, the diocese will get its act together and improve on these issues.
Also, this Title IV case has been churning along for many months. While we recognize that the matter may have gone through various steps before reaching the hearing panel, the delay illustrates one of the challenges of Title IV. The length of the proceedings can be traumatic, and we hope that DioMass is providing a complete pastoral response to the complainant, including asking her what her needs are. Unfortunately, far too many dioceses assume they know the answer, which usually is a mistake.
Finally, we believe the complainant in this case and stand with her. Coming forward takes incredible courage, as recognized by the hearing panel via its redaction of documents. We applaud her bravery and integrity in this matter.