After Anglican Watch discovered that the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia now is almost four years behind schedule in adopting the “new” model safe church policies, we did some additional digging. Our attention quickly turned to the Diocese of Western Louisiana, where we continue to hear reports of nonfeasance, malfeasance, and misfeasance.
Turns out, Western Louisiana is every bit as bad as Virginia. Maybe worse.
For starters, Western Louisiana hasn’t adopted the new policies, either.
And it sounds like the good bishop and his delegates were sleeping through the last two General Conventions, as the diocesan website proudly announces that, although safe church training has moved to online provider Praesidium, the underlying policies have not changed. That’s a problem, because they were required by General Convention to change.
Even more troubling are the existing policies themselves.
Not only do they make no reference to vulnerable adults, as required by General Convention, but:
- They provide that Episcopal School policies may supersede those of the diocese. That’s a problem, as the diocese can be found liable for shortcomings, and we have seen plenty of those in diocesan schools. Far better to say: “School policies may exceed the provisions set forth in these policies, but may not offer fewer protections.” That also would be consistent with the specific provisions of the model policies. For the record, here is what current diocesan policies provide:
Other Rules May Apply. These Diocesan policies are provided as a guide for Episcopal institutions in the Diocese. They do not cover every issue. If there is any discrepancy between the policies and any state or federal law, the state or federal law will prevail. In addition, there may be certain instances, particularly with Episcopal schools, where the schools’ rules and regulations will take precedence.
- The diocesan policies reference Joy Owensby, the bishop’s wife, as the point of contact for violations. And they don’t make full disclosure of the relationship. Thus, there’s not only an inherent conflict of interest, but there’s zero disclosure. Nor do the policies name an alternative path if the complainant is uncomfortable going to the bishop and his inner circle.
- The policies specifically cite Joy as the point of contact for questions about clergy conduct:
Diocesan Contacts. All questions about these Policies and Safeguarding training should be directed to the Safe Church Coordinator, Joy Owensby (jo*@ep****.org, 318-4421304). All reports of suspected policy violations or inappropriate behavior, or concerns regarding clergy behavior or questions about making reports should also be directed to her.
This undercuts the role of intake officer Rich Snow, who is the official Title IV intake officer for the diocese. And compounding matters is that the diocese does not adhere to the canonical requirements to publish information on Title IV, what it is, and how to make a complaint. Does +Owensby really think that the average person in the pew is going to be familiar with Title IV? Or maybe that’s the very reason he points people to his wife.
In short, something is seriously amiss in the Diocese of Western Louisiana, including the ethical reference point of its leadership. There are nine registered sex offenders within a half mile of diocesan offices, and the diocese can’t even be bothered to comply with the safe church standards that were required as of January 1, 2019.
As to Joy Owensby, Caesar’s wife indeed must be above reproach. But when you drop Caesar’s wife into the thick of things, without expressly telling folks from the outset about the connection with Caesar, that is a serious ethical issue. And it’s compounded when she is de facto the intake officer for Title IV complaints.
Let’s hope the Owensbys have the integrity to deal with these issues quickly and effectively, versus the usual Episcopal game of treating anyone who criticizes the church as an enemy, then playing the passive-aggressive game.
We’re dealing with people’s lives and their faith. That implicates, or should implicate, the highest ethical standards.
As of publication, neither the bishop nor has wife have responded to our request for comments.