For many years, the Episcopal Church has prided itself on its policies to prevent child sexual abuse. But the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement is woefully deficient when it comes to the prevention of child abuse.
For starters, the Catholic Church requires the immediate suspension from ministry of any person against whom allegations of child abuse are made. There need not be an accusation of sexual abuse for this provision to apply. And even if the person eventually is cleared of the allegations, they can never again work with children. It’s considered too risky.
This contrasts sharply with the Episcopal Church, where there is zero discussion of removing a bishop or other official against whom such accusations have been made.
Thus, the Episcopal Church implicitly condones child abuse.
We strongly believe that a credible allegation of domestic violence or abuse of any sort should be an absolute bar to ministry. And while we might be willing to carve out an exception for a single, isolated, minor incident, it would have to be a very small incident. There also would need to be prominent and ongoing efforts to prevent a recurrence.
Central reporting and recordkeeping
Second, the Catholic Church now provides for centralized reporting and recordkeeping. This prevents complainants from falling down the rabbit hole of the bureaucratic shuffle. Additionally, it reduces reliance on the vagaries of an individual bishop.
By contrast, there is no centralized reporting in the Episcopal Church. Bishops frequently can and do ignore complaints that come their way. And the lack of centralized recordkeeping allows bishops with problem priests to “pass the trash.”
Moreover, while screening forms in the Episcopal Church ask about accusations of pedophiliac behavior, they don’t ask about domestic violence. And even the self-reporting requirement is largely illusory–in most cases, there is no way to know if someone lies.
Accountability for abuse of authority
Third, the Catholic Church removes bishops and other officials accused of abuse of authority. Typically, that covers situations where bishops have decided they don’t want to get involved, actively cover up abuse, or retaliate against complainants.
That contrasts sharply with Episcopal bishops, who face no consequences or repercussions for abusing their authority or choosing not to get involved.
Advice to bishops
Fourth, in Catholic dioceses, bishops also can draw on the resources of a confidential advisory board with specialized training and expertise. Members typically are lay persons not in the employ of the diocese. Additionally, the board can cry foul if an issue is not handled in accordance with church policy.
Episcopal bishops have no such resource. Yes, they may draw on advice from their standing committee, but as the Jon Bruno situation with St. James the Great illustrates, most standing committees are nothing but insiders, sycophants, and enablers. Additionally, standing committees have no specialized training.
Fifth, Catholic dioceses are required to conduct compliance audits. These are typically done by outside auditors, with the results publicly available.
A similar, watered-down requirement has been established for Episcopal dioceses, but the national church is doing nothing to follow up on it, and many dioceses haven’t even updated the current safe church policies–even though it’s been six years since those were enacted.
Seventh, Catholic dioceses also take a holistic approach to safeguarding. Thus, behavior like bullying, abuse of power, ostracism, and other misconduct that doesn’t involve sexual misconduct is prohibited.
By contrast, the Episcopal Church adheres to a no-blood, no-foul policy. Typically, anything that doesn’t involve sex gets brushed off as an interpersonal squabble or another issue “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” The latter standard, articulated by the Title IV disciplinary canons, is woefully short-sighted, for abuse operates along a continuum, with the constant being exploitation of an abuse of power.
Thus, by taking a very limited approach to safeguarding, the Episcopal Church leaves open a wide range of abuse that is unlikely ever to be addressed.
Eighth, there’s a vast ethical deficit when abuse claims are settled in the Episcopal Church. The Church Pension Group invariably insists on a non-disclosure agreement, which anti-abuse advocates consistently regard as another level of abuse and morally wrong. Indeed, for many, telling their story is an integral part of healing.
The Catholic Church expressly forbids nondisclosure agreements unless requested by the victim.
Anglican Watch will continue to report on this topic. Also:
- We call on the Episcopal Church to address the scourges of domestic violence and abuse in all their forms. Not just sexual, but also emotional, financial, and relational abuse.
- We call for full implementation of the current model policies by every diocese. And we believe compliance audits should be made publicly available so that laity can see where their diocese stands on these matters.
- We ask the Episcopal Church to establish a task force or standing committee to study domestic violence and abuse and recommend policies at the next General Convention.
- We call for an immediate ban on confidentiality agreements by the Church Pension Group and other Episcopal entities.
- We ask for the removal of all bishops who have abused their authority on matters of abuse or domestic violence, even if sexual misconduct is not alleged.
- We call for the immediate suspension of any clergyperson accused of abuse 0f any sort.
- We call on dioceses to implement holistic safe church policies that address bullying, harassment, and other non-sexual abuse.
- We request a churchwide database of all Title IV complaints, including those dismissed at intake, so that church officials may discern patterns that suggest grooming and other boundary violations before major misconduct occurs.
- We ask every diocese to appoint an advisory committee to the bishop comprising experts on abuse, including victims, to make sound decisions for the church’s health.
- We seek adoption of a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence and abuse for clergy, with immediate Title IV disciplinary proceedings required for any such allegation.
- We reequest adoption of policies, procedures, and resources for clergy spouses and family members experiencing domestic violence. Indeed, as things stand, many dioceses have zero resources to address these issues, resulting in shambolic, farcical responses. In fact, many bishops won’t even meet with victims in these situations — an appalling distinction from the Catholic Church, which requires that bishops meet with victims of abuse.
Things are not all sunshine and Chardonnay in the Episcopal Church. And we recognize that many bishops will resist changes, proclaiming, “Don’t tell me how to run my diocese.”
But if the Church is actually to become Beloved Community, it needs to start by loving those that comprise the Church. It must act to address one of its significant failings, which is an unwillingness to respond effectively to nonsexual abuse.