Anglican Watch

TEC falls further and further behind on safeguarding

The Episcopal Church is falling further and further behind in safeguarding

At a time when #metoo and #churchtoo remain in the spotlight, the Episcopal Church is lagging further and further behind in its efforts to prevent misconduct. That in itself indicates a dying church, for one of the most basic roles of the church is to be a safe place for all persons. 

Among the failures identified by Anglican Watch:

  • General Convention 79 mandated adopting new model sexual misconduct prevention and training policies. These policies require public postings within churches and annual compliance audits. Yet six years later, many dioceses have not adopted the new guidelines, and we have only identified a handful of fully compliant parishes.
  • There remains an appalling lack of transparency. For example, few dioceses publish lists of those on the diocesan disciplinary committee. Others, like Massachusetts, tell members they can get the list from Bill Parnell, the spectacularly corrupt canon to the ordinary. That makes it unlikely that anyone will request this information. 
  • Budgets remain opaque. Many dioceses and parishes either provide no information or blended information that tells the public nothing. As with clergy discipline, transparency engenders accountability.
  • There still is no national database of clergy offenders. Because judicatories typically ignore initial reports of spiritual abuse, Anglican Watch recommends a national database that includes all complaints, even those dismissed at intake. Such a database would allow judicatories to see patterns before they become issues. And they would head off problems like Amjad Samuel’s alleged attempts to sidestep clergy discipline in Connecticut by applying for jobs elsewhere would have been preempted. These issues were resolved when the relevant bishops contacted the Diocese of Connecticut. But plenty of bishops are out there, like Shannon Johnston, who “Don’t want to get involved.”
  • The church fails to recognize that predators are often repeat offenders. Even a cursory review of the clergy and laity on this site reveals that most have long and sordid histories of abuse — and clean criminal records before being caught. Thus, a database may help surface problems before there are additional victims.
  • Vestry and other minutes often are not made public. That begs the question: If there’s nothing to hide, why not post them? Transparency engenders accountability, fosters donor trust, and is a basic tenet of nonprofit ethics.
  • Retaliation is alive and well, despite changes to the canons. Just ask Rich Daly, who was fired as an Episcopal priest for opposing the sexual harassment of women.
  • Video training is not a cure-all. Corporate communicators rarely communicate vital information via a recording. Why? Because it fails to engender engagement the way in-person training does. It’s far too easy to surf the web, answer phone calls, and more while the video drones in the background. Thus, over-reliance on the Praesidium videos by the church is a disaster in the making.
  • Judicatories still view Title IV clergy disciplinary complaints as an all-or-nothing proposition. This binary approach means many legitimate complaints get dismissed under the “weighty and material” clause of Title IV. Far better to treat such complaints as bellwethers of potentially more severe problems and address them early via pastoral directive or other low-key interventions.
  • Clericalism causes family systems in the church to reject whistleblowers. Yet, in reality, they embody Jesus, the consummate whistleblower.
  • The church does not formally publish lists of credibly accused clergy. The Catholics do it. The Episcopal Church can do it. And there are plenty of names to go around, even in such a tiny denomination.
  • Participants in the Title IV clergy disciplinary process often are woefully untrained and fly by the seat of their pants. This includes:
    • Intake officers, who far too often try to prejudge the complaint or otherwise step outside their canonical role. Or even to interview the complainant.
    • Chancellors, who often get improperly involved in complaints.
    • Canons to the Ordinary, who often make up rules on the fly, like requiring that complaints be in writing. The latter is a per se violation of Title IV. And while anonymous reporting may make judicatories nervous, it is the law of the land. Or at least the church.

Bishops, who often perceive a conflict between their need to care for clergy and to impose discipline. 

  • Lack of support from the office of the Presiding Bishop. As we have said many times, when it comes to abuse of power and refusal to follow the canons, there are no worse offenders than Todd Ousley and his boss, PB Michael Curry.
  • Lack of transparency in the Title IV process. When a Title IV complaint is made, the process often drags on for months or years, with little or no communication from intake officers or other judicatories.
  • Lack of trauma awareness. We recall the situation at St. Thomas’ in McLean VA, where Canon to the Ordinary Pat Wingo showed up one Sunday and announced that the rector was suspended and Wingo would officiate. While we know Pat and know him to be well-intentioned, that is just about the worst possible way to handle the situation. And the lack of a pastoral response and stupid comments from the head of the transitions ministry, Mary Thorpe, only worsened things.
  • Culture. Aligned closely with clericalism, it is well-established that culture trumps training every time. Taken as a whole, the Episcopal Church does not value integrity. Time and again, we see the preference for protecting the organization versus doing what’s right. As a result, Jesus would have had little use for the denomination.
  • Preference for transactional and symbolic solutions. We often hear from BIPOC church members who feel they are the token person in their church or committee and are there to “check the box” versus affecting change. At the same time, they feel they are viewed as a spokesperson for their group or as children who should be seen and not heard. Their views are often brushed off or marginalized. And why take meaningful action when you can have a book study group?
  • Poor conflict resolution skills. Church members may be carrying on about their sacred circles, but the circles aren’t of much use if participants cannot handle conflict positively. And some of the worst at managing conflict are clergy, who either respond with avoidance or narcissistic rage.
  • Failure to adequately screen clergy. Although screening before ordination has improved, we still see far too many narcissists and sociopaths among the clergy. These include the “woe is me” covert narcissists and the stereotypical, noisy, swaggering ones who tell you about their awesome game of golf, high school football career, and more.
  • Flawed theology of forgiveness. Want to find out just how true the “all are welcome, no exceptions,” thing is? Just post something negative on Facebook about your priest, even about his misconduct, and watch the Episcopalians you know defriend you in record time. And that includes clergy. How dare you criticize your rector’s bullying?
  • Lack of awareness. Despite the current requirement that churches and dioceses make public information on how to contact an intake officer, we know of exactly one parish that is compliant. And even well-run dioceses make it difficult to find this information on their websites.
  • Lack of transparency during hearing panel discussions. The only diocese that makes a real effort in this area is the Diocese of Connecticut, which sends out Zoom invites to those who have been asked to receive them. The importance of this should not be underestimated, for this transparency ensures fairness. Indeed, you can be certain that if Anglican Watch sees unfairness on either side, we can and will raise a ruckus. (For the record, the conduct of Michael Rehill and his co-counsel in the current Amjad Samuel case is deplorable.)
  • Lack of advocates. Yes, Anglican Watch is a noisy corner of cyber, and we are not scared to give the big dogs an occasional nip on the backside. But ours is a small effort, and few in the church are willing to stand up and say, “I disagree and want to share my perspective.” Every diocese needs an official or unofficial ombudsperson willing to speak the truth to power. Yet the last one we knew was Barbara Harris, famous for saying, “Nobody hates like Christians.”

Right on, Barbara. Hopefully you’ve gone on to a place where the Christians don’t hate.

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