Anglican Watch

TFCA investigative report on abuse at the parish gets low grades, misses mark on many key issues

TFCA investigates sexual abuse allegations

We’ve read the recent investigative report on abuse by The Falls Church Anglican (TFCA). While we are glad that the church seems to be taking the allegations against former youth director Jeff Taylor seriously, the investigative report hugely misses the mark on several key issues. As a result of these shortcomings, we are giving the report a grade of D, even as we look forward with hope to further actions by the church based on the advice of Drs. Diane Langberg and Philip Monroe.

In other words, so far we’re underwhelmed.

Housekeeping matters

Before we plunge into the nitty-gritty, some important context is that, for much of the time in question, the parish was an Episcopal Church. Thus, the church operated under Diocese of Virginia policies and doubtless inherited much of the latter’s feckless attitude toward abuse. That’s important to know, because even as bad as the investigatory report is, the reality is much of the problem with abuse at TFCA occurred on the Episcopal Church’s watch, not during the congregation’s current affiliation with ACNA.

We also want to correct some inaccuracies in Julie Roys’ reporting. Specifically, TFCA is not the parish George Washington attended, and it is not 200 years old.

Indeed, while we express no opinion on whether our friends in ACNA were justified in leaving, the reality is that George Washington attended an Episcopal church. The legal entity that comprises that church is, as a matter of law and polity, an Episcopal parish.

Thus, while Julie Roys says she likes to steer clear of internal church governance fights, she steps right in the elephant patty on this one.

Moreover, we note that a prior sexual abuse case, filed when there was no dispute over whether the church was Episcopal, was dismissed by Virginia courts on the basis of separation of church and state. Pretty damned outrageous.

While this outcome probably would not happen today, it underscores an important point, which is that victims should not have to sue TEC’s sorry backside — or that of any other denomination or church — in order to find justice. In that regard, the Church Pension Group (CPG), which is the church’s captive insurance carrier, is unethical, forcing victims to seek redress in civil courts for issues the denomination should handle without question.

Abuse is always and everywhere unacceptable. Acting with integrity should not require a court order. The fact that CPG consistently drags victims through the courts is appalling and speaks to priorities profoundly at variance with the message of the gospels, as well as the church’s fiduciary obligation to its members who report misconduct.

Full stop.

And one of these days, the denomination is going to get smacked hard with punitive damages, just like the Boy Scouts and the latter’s $2.6 billion settlement with abuse victims.

When it does, we may very well see CPG and the denomination financially implode. And it’s not like the Episcopal Church hasn’t been warned repeatedly, so no one need shed a tear if the denomination isn’t willing to change its ways.

First, the good stuff

We want to be fair.

With that in mind, we recognize two positive things about the investigation:

  1. It’s good with facts and details. Indeed, given the passage of time, Edward Lee Isler, the attorney who conducted the investigation and prepared the report, did an amazingly good job of amassing details despite the passage of time.
  2. It recognizes (sort of) that all abuse is wrong. Much of the behavior detailed in the report is sexual abuse intertwined with spiritual, relational, and emotional abuse. Fortunately, the report in several places treats all these issues as forms of abuse. (That said, it misses the mark in myriad places. More on that in a moment.) That stands in stark contrast with TEC, which says that all abuse is wrong but typically brushes off anything but sexual abuse as not actionable under the clergy disciplinary canons.

And now, the bad stuff

Now, for the bad stuff in the investigative report.

Defining sexual abuse

To begin with, the report zigs and zags around the issue of what comprises sexual abuse.

Indeed, much of the behavior recounted in the report is sexual abuse, even when physical contact didn’t occur.

Specifically, if the conduct in question involves sex and is for the gratification of the person in the position of power, it counts as sex. And we’re not buying the report’s hair-splitting on that issue.

We see our approach reflected in the American legal system, which routinely jails adults for electronic transmission of child pornography, online solicitation, and more. It doesn’t matter that you are three states or a continent away–sexual activity involving children gets you in deep trouble, even though you may not physically be able to touch the victims.

Thus, Taylor’s discussions with minors about his sex life, masturbation, flattery about the physical appearance of boys under his care, and more count both as grooming AND sexual activity. If he was meeting his own needs, or found these actions stimulating, we can and will toss them in under the heading of “sexual abuse” and leave it at that.

Worrying about which heading behavior falls under, which the investigative report does in a seeming effort to protect TFCA’s reputation, is stupid, a distinction without a difference, and a waste of time. And no parents we know are likely to fall for the investigatory report’s efforts to finagle this issue and provide air cover to the church and its leaders.

Just sayin’.

The Falls Church knew sexual abuse was occurring

Relatedly, the report’s conclusion that the church didn’t know that sexual abuse was going on is a load of BS.

Using our broad definition of sexual misconduct, there are literally dozens of incidents flagged in the report that were, per se, knowledge of sexual abuse. Any one — just one — of these incidents can and should have been the basis for Taylor’s immediate removal from the church.

Among the incidents:

  1. Being alone with boys.
  2. Touching boys inappropriately.
  3. Discussions of masturbation.
  4. Discussions of his own sexual activity.
  5. Traveling alone with boys–and doubly so given his secrecy about travel plans.
  6. Telling boys to keep issues secret from their parents.
  7. One-on-one conversations with boys about sex in remote areas.

In other words, if any of these issues aren’t enough to set off alarm bells at the highest levels, what on earth is? By any reasonable standard, the church knew that there was a problem, and this purported pedophile should have been fired and reported to the police in record-setting time. Heck, if the church doesn’t have the spine to do it, drop us a line. We’ll make the phone call so fast heads will spin and spit out green pea soup while they’re at it.

This view gains support from Yates’ notes, which show that Yates wanted to talk with Taylor about his “deviant” sexual proclivities. Yes, the note was after Taylor had left TFCA, but why were the police not immediately notified? And now, more than a decade later, we are supposed to think that TFCA takes abuse seriously?

So help us understand: Yates had a sexual “deviant” on staff but somehow miraculously didn’t know? Or didn’t have a duty to act?

Spare us.

Taking a pass on BS explanations

Speaking of Yates and over-the-top Sleeping Beauty defenses, the bit about how Yates didn’t know what to do because he didn’t have a bishop is pretty rich.

So Yates decides to try to pull his church out of TEC in violation of his ordination vows, but suddenly he’s clutching his pearls and carrying on about his need for a bishop?

That’s the thing about leadership: Having nuked the hierarchical relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Yates, by definition, was responsible.

Yet the investigatory report references this situation without comment? How does that work?

Similarly, the ACNA diocesan chancellor and his claim that two previous requests for documents “fell off his radar,” doesn’t pass the sniff test. Someone is seeking information on child sex abuse, and he just forgets about it? Not bloody likely.

These situations are another blast of BS, and folks need to have the gumption to call it like it is.

The church was trying to figure out the right thing to do

Then, there is the discussion about how the vestry was trying to figure out the right thing to do. Total BS.

Under the policies then in place, parishes were and are required to report every allegation of abuse to law enforcement immediately. No, “if it’s credible.” No, “not it there are things you don’t know,” a la Amy Curle.

Even if this were not the policy in place at the time of the abuse, it’s the ethical thing to do. There is no discretion, nothing to decide, nothing to figure out.

We want to be absolutely clear: Any concerns about sexual abuse of adults, children, or vulnerable persons, including grooming, should be reported to police without delay. Churches are neither trained nor legally appropriate investigatory agencies. And frankly, who’d want the job? It’s ugly and stressful.

We further note that, in every case where there was doubt about the path forward, the vestry reached a conclusion that protected the church and its reputation versus caring for victims.

Does that surprise anyone?

TFCA does not understand abuse

Relatedly, TFCA doesn’t understand abuse, as evinced by its paying for a specific number of counseling sessions for victims.

Far too often, abuse results in life-long trauma, including suffering, alcoholism, PTSD, suicide, and more. So a one-and-done series of counseling sessions suggests to victims that there is a specific time when they are supposed to get better. Not only is that clueless, but it adds insult to injury.

Even worse, the finite number of counseling sessions makes clear that the church wasn’t listening to victims. Effectively caring for these persons involves asking them, “What do you need?,” versus telling them what the answer would be.

Similarly, the discussion within the church, reflected in the investigatory report, about how some issues were too long ago to pursue is clueless at best. The average child abuse victim doesn’t report until age 52, and so many victims likely still won’t be ready to report. And two out of three abuse cases never get reported, so there may well be numerous other victims in this situation. Not to mention there is no statute of limitations in Virginia for felonies, so we can do without the church trying to make these decisions for others.

So, TFCA has no clue about the dynamics of abuse. And if it doesn’t understand abuse, how can it hope to investigate?

There are too few recommendations in the report to prevent future abuse and the ones that are there aren’t implemented

The report also has far too few recommendations to prevent future abuse. It may be that these emerge via the engagement with Drs. Landberg and Monroe, both noted experts on church abuse. That is our hope.

But it’s difficult to take seriously anything the church says or does when it comes to abuse when the church hasn’t implemented even the thin recommendations in the investigatory report.

For example, the report rightly notes that misconduct information, particularly how to report, should be front and center on the church website—a solution that would take just minutes.

Indeed, when we searched the website, we were unable to find reporting information. But a search shouldn’t be needed — this information should leap out at users. Additionally, not everyone will have internet access or will want to access this information from home or work, so there should be posters in key places throughout the church.

Even a few tangible steps forward would help reinforce that TFCA is taking the matter seriously, versus tossing up smokescreens in the form of this largely worthless report.

Speaking of compliance

While we’re on the topic of compliance, what happened to the policy that requires at least two unrelated adults with children at all times? Not only was this a Diocesan requirement at the time of the abuse, but it is basic, parent-level common sense.

Simply put, there is zero excuse for Taylor to ever be alone with children. Possibly, there would be a rare exception for a few moments in a public portion of the church.

But even then there should be an effort to immediately get another adult in the room, or at least a phone call to the relevant parents. As in, “Josh and I are the last two people at the church. Are you on your way?” And plans should have been in place ahead of time to ensure this didn’t happen. If nothing else, there should be another paid staff member who is assigned to be there until young persons are with their parents or otherwise is a presumably safe environment.

As for Taylor’s so-called “Coke dates,” the word date is spectacularly inappropriate, as is meeting one-on-one, even if there are a 100 other people in the room.

There never should be less then 2 unrelated adults with a youth, and the other adult should be able to hear every word of the conversation, from beginning to end. That’s even true for pastoral care situations.

In addition, training of members was not adequate. The 1990’s may have been the height of purity culture, but members should have been trained to immediately report behavior of the sort we saw coming from Taylor. In fact, it is disturbing that apparently no one in the parish called the police after this dolt allegedly groped their child.

Indeed, parents can file a police report, even if the behavior in question clearly is not illegal.

Thus, comments about boys having “nice abs” and other creepy remarks can be documented, so that if and when later issues arise, law enforcement has needed context to understand what’s going on.

We’re also disappointed in the Fairfax County Police Department for its refusal to go forward in one situation in which a youth claimed not to have experienced abuse.

The young person later contradicted his earlier statements, saying he was embarrassed, afraid, and more.

But these are very common reactions with young people, and abusers invariably know how to play on these insecurities. So rather than backing off when confronted with a denial, the police should have continued their investigation. Moreover, the matter could have been referred to Child Protective Services, which also should be in the loop the moment a complaint arises.

In fairness, some of this situation may have been exacerbated by tension with the diocese, but as we said earlier, the police should have been involved from the get-go.

And if other church members don’t like that a member reported abuse, too damned bad. This is the welfare of children we’re talking about. Better to find a new church than have a child get hurt.

The cowardly way out

As to the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Taylor’s gig after he left the Falls Church, we have zero patience for the non-disclosure agreement and the positive reference it provided for Taylor, which included a lie about whether the church fired Taylor. It’s called “passing the trash,” and it is as unethical as anything could be.

Again, we are talking about the welfare of children.

Any church that is so afraid of being sued that it won’t stand in defense of children or other vulnerable persons but instead signs a non-disclosure, anti-disparagement agreement with a predator should do us all a favor and not call itself a church. This desire to protect the organization at all costs is the antithesis of the Christian faith, and Jesus would have zero use for a church that cannot protect the vulnerable among us.

So, we urge readers to avoid the Church of the Apostles — or any other church complicit in crimes against children.

Spotting the abuser

Anglican Watch has previously discussed John Yates and his mixed record on abuse. Our strong suspicion is that he’s a narcissist and, thus, may be unwilling to call out fellow narcissists.

Be that as it may, the church is clueless if it doesn’t see all the warning signs of a possible narcissistic person with antisocial tendencies in Taylor. Even worse, the investigatory report doesn’t even touch on these issues.

Here are some indicia that Taylor is a narcissist and antisocial, based just on what is in the report:

  1. His need for adulation.
  2. His questionable veracity.
  3. His need to be seen as successful.
  4. His unwillingness to be accountable.
  5. His conflation of church with his identity.
  6. His ability to tell people what they want to hear.
  7. His pursuit of his own needs versus those of persons he claimed to serve.
  8. His machiavellianism and propensity for scheming and manipulation.
  9. His profound issues with boundaries and his endless testing of existing boundaries.

In other words, even if the word “sex” never came up, there were a boatload of reasons to conclude that Taylor was unsuited for ministry. The situation should never have reached the point that allegations of sex were even an issue, and Taylor’s claims that he was “made” for youth ministry are, in themselves, just frightening.

In fact, to the extent Taylor is “made” for anything, we’d be more inclined to agree with predestinarians — Taylor is headed straight to hell. (Regrettably, we don’t believe in a literal hell, but you get the idea.)

Next up

We’re watching the situation at TFCA closely and will likely have additional reporting as the saga of abuse at the church plays out.

But for now, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Much like the Episcopal Church as a whole, as well as its parishes and dioceses, TFCA appears to have inherited a massive tendency towards organizational and interpersonal narcissism.

In the meantime, we welcome information from anyone abused at TFCA and will provide anonymity if so requested. And we hope Taylor will face criminal charges sooner, rather than later, and that TFCA won’t play the “we don’t want to get involved” game when it comes to referring these issues to law enforcement.


  1. Regarding this article, I am underwhelmed. As one who has been involved in these recent events, who knew the abuser personally 30 yrs ago and served as a Cornerstone volunteer, this is far from a fair assessment of the report or TFCA.

    Just one example: “The Falls Church knew sexual abuse was occurring”- oh WOW! But… only if one accepts the Anglican Watch’s changed definition of abuse. That is a cheap shot, and the bias and slant continue throughout the article.

    If you want to be taken seriously AW, do better.

    1. Perhaps we should use the term Yates used in his diary: “deviancy.”

      Newsflash: If you have a sexual deviant on your staff, and s/he works with kids, you need to act immediately. Not a week from now, not a year from now, not when you get around to hiring an investigator. And diocesan policy was specific: Reporting to law enforcement was and is mandated.

      So yes, Yates himself knew. And trying to circle the wagons and defend the indefensible only further damages the church.

      Parents, beware. Right behind the empty platitudes, TFCA already is trying to minimize what happened.

      1. Here again AW, some of us are just expecting you to be more careful with your facts and accusations. There is plenty that TFCA did and is doing wrong. No need for you to embellish.

        Yates’s “deviancy” note is in 2007, after the first victim comes forward and 5 years after Taylor’s departure from TFCA. For you to turn that into Yates knowing he had a deviant on his staff is inexcusable…and again, just unnecessary. Don’t make it so easy for people to discredit you.

        1. And why didn’t Yates didn’t go to the police or request an investigative report then, in 2007? Did he not learn his lesson when he covered up the abuse of six adult women? Seventeen years have passed, and if that is your definition of integrity, no thanks. You can keep it.

          And if groping kids, touching their genitals and rectal areas, and having private conversations in secluded places about masturbation doesn’t meet your definition of abuse, or doesn’t warrant compliance with the mandated reporting policy that applied to the church, then we have an even larger problem.

          Sorry. Nice try.

    2. Every time I counted the safe, there was money missing. But I had NO IDEA anyone was stealing.


    3. Hunt Valley Church looks to be another church where I would be concerned about child safety.

  2. A note to TFCA apologists: If you are going to try the fuzz-and-blur routine or other efforts to run interference for Yates and the church, don’t bother. Your comment won’t be posted.

    The church was subject to mandatory reporting. It did not report, even though there was plenty of reason to do so. And any rational actor had actual or imputed knowledge of the abuse. So, we are not backing down.

    Don’t like it? Start your own publication. We may even be willing to help you.

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