Anglican Watch

Top ten toxic terrors of TEC

Toxic church

Anglican Watch  is pleased to announce its first annual Top Ten Toxic Terrors of TEC list for 2022. Inclusion on the list is intended to highlight people, churches and dioceses that are causing lasting harm to others due to abusive conduct. This is vital for the survival of the denomination, as the church cannot change if it cannot identify its failures.

To qualify for inclusion, dioceses, churches and individuals must be the subject of credible abuse allegations. Qualifying abuse can be sexual or non-sexual in nature, and may include sins of omission—as in turning a blind eye to abuse, refusing to investigate allegations of abuse, refusing to follow church canons about abuse, or otherwise acting as an enabler. This is important, as the Episcopal Church too often simply ignores abuse or blames the victim.

Anglican Watch reminds readers that allegations are just that, allegations. In some cases, we have been able to independently verify allegations against specific dioceses, churches, and individuals. In other cases, a lack of transparency in the Episcopal Church makes this impossible. In still other cases, church officials have actively engaged in cover-up, thus muddying the waters. So it’s important not to jump to conclusions.

We also should remember that friendly is not the same as faithful. Most of the individuals on this list excel at sounding sincere. Some are friendly, which may be used to manipulate others, with bullying and threats the fallback plan when charm doesn’t produce the desired result.

There also was stiff competition for inclusion on the list, with many (not so) excellent candidates for inclusion. But we have tried to identify dioceses, churches and persons whose conduct is causing lasting harm to the church and the Christian faith. We’ve also focused on situations where harm is continuing, versus those in which, for whatever reason, the misconduct has stopped. And we’ve tried to emphasize cases where we have extensive information about the allegations.

As for those who are disappointed to find they’re not included, don’t worry. We’re endlessly rooting around, asking questions, and conducting research. So next year is always a possibility — and we’re never opposed to one-off coverage.

So, without further ado, here we go (drum roll please!):

  1. Episcopal Diocese of Virginia — Despite the many candidates for inclusion on this list, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia puts a major hurt on the competition. Indeed, it manages to be toxic on multiple levels, from the episcopacy itself, to Title IV intake officers, to members of the Standing Committee, to local churches, to persons in the pew. As a result, several other winners have ties to the diocese. Indeed, maybe it’s the presence of the Virginia Theological Seminary in the diocese, but it’s hard to research misconduct in the denomination without the Virginia diocese poking its nose through the tent flap. How did one of the original dioceses of the church wind up an epicenter of dysfunction? The problems have been long in the making, but appear to have really gotten worse under former bishop Shannon Johnston, a master of telling people what they want to hear. Indeed, in his final months in office, Johnston waxed rhapsodic about diocesan staff, even as it was abundantly clear that diocesan headquarters was profoundly dysfunctional.

Today, the diocese is in worse shape than ever, having recently shrugged off allegations of adultery by a married priest, Tom Simmons (more on him later). No surprise there — one prominent member of the standing committee has told victims of abuse that they are “absolutely out of line” for complaining. That behavior speaks volumes about what’s normative within the diocese and just how unhealthy the diocese really is. Indeed, could there be anyone less suited to a so-called leadership role than someone who brushes off allegations of abuse?

Nor are things likely to get better under bishop-elect Stevenson. In true TEC passive-aggressive fashion, he’s already ignoring issues on which he does not wish to engage—even though he doesn’t know enough to know what should be ignored, and what should be keeping him up at night.

  1. Bishop Shannon Johnston — Speaking of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, now retired bishop Shannon Johnston really is a piece of work. In addition to the issues identified above, Johnston has repeatedly ignored complaints of illegal behavior by clergy under his supervision. No surprise there, as he also covered up egregious sexual harassment by diocesan clergy. And he consistently ignored church canons requiring a pastoral response in every case in which a formal disciplinary complaint is made against clergy.

    The cherry on top is that Johnston is a master of cheap grace. Indeed, he is famous for apologizing for his conduct, while making no changes in his behavior. And today, this seeming narcissist from hell is trying to portray himself as a great peacemaker. Typical.

    Not surprisingly, such behavior discredits the diocese and the larger church.
  1. Bishop Todd Ousley — Former bishop of Eastern Michigan, Todd Ousley jumped ship one step ahead of the implosion of his diocese. Landing a cushy gig as the bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development, Ousley has repeatedly refused to deal with non-sexual misconduct by bishops, including outrageous behavior by Shannon Johnston. The exception was the case of St. James the Great in Newport, in which Bishop Bruno’s behavior was so bad it simply couldn’t be ignored. And while the end result was appropriate, if rather mild, the case was clumsily handled on multiple levels. Indeed, the consequences of Bruno’s behavior were so mild as to arguably incentivize others to also behave badly.

Prior to landing in the presiding bishop’s office, Ousley was part of the church appellate court that overturned the removal of Charles Bennison as a bishop over his failure to act in a case involving child sexual abuse. The decision, while legally accurate, was based on a technicality. And given the loosey-goosey attitude of the church towards its own canon laws, this was not the time to get overly precise.

But the most telling issue with Ousley was his handling of allegations involving Bishop Whayne Hougland. The latter allegedly had an extramarital affair, and was suspended from ministry for a year. Prior to his return, the dioceses he “served” decided not to have him back. Ousley arranged a generous severance package for Hougland that essentially rewarded misconduct, while penalizing the dioceses. Adding insult to injury, Ousley lauded his efforts as exemplifying the highest ideals of the church disciplinary process.

Probably the only person who agrees is Hougland himself.

  1. Diocesan Chancellor J.P. Causey — Serving as chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Causey has his finger in every pie, from the refusal of the diocese to follow church disciplinary canons, to serving on the denominational Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons, to screening resolutions pending before the diocesan annual convention. Nothing wrong with any of that, but Causey epitomizes old-school apparatchiks, with a sole focus on protecting the organization, while ignoring abuse victims. And yes, that includes ignoring the very church canons that Causey edits, which require specific steps when an allegation of misconduct is received.

Thus, Causey attempts to protect the church, even as he causes it to rot from within. And his baleful impact is felt at every level of the denomination. It’s time for Causey to either get a clue when it comes to abuse or get lost.

  1. Bishop Susan Goff — Influenced by Causey, Virginia Ecclesiastical Authority Susan Goff is a master of sin via “things left undone.” From holding listening sessions that resulted in nothing, to ignoring illegal conduct by clergy under her supervision, to rewarding an adulterous priest with free counseling (yup, Simmons) while ignoring the victims of that priest’s abuse, Goff is TEC writ large, a masterwork of passive-aggressive ineptitude and a BFF for abusive clergy.

And while Goff is prepared to take a pass on most clergy disciplinary issues, heaven help you if you are a priest and commit lèse-majesté. As former priest Lura Caval well knows, ignore a pastoral directive on Planet Goff and you are toast. Meanwhile, Goff talks a good game when it comes to inclusion and addressing systemic racism, but when it comes to walking the walk, Goff should rightly be named Goof. And that is putting it kindly.

  1. Fr. Robert Malm — By now, you’ve probably noticed that the Diocese of Virginia looms large on this list. And there are many folks, lay and ordained, in the diocese who have worked hard to land on the list and ensure that the diocese wins by a landslide. But when it comes to bad behavior by clergy there’s no bigger man on campus than the former rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria Va., Robert aka Bob Malm.

Malm, now retired and serving as an interim, has been succinctly described by one colleague, who says: “Bob’s been getting away with murder for years.” That includes bullying, perjury, filing false police reports, lying to vestry members, utter indifference to church management issues and more. Much more.

But TEC too often is all about image, and Malm is, on the surface, all smiles and hugs, and innocent-sounding things like, “That’s awful.” As a result, church members say stupid things like, “He brings us great joy,” even as they blindly ignore atrocious behavior. And behind the scenes Malm trades “that’s awful,” for narcissistic rages, replete with, “Why should I give a fuck?”

For anyone else in his situation, the answer should be, “Because you’re a priest.” But in Malm’s case, he’s a priest in name only, so don’t waste your time.

  1. Grace Episcopal Church, Alexandria Va. — One of the great truths of life in TEC is that dioceses become like their bishops, while churches become like their rectors. Leave a toxic priest like Bob Malm, above, in place for 30 years and et voilà! Toxic church, guaranteed.

    Just like Malm, folks at Grace seemingly are friendly and inclusive. But scratch the surface and the toxic gusts rage, ranging from bullying and gossip, to disclosing confidential giving, to lying about others, to urging others to commit suicide, to supporting Malm’s perjury.

Nor does the notion of accountability enter the picture. Indeed, members will sometimes urge others to “move on,” on the basis that Bob Malm is gone. And while it’s true that Malm is gone, this is a case the gift that keeps on giving. Yes, forgetting about the church’s behavior would prove convenient for church members, but they’ve done nothing to earn it. And while the church likes to ignore the scraping sound along the hull, the loss of more than half of its pledging units in just a few years makes clear that the sound is indeed that of an iceberg.

Nor does the church have any interest in telling the truth — the church continues to do its utmost to avoid accountability, even trying to wiggle out of giving testimony in litigation involving Malm’s misconduct.

Sarah Brightman hit the nail on the head: This is a case of “time to say goodbye.”

  1. Fr. Stephen McWhorter — Anglican Watch has received multiple allegations of sexual misconduct involving McWhorter, ranging from complaints by a former male parishioner in Pittsburgh to allegations of egregious sexual harassment by an adult female church employee. We have contacted him for comment, as well as the church in Alabama where he now serves as a priest associate. No response, and he continues to serve as a priest. Moreover, his current bishop, Glenda Curry, is known to have received at least one complaint about him, which she has ignored.

    For the record, we find the allegations credible and are appalled at the atrocious behavior coming from the various bishops involved. Shannon Johnston and Glenda Curry, here’s looking at you.
  1. Fr. Oran Warder — Here we are, back in Ole’ Virginny, where Warder serves as rector of St. Paul’s in Alexandria.

    At first blush, you’d think Warder was a prude. After all, he jumped through hoops to fire an elderly preschool employee who made an offhand remark about Warder “throwing his dick around.” Most would consider that a small problem in the scheme of things, and not the sort of thing to fire someone over shortly before retirement. Something about Christian forgiveness.

    But neither prudish principles nor tiny body parts were anywhere to be seen when it came to light that David and Anne Ayres, prominent members of Warder’s parish, may have been at the very heart of the scandal involving “enhanced interrogation,” or torture, of Muslims caught up in America’s so-called “war on terror.” In fact, not long after the allegations emerged, Warder made it a point to publicly compliment Anne Ayres on her volunteer work for the parish. Oh, and Anne Ayres was allegedly deeply involved in the so-called “dick debacle.” Something about the log in thine own eye.

    As we’ve said many times, inclusion is not the same as laissez-faire. When church loses moral perspective, it ceases to be church. And in the vanguard of ethics-free Christianity is Warder himself.
  1. the Rev. Dr. Tom Simmons — Simmons, married to the infamous Ollie North’s daughter, is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal in Purcellville Va. And speaking of ethics-free faith, he’s also a documented adulterer.

    The delicious irony is that Simmons likes to gas on in opposition to same-sex marriage. But given his conduct, replete with prurient emails to the married woman he is seeing, we don’t see that his opinion counts for much. Toss in allegations of abusive conduct towards his children and claims of drug use, and Simmons spells bad news writ large.

    To make matters worse, when Bishop Susan Goff learned of Simmon’s conduct, she decided to reward him with pastoral counseling. As for those hurt by Simmons, nothing. Crickets. Silence. They are left to their own devices in a scene straight out of Todd Ousley’s playbook.

    Must be something they teach in seminary. Meanwhile, the conservative congregation at St. Peter’s appears willing to ignore Simmons’ atrocious conduct. That tells us all we need to know about this toxic crock of goo.
  1. Special Bonus: Bishop Alan Gates — Gates is another Episcopal bishop who thinks that church canons only apply when he feels like it. Specifically, he is prepared to ignore complaints of illegal behavior by clergy within his diocese of Massachusetts because he already knows everything he needs to know about their conduct. And how did he acquire that knowledge, we might ask? The answer comes as no surprise — he talked to the great lights of Western Christianity in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

    Ironically, prior to ordination, Gates served in the intelligence community. Thus, you’d think Gates would think for himself and learn to separate good intel from bad intel.

    But then, maybe that’s why Gates is clergy, versus the director of national intelligence. Or maybe Gates simply typifies the feckless attitude of Episcopal clergy.

    Only God knows.

If you have a candidate for coverage in Anglican Watch, get in touch via our secure online form. We’re happy to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *