Anglican Watch recently passed a milestone, which we marked without fanfare. That milestone is the eighth anniversary of Episcopal priest Bob Malm’s abusive behavior that ultimately led to the creation of this publication. And while we didn’t pull out the champagne and caviar to celebrate, we extend our congratulations to Malm for this, the major accomplishment of his more than 40 years in ministry. (The month at the beach every summer and the $100,000 bonus while at Grace Episcopal Alexandria don’t count.)
With that in mind, here is some background and an update.
Following Malm’s efforts to force Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti and his family out of the church over Bonetti’s request to the Diocese of Virginia to mediate a dispute with Malm, Malm’s behavior quickly spiraled downhill as it became clear that Malm’s bullying and lies about Bonetti weren’t working. Among Malm’s actions:
- Illegally misusing memorial donations from Bonetti and his family to the church.
- Instructing church staff to remove Bonetti and his family from the church directory and all church publications.
- Falsely telling the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, in writing, that Bonetti is mentally ill.
- Filing multiple false, frivolous, and abusive civil cases against Bonetti. Then, in true abuser fashion, pulling a DARVO and claiming that Malm is the victim.
- Engaging in abusive behavior in court, including falsely claiming that Bonetti is a “domestic terrorist,” refusing to obey court orders, engaging in spoliation of evidence (hiding evidence adverse to Malm), and refusing to cooperate during discovery.
- Trying to drag Bonetti’s mother, then dying of COPD, into court violating state law.
- Contacting Bonetti’s church and his employer and falsely telling them that Bonetti had threatened him.
Malm’s behavior also included several actions constituting misdemeanors and felonies under state law. This illegal behavior includes:
- Filing multiple false police reports against Bonetti, including telling police that Bonetti had “stalked and terrorized” his family.
- Repeatedly committing perjury in legal proceedings he brought against Bonetti. This perjury was on the witness stand and in writing during pre-trial discovery.
Until recently, the Dioceses of Virginia and Massachusetts have adamantly refused to follow church canons and address the matter. In every instance, they have found pretextual reasons to dismiss Title IV complaints against Malm.
Disturbingly, one of the intake officers engaged in this coverup, Sven vanBaars, remains in his role as an intake officer. Given that vanBaars is far from stupid, his previous corruption should, at a minimum, prevent any future role as an intake officer.
As for claims he didn’t understand his role, spare us. We’re not buying that for an instant.
Recently, the Diocese of Virginia, which has a new bishop, has finally begun taking issues involving Malm’s illegal conduct seriously.
Out of respect for those involved, we will not share specifics just yet.
But we question whether, even today, diocesan officials fully realize that Malm has engaged in illegal conduct.
Nor is this an arguable conclusion: If Malm says A under oath, then a minute later says B under oath, and A and B are unambiguous and facially inconsistent, it follows that one of the statements is perjurious.
And guess what? We believe that priests who commit perjury should be defrocked. Simple as that.
Even more disturbingly, Malm is a proponent of the Big Lie theory.
Much like a specific political figure now facing criminal charges, Malm claims:
- It’s all the fault of his attorneys.
- He believes his claims, and thus his lies and other abuse somehow magically don’t count.
- His definitions of the words “threatening” and “stalking” are different from everyone else’s definitions.
- Others believe his claims, so they must be true.
- The fact he bought “single button panic buttons” for the church bears on Bonetti’s conduct.
- And more.
In other words, Malm creates his universe of “alternative facts,” and tries to pull people into that universe.
Thus, we believe Malm is a narcissist, replete with the usual bag of tricks of excessive charm, lack of accountability, and a desire to crush anyone who pokes holes in his veil of narcissistic illusion. Kind of like certain other batsnot cray clergy we cover—no specific individuals named.
Moreover, given his lack of empathy, lack of integrity, and the lack of self-constraints on his behavior, we believe Malm is a psychopath.
Yet disturbingly, Malm continues as supply clergy. That is a recipe for disaster. Possibly not an immediately apparent disaster, but things never end well in these situations.
We’re also reminded of the old adage about justice delayed being justice denied.
While we are glad the Diocese of Virginia is finally trying to act with integrity, the glacial pace at which it moves sends a message. And that message isn’t helpful.
Additionally, clergy misconduct invariably involves primary and secondary victims.
In that regard, we are not sure the diocese recognizes that one of the victims is Malm’s former parish of Grace Episcopal, Alexandria.
After 30 years of a narcissistic rector, the latter is what we expect: ostensibly friendly and welcoming, a toxic cesspool beneath the surface. And no amount of artful sermons or pastoral care will ever fix the situation without dragging parish skeletons into the light of day.
Plus, when the parish was in transition, there were plenty of clergy whose reaction was, “Um, wouldn’t get me to apply there in a million years.” That should tell people something right off the bat.
So, we are waiting to see how things turn out with Bob Malm. But we are deeply concerned that the diocese will try a quick fix—as in, “Everyone hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya, and we’re good.”
For the record, peace with honor didn’t work in Vietnam. It’s not going to work in this case.
And unless the diocese is very astute, Malm’s propensity for lying, manipulation, deception, charm bombing, and other game-playing may once again result in him emerging largely unaccountable for his behavior.
That behavior — and the abysmal way judicatories have tried to avoid dealing with it — has brought profound discredit to the Episcopal Church, the diocese, and the parishes where Malm has worked. And threads of the underlying conflict extend throughout the church — hardly a surprise in such a tiny denomination.
In other words, if the diocese does not want to lose its only Anglo-Catholic parish, it needs to move fast. Everything may seem happy-clappy on the surface, but Grace church is quickly lurching toward closure.
Nor should folks be sanguine about other, smaller churches in the area. The whirlpool that happens when Grace sinks will pull many smaller ships down with it.
Our warning about Grace church remains
In the meantime, Anglican Watch maintains our warning about Grace Church: those considering membership in the parish should consider the behavior that goes on there. This misconduct includes:
- Lisa Medley, Alison Campbell, and Kelly Gable with the junior high school games, the obscene gestures, the lies and gossip, and more.
- Lucy Medley’s written comments urging Bonetti to commit suicide. Anyone who grows up in the parish and thinks that sort of thing is okay has serious issues. And that behavior speaks volumes about Medley’s home life and experiences at church.
- Kemp Williams and his childish gossip.
- Jeff Sugarland Chiow, with his courtroom fabrications and claims of “domestic terrorism.” We’re talking a guy who even makes up imaginary church shootings, in imaginary towns in Texas, for his pleadings.
- The lack of accountability within the parish
- The myriad behind-the-scenes petty games and shunning at the choir, vestry, and altar guild
- Leslie Steffensen’s fabrications about church members.
- And the list goes on.
Yes, everyone is friendly and welcoming at Grace, but all that glitters is not gold. Neither is someone who is friendly necessarily faithful.
Anglican Watch also warns those out there who might consider poking their sniffers into this conflict to back folks at AW down. The warning is: don’t try it.
Not only will you not succeed, but we’ll spot your efforts in record time and shout them out from the rooftops.
In closing, we do not believe that the diocese or anyone else can repair all or even most of the damage Malm has caused. And the church’s corrupt efforts to avoid dealing with these issues underscore the near-total meltdown of ethics within the Episcopal Church.
But we continue to hope to see Malm held accountable and repentance and restitution from the church. But given the Episcopal Church’s track record and the particularly sordid conduct of the Diocese of Virginia, even these fundamental notions of Christian conduct may be asking too much from the church.