Anglican Watch

Title IV panel recommends Tommie Watkins be defrocked. We agree.

Tommie Lee Watkins

The long-running Title IV clergy disciplinary case against the Rev. Dr. Tommie Lee Watkins, an openly gay priest and social worker in Alabama, is drawing to a close. And while we have some firmly held concerns about Title IV in Alabama, including the possibility of racially disparate outcomes, Anglican Watch concludes that the Title IV hearing panel properly recommended that Watkins be defrocked. We also have significant concerns that Watkins may be a serial predator.

Potential structural racism

Before we go further, let’s discuss our concerns about possible racial disparity. 

For starters, we believe it is spectacularly inappropriate that the diocese continues to allow Stephen McWhorter, who is white, to serve as clergy.

We have received multiple allegations that McWhorter has engaged in egregious sexual harassment of a female church employee who now struggles with PTSD. 

We’ve also heard from a male individual who alleges that McWhorter made unwanted sexual advances against him while serving as rector of a parish in Pittsburgh, Pa. The latter are unconfirmed allegations; we have documented the claims involving the female church employee.

Still worse, then Virginia bishop Shannon Johnston covered up the abuse of the female church employee, telling her everything was confidential and refusing to provide the pastoral response mandated by Title IV.

This behavior is consistent with Johnston’s actions in other Title IV cases where he repeatedly refused to provide a pastoral response, brushed off allegations of criminal misconduct by clergy because he didn’t want to get involved, and more. 

But Johnston’s misconduct doesn’t need to be Glenda Curry’s misconduct, and there is no reason for McWhorter to be serving in any capacity, even in his retirement. Sexual harassment of any sort is unacceptable and should be a zero-tolerance offense. 

So we continue questioning why McWhorter gets a pass while the black, gay priest gets the nuclear option. And McWhorter’s behavior appears to be as bad as Watkins’ misconduct.

And since the diocese refuses to answer our inquiries, this remains a valid line of questioning.

We further note that attorney Brad Davenport, now retired, was involved in this case. That makes us uneasy because he has ties to several appallingly poorly handled Title IV cases in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Indeed, his connections to corrupt Episcopal bishop Shannon Johnston are enough to make even the most trusting queasy.

Sexual misconduct allegations

The Watkins case has been arduous mainly due to dilatory and obstructive conduct by canon lawyer Michael Rehill, who represented Watkins. 

And to its credit, the hearing panel has been remarkably patient.

We also note that there is undoubtedly much going on behind the scenes. 

For example, canon lawyer Rehill withdrew from representation several days before the Title IV hearing. This timing is quite unusual in legal practice and usually happens when a client intends to proffer false testimony, and the attorney cannot dissuade the client from doing so. But given Rehill’s recent antics, it’s anyone’s guess what’s behind his withdrawal. 

In reviewing the documents filed with the hearing panel, Anglican Watch concludes that the hearing panel acted reasonably and that Watkins engaged in sexual misconduct. 

In particular, one of Watkins’ assertions drew our attention:

Even if true, these facts do not a violation of the Canons make as DK is a gay consenting adult male who admitted see’s [sic] Father Tommie as a friend and not a pastor, and as a gay adult white male DK has complete agency over his choices and life.

Yet “DK” was a counselor at a summer camp where Watkins worked as a chaplain. In that regard, Watkins attempts to differentiate between the counselors and campers. Specifically, Watkins claims he was a chaplain to the campers, not the counselors. 

That is a ludicrous distinction and the equivalent of saying, “It wasn’t sexual harassment. Yes, we worked in the same company, but the victim worked in a different department, so it doesn’t count.” Spare us.

Further, Watkins mounts a due process claim, saying no one interviewed him. But he was given plenty of opportunities to provide his side of the story — including showing up at the hearing, which he did not do. Thus, his pleadings are, at best, facially faulty.

Similarly, the diocese alleges that Watkins attempted to sidestep matters by seeking jobs in the dioceses of New Jersey and the Virgin Islands while not acknowledging the pending Title IV case. How he thought that would work escapes us, even as it underscores the need for a national database. Even the Southern Baptists are finally heading in that direction, at least on paper. So why does the Episcopal church think it doesn’t need one?

We also note that Watkins ignored our previous email asking for comments.

Thus, we believe the whole thing boils down to Watkins realizing that the diocese had enough evidence to find him guilty. And his ongoing pattern of manipulation, abuse of power, and disregard for norms suggest Watkins may be a predator.

We hope the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners remove Watkins from all opportunities to exploit power differentials. While we have no issue with clergy of any race, political views, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or any other label that might detract from their ministry, Anglican Watch has zero tolerance for abusive clergy. 

That phrase, “abusive clergy,” applies perfectly to Tommie Watkins. And while we remain deeply concerned about racial bias regarding white clergy, Watkins fully deserves to be defrocked.

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