To the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
Dear Bishop Katharine,
I had the honor of meeting you at a donors’ dinner when you visited the Diocese of San Diego in 2008. I had organized that event, and I was the sacristan for the clergy eucharist the next morning. You graciously acknowledged how effectively I was working for the church.
I am writing today with a concern about Bishop Pierre Whalon. In the bishop’s October 18, 2012 report to the Episcopal Churches in Europe, he characterized a New York Post article that he said was based on Erik Campano’s statement as “libelous.” Against the unified opinion of the FaithTrust Institute, the Hope of Survivors, and the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, Whalon called Erik’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Mother Ginger Strickland “completely baseless.” In effect, and without grounds, he accused Erik of lying both to the church and the Post.
Indeed, the Post did print a clarification (Bishop Whalon mistakenly termed it a retraction) after conferring with attorneys for the church. But the statement doesn’t refute Erik’s claims; instead it addresses a meaningless technicality. Does it really matter whether Mother Strickland had yet been ordained when she sought sexual gratification with Erik? As a candidate for ordination, she was already subject to the church’s sexual misconduct policy. She had received training specifically forbidding her to date a person under her care. (“Don’t do the pew,” as she expressed it to Erik.) And even before she became a deacon, Ginger Strickland was by no means an ordinary layperson. She was in charge of the youth ministry, she recruited Erik as a volunteer, and the congregation knew that she was on the path to ordination.
By way of analogy: if my accounting firm made an error on my taxes, do you think they could avoid responsibility by claiming that the accountant hadn’t yet earned her CPA? Absolutely not. Neither should the Episcopal Church duck out of responsibility to Erik Campano, or allow their bishops to smear Erik’s character publicly and in writing to the entire Episcopal Church in Europe.
In a spirit of full disclosure: I have also endured clergy sexual misconduct in the Episcopal Church. Like Erik, I was also harmed by the church’s response. As an Episcopalian, I pledged generously (my total donations far exceeded my Church Insurance settlement), and I was a leader on the bishop’s Diocesan Council. Since that time, I have co-led a successful $1 million capital campaign for a congregation in the United Church of Christ. I share these facts not to boast, but to let you know that when Title IV fails, Episcopalians may redirect their resources outside the church. The loss to the church can be material. But always, regardless of money, the loss grieves the heart of God.
The Episcopal Church is not the only place where this harmful behavior occurs. In my blog SurvivorsAwakenTheChurch.com, I address the issue broadly. But the Episcopal Church is your flock, Bishop Katharine. You can’t change all churches, but you can make your church safer for the “little ones.” I hope you will ask Bishop Whalon to retract, publicly and in writing, his character-defaming words against Erik Campano, and I hope you will lead a reform of the whole system. The new Title IV offers strong protection to complainants. If bishops would consistently follow the canon and protect the vulnerable, people like me might still be in your church.
Yours in the struggle toward truth, justice, and healing,