Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘Bishop John Schol’

Open Letter to Bishop John Schol

Dear Bishop Schol,

The UMC youth groups have returned from the JUNE Project led by disgraced former minister Darryl Duer. It’s too late to protect these kids, but it’s not too late to safeguard the future.

In 2013, you received “Lisa’s” complaint against Darryl Duer for clergy sexual misconduct. You judged rightly that Duer was unworthy to be a minister in the UMC, but you judged wrong when you let him go quietly. Secrecy may have been easier in the moment, but look at the danger you have brought on your congregations. At least three of your ministers continue to give Duer access to their youth groups. If any of those young people are harmed, their parents could claim that you knew of the danger and failed to warn them. 

In 2014, when Lisa learned that Darryl Duer was still running the JUNE Project, she contacted you to ask you to keep UMC youth from attending. You sent a note to three of your ministers, telling them that that a former camp participant had made a serious, substantiated complaint against Duer. In response, he canceled that summer’s camp, but he was back in business the very next summer. At least one of your ministers, Pastor Brian Neville of Hillsdale, brought his youth group in 2015. Here’s their slide show, including a big, clear photo of Darryl Duer. 

You claim that you continue to monitor and warn others about Duer. Really? Did you not know that your ministers are still working with him? If you look at Facebook you can see that Hillsdale UMC participated in the JUNE Project again last week, and that St Peter’s of Ocean City was there too. St Peter’s has re-labeled the project as “Hope Rescue Mission,” but it’s the same camp. One of the photos clearly shows Duer in a leadership role. Gibbsboro UMC may or may not be at the camp, but they are still big fans of Darryl Duer. Pastor Rob Lewis proudly lists “JUNE Project” in his staff bio as one of his leadership roles, and he invited “Pastor Daryl Duer” (sic) to speak at the church’s potluck breakfast worship on July 3.

In short: by failing to give clear warning, you have put countless young people in danger.

Since Mr. Duer no longer has credentials in the UMC, I understand that you can’t stop him from running his service project. But you can communicate the truth clearly to all of your ministers, all of their congregations, and the parents of all the young people who have ever participated in the JUNE Project. And the truth is that Darryl Duer sexually abused a former camp participant. He did so by exploiting his power as minister, his knowledge of her life history, and her trust in him as a minister. He does not deserve the trust of young people or their parents; he is a dangerous man.

When Lisa filed her compaint, she did it for one reason: to save other young people from what happened to her. She has never asked anything of the church but to keep Duer away from its youth. In 2013, you wrote a letter to clergy about a former pastor implicated for misuse of funds. You could have — you should have — written a similar letter to clergy warning them about Darryl Duer. With his offense, it wasn’t mere dollars at stake, but human lives.

Please, Bishop Schol — it’s not too late to do the right thing. 

Yours in Christ,

Catherine Thiemann

Update, August 7: this newspaper account confirms that Gibbsboro UMC also brought a group to Duer’s camp.

Update, January 2017: Bishop Schol’s excellent response.

Why the Church Needs Trials

Last month, in a widely covered trial, the United Methodist Church gave the Rev. Frank Schaefer a 30-day suspension for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. Last Thursday, when he refused to give up his clergy credentials, the church defrocked him.

The next morning, New Jersey Bishop John Schol offered a heartfelt statement of support for Frank Schaefer. His voice breaking with emotion, Bishop Schol spoke his sorrow to gay and lesbian Methodists in the Greater New Jersey Conference. He told them, “There are many people in the United Methodist Church who care about you, love you, and are very sad about what’s happened.”

I applaud Bishop Schol’s compassionate message to LGBT people, and I salute his courage in standing up for his defrocked colleague. But I could not disagree more with the central point of his message: “I do not believe that trials are helpful to our church.” Schol says we need to follow the example of the early church, who “knew how to be in conversation and bring wise people together to hear and listen.” He said, “I would like to see trials within the United Methodist Church stopped.”

I couldn’t disagree more. As painful as church trials can be, they are an important element of justice. If the church replaces trials with informal huddles of “wise people,” offenders will find it easier to manipulate the process. Far too often, offenders choose to resign quietly so they can avoid a trial. Without the publicity of a trial, offenders can continue to prey unchecked; they just have to find a new church to prey in.

The congregation also pays a price for secrecy. When a pastor takes sexual advantage of a vulnerable congregant, the congregation receives a wound. Without disclosure and a healthy process, this wound can fester for years, or even for generations. In pain, the congregation often turns against the victim: blaming her, shunning her, and multiplying her trauma manyfold.

Victims pay the highest price of all. Most of us only report our abusers when we realize that other women (or men or children) are at risk. I paid a high price for reporting “Pastor Kevin,” but I would have paid that price to protect even one woman. Most victims feel the same way. If our abusers remain at large, then we have sacrificed for nothing.

I hope Bishop Schol will reconsider his position. A fellow survivor, whose complaint Bishop Schol handled earlier this year, has written about her experience. In addition, I have posted a letter in response to his message. I hope he will read my letter and take it to heart. As church, we need a process to resolve conflict and to protect the most vulnerable. Without trials, the church will always be at the mercy of the most skilled manipulator in the room.

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