Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘Episcopal Church’

Healing Service at St Paul’s

I told a lie last month. I told myself (and my readers) that it didn’t hurt much when I found out that the leaders at Scott’s new church had called my complaint “meritless” even after he had proven himself a predator in their midst. 

Three days later, I wondered why my life felt so unexplainably wrong. I felt off-balance, hurt, afraid, and angry, and I didn’t know why. Then I remembered: “meritless.” Of course. That word wasn’t just a reminder of an old wound; it was a brand-new wound. A whole new congregation, hundreds of miles away, now believed I was a nut, a slut, or a liar. And who had inflicted this wound? Ultimately, “meritless” had its roots in whatever Bishop Mathes told Bishop Andrus about me and my complaint. Mathes may have been (mostly) forthcoming at the January 2016 meeting at St Paul’s, but he seems to have told a different story in 2012 — a story that continues to harm my reputation. 

As I was thinking about this chain of events, I remembered the upcoming healing service at St Paul’s. They were planning this offering for the 14th of May. I’d been talking with the priest in charge of the project (for whom I have enormous respect), and I’d asked my own pastor if our church could co-sponsor. I knew that Bishop Mathes would play a role in this service. I had some qualms about accepting healing from a man who continued to publicly minimize my story — and who had explicitly told me to stop contacting him — but I wanted to support the church’s good effort. I’d told the organizers I would be there, and I promised to share the word with my churchmates and my readers.

“Meritless” changed everything. I felt sick just thinking about being at the service, or even being in the same room with the bishop. As much as I wanted to support the church’s effort, I couldn’t expose myself to the harm of being present — and I couldn’t recommend it to other survivors. With regret, I told the organizer that I wouldn’t be there, and I told her why.

Then I stopped thinking about it. With my older son planning a visit, May 14 took on a happier and lighter meaning. Then, the afternoon before the service, a friend forwarded me this notice from the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral: 

“Contrary to prior announcements, Bishop Mathes will not be present.” 

It took me less than a minute to make up my mind to go.

The healing service was holy ground. By coincidence (?), I ran into a trusted friend at the door, so I didn’t have to sit alone. The liturgists had chosen beautiful readings: Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 139:1-17Luke 8:43-48, and Luke 14:1-6.  The litany of healing from the January 26 meeting was woven into this service too. The hymns were comforting (except for the line “let me forgive as one forgiven;” forgiveness is complicated for survivors of CSM.) The priests offered words of reflection after the gospel readings; those were beautiful and helpful too. With the priests’ permission, I may share those words in this blog.

There were only about a dozen of us there. The service was so intimate that we gathered in the chancel; we were a small group surrounding the altar. After the readings, we were invited to receive prayer with laying on of hands. When I went forward, I asked the priest to pray not only for me but for the congregation. That is my fervent prayer; we all need to heal together. 

Finally, we were offered communion. Receiving the wine was the scariest moment for me. The woman holding the chalice, formerly a dear friend, had shown me great unkindness after I reported Scott. But as she held out the sacramental cup, she gave me a warm look of welcome. I knew she wasn’t there by random chance. She had to have volunteered for this role. I choose to see her actions as an offering of peace. For that, I am grateful.

It has been five weeks since I found out about the disparaging label “meritless.” I wanted to write more about it, and I wanted to write about my plans to stay away from the service, but all of it hurt too much to think about. I’m now glad I didn’t write. My silence may have made room for the bishop’s grace-filled decision to stay away.

It’s been five days since the service. Before I shared here, I needed to let the waters settle. Paradoxically, the church’s welcome opened the lid on my excruciating memories of being shunned. I needed time to deal with that pain, and I needed time to figure out what this healing service meant. Did it make a difference? Yes. The service didn’t erase my wounds or my scars, but it opened the door for me to be part of the community again. I don’t think anyone expects me to rejoin the church — but now I know I’ll be genuinely welcome when I visit.

Here is another measure of healing. Next Monday, my pastor will co-lead a candidates’ forum with the dean of St Paul’s. Before this service, I would have felt a pang of loss on seeing the announcement: “This will be a great event, but I’m not wanted there.” But now? I happily put the forum on my calendar. A church that was once my beloved spiritual home, and then was scorched earth, has been restored to me. 

My life is one degree more whole. 

The journey of healing continues.

Swept Under the Carpet

Remember that letter I sent to the pastoral search committee at my offender’s new church? I referred to the letter here. I never heard back from the search committee or their bishop, so I assumed they had swept my warning under the carpet.

Now I’m not so sure. The spring 2016 issue of Cow Hollow Church News (the newsletter of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco) carries a detailed account of the congregational meeting that followed Scott’s defrocking on pages 20-22. “The vestry pledged transparency,” the article begins. Did they deliver on that promise? Let’s find out.

The church’s Junior Warden spoke first. She spoke of her “personal struggle” with the news. She had admired Scott’s spiritual gifts, as had many in the congregation. (As had I, in fact.) “He was a compassionate and helpful pastoral counselor for her on several occasions as she navigated some of life’s challenges,” the article states. I can’t read those words without shuddering; that’s exactly how Scott worked to gain my trust. 

The Senior Warden spoke next. He praised the vestry for having held the burden of confidentiality during the proceedings. Then he
“addressed a decision made when Scott was called to St. Mary’s three years ago. At the 13th hour in that process, he revealed, a few members of the Search Committee and the vestry learned of a Title IV complaint charged to Scott in San Diego. The individuals went to Bishop Marc. He confirmed that there had been a complaint but that after a thorough investigation, the complaint had been found to be meritless. Given this information, the small group did not pass this information on to other members of the Search Committee or vestry.”

Meritless??

Meritless??!!??

Thank God for six years of healing. Rather than triggering a new wave of trauma, “meritless” only caused a few minutes of irritation. Of course my complaint wasn’t meritless! In the congregational meeting at St. Paul’s on January 26, 2016, Bishop Mathes confirmed that I had been speaking the truth. “After assessing the facts, which were not in dispute,” he told the congregation, “I made the determination that the matter did not rise to the level of a Title IV complaint, but was a serious error.” He placed Scott under pastoral direction, a consequence so severe that it becomes a mandatory part of any background check. Indeed, when Scott became a candidate at St Mary’s, Bishop Mathes revealed this fact to Bishop (Marc) Andrus. Mathes may or may not have tried to characterize Scott’s offense against me as “minor”; he may or may not have told Bishop Marc that Scott caused me enough harm to merit a settlement from the Episcopal Church’s insurance arm. But even if Bishop Marc didn’t hear that from Bishop Mathes, he (and the vestry and search committee heads) had that fact from me directly, via my “13th hour” letter.

Did Bishop Mathes describe my complaint to Bishop Marc as “meritless”? I doubt it. Did Bishop Marc use that word when he talked to the vestry and search committee? Did the Senior Warden use that word when he spoke at the congregational meeting? Or was it simply a word that the article’s author chose to summarize her understanding of the case?

I will never know where “meritless” came from. But regardless of who said what to whom, it still appears that the truth of Scott’s harmful behavior in San Diego has been swept under the carpet by at least one of the voices in that chain of communication. I’m angry at yet one more lie told about my story, but at the same I’m proud of the Senior Warden for publicly acknowledging my effort to alert church leaders. Even if he handled my communication imperfectly, at least he made the congregation aware I had tried. So — I give St Mary’s vestry credit for transparency.

But let’s get back to the meeting. The next speaker was the Associate Rector, whom I can’t praise highly enough. She revealed she had been the first of the complainants against Scott at St. Mary’s. How much courage it must have taken for her to continue her role as a minister, even as she may have been hearing congregants trying to “blame the victim”! Yet, as she says, “You lost your rector. I didn’t want you to lose your associate too.” St. Paul once gave advice to the church in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” To the church in Cow Hollow: you can find no better example than the way Rev. Claire shone during this crisis.

The new Interim Priest concluded the meeting. Rev. Don rang a clear bell of truth with these words: “No matter what circumstance, the priest in a congregation always holds the power; and when that power is misused it has to be dealt with.” In other words: it is always, always the minister’s responsibility to keep things safe. It is never, never, ever the congregant’s fault if “spiritual” becomes “sexual.” 

Now, let me share Rev. Don’s final words with you: “To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

What was that, Rev. Don?

“To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

Can you say that one more time?

“TO SWEEP THIS UNDER THE RUG IS TO INVITE A SIMILAR THING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.”

The whole reason I reported Scott was to protect other women. The whole reason I wrote that “13th hour” letter was to protect the women at St. Mary’s, to prevent what happened to me from happening to any of them. And yet. I wonder if Rev. Don, or anyone, felt the irony in his words.

On the justice-making journey: one step forward, a thousand miles to go.

How a Congregation Grieves

A leader at my former church sent me a heads-up: “Our Easter flower donations list includes several donations by parishioners in appreciation of Scott and [his wife].” This leader didn’t want me to be blind-sided if I attended Holy Week or Easter services. I told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness. It feels good to have a church leader thinking, “How will my decisions affect someone who was harmed in my church?” 

But she could have taken it a step further. I’m glad the church didn’t refuse the tribute donation, even though it honors a man who caused me such harm. The congregation loved Scott. Grief is a long and painful process, and we need to remember that denial and anger are part of the process. It may take years (or a lifetime) for Scott’s admirers to accept the fact of his guilt. Meanwhile, they are doing what they can to show their love.

Even given in love, these flowers create a hostile environment for victims and survivors. If Scott had harmed another woman at St Paul’s, and if she were trying to decide whether to come forward, the floral tribute might silence her forever. 

How might church leaders address this problem? To balance things out, they could invite donations of flowers to honor the voices of survivors of abuse, or they could pass the hat at the staff meeting and make that donation themselves. They could include an awareness message in the service bulletins — unusual during Holy Week, but all the more impactful. They could pump up the publicity for the the classes on clergy misconduct. 

Yes, you read that right! Next month, St Paul’s will offer a three-week series on clergy misconduct during the Sunday adult education hour. I was thrilled when I heard about it. I don’t plan to attend; the congregation needs to have an honest conversation, and my presence might make that difficult. But I am delighted they are doing this work. So — in response to the flowers honoring Scott, the church could make a stronger effort to get people to those classes.

Even more important: church leaders could recognize the grief in those floral tributes. Along with the educational effort, they could embark on a conscious course of healing for the congregation. It wouldn’t be easy; it would take a lot longer than three weeks. Rebuilding trust and vibrancy could take years. Hopkins & Laaser’s Restoring the Soul of a Church (Liturgical Press, 1995) tells stories of congregational healing; the leaders at St Paul’s might use these stories to generate their own process, including a liturgy of healing — because no one does liturgy like Episcopalians.

Speaking of liturgy: later this spring, St Paul’s will offer a service of healing for survivors of clergy misconduct. It will be open to all denominations. Even though I consider myself substantially healed, I’ll be at that service. I don’t expect any miracles; I know even the best liturgy can’t undo the damage or erase the scars of my experience. But then again, a floral tribute can’t erase Scott’s disgrace or restore him to the priesthood either. A healing service, like the floral tribute, is a gift of compassion and love.

And I accept with gratitude.

Spotlight: Uncovering the Truth

When Spotlight came out, I didn’t want to see it. Already steeped in the stress of divorce, I wanted to let my sleeping trauma lie. I let the blog go silent for more than two months; I had too much on my plate already. Then one of my friends — a survivor whom I trust — said, “You need to see this movie.” But whom to see it with? By that time, my friends had already seen it. During a meeting with our divorce team, I finally asked my husband. (Paradoxically, the divorce process was easing tensions between us). He happily agreed, but we never found a date that worked. 

Then the news broke about “Kevin.” It re-opened old wounds. The bishop’s truth-telling brought both healing and anger, which itself brought more healing. As my church-inflicted wounds healed, so did some of the wounds in my marriage — not by osmosis, but because of my husband’s strong support and affirmation. As the church took steps toward justice, Michael and I began to take steps toward reconciliation. I realized I was strong enough to take my own self to see Spotlight. 

To any survivors who haven’t seen this movie: if it’s still showing in your town, don’t miss it. The story is not so much about clergy abuse as it is about smart, tenacious reporting by brave men and women who had been raised by the very institution they were investigating. For me, there were three takeaways. First, how important our voices are as survivors. The Boston Globe could not have broken the story in 2002 without Phil Saviano, the survivor who opened the New England chapter of SNAP. Second, how hard it is for us to be heard. Saviano had given a list of abusive priests and victims to the Globe in the 1990s, but as (then Assistant Managing Editor) Ben Bradlee Jr says in the film, “Saviano was a f***ing train wreck five years ago.” The more impaired we are, the easier to discredit. I know I’m not the only survivor to experience this hard truth.

The third takeaway: the real story isn’t about individual ministers who exploit their power. It isn’t even about a pattern of abusive ministers. The real story is about the institutions that protect and enable them. In the movie, the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, urges the four journalists to track the story not down to the priests, but up to the top of the system. If the Globe ran a story about “fifty pedophile priests,” Baron tells his team,
“we’ll get into the same cat fight you got into on [an earlier story about an abusive Catholic priest], which made a lot of noise but changed things not one bit. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the Church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes, time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.” 

I’m now reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692. The Salem witch trials fascinate me. Not only have I lived the horror of ostracism by a fearful community, I’m also descended from one of the witches (Ann Foster, who died in a Salem prison in 1692). As the frenzy in Salem grew, Boston’s Thomas Brattle spoke rare words of clarity and prophecy. Quoting Brattle, Schiff asks, “How might anyone involved in the trials not later ‘look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable?’ [Brattle] trembled at the thought, the first to anticipate an indelible stain on New England, one that ages would not remove.”

Three hundred years from now, will the Catholic Church bear this same indelible stain? 

Religious corruption is not the sole property of the Catholic Church, of course, nor its sole defining attribute. Noble things can grow side by side with foul ones. New England gave birth not only to the witch trials but to American democracy; the Catholic Church produced the abusive Father Geoghan and the collusive Cardinal Law, but also heroes of compassion and courage like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero. 

And clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition. The Episcopal Church — or at least one leader in that church — seems intent on preventing the indelible stain. I’ve learned that a bishop, presumably Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, has notified all of Kevin’s former congregations of Kevin’s offenses and removal as a priest, just as Bishop Jim Mathes did with my former congregation in San Diego. If this is true, Bishops Bruno and Mathes are leading the way toward transparency, safer churches, and healing for those whom the church has injured.

It is time for me to follow their brave example and remove the protective veil of alias. For the sake of readers who may have been hurt by Kevin at any of the churches he has served, it is time for me to be open. This is the man I’ve been calling Kevin, and these are the Episcopal congregations where he served before his most recent assignment.
1989-1992: curate at St Wilfrid’s, Huntington Beach
1992-1998: rector at St Mary’s, Lompoc
1998-2003: youth minister and associate rector at All Saints, Pasadena
2003-2012: dean, St Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego

The bishops of Los Angeles and San Diego have invited anyone with concerns to come forward confidentially. If you have concerns about inappropriate behavior by this priest in Huntington Beach, Lompoc, or Pasadena (or in Ventura where he served as a youth leader in the early 1980s), please contact the Diocese of Los Angeles. If you have concerns about events in San Diego, please contact the Diocese of San Diego.

Reporting an abusive minister is always scary. We are almost always hurt by the process. There’s no guarantee this won’t happen this time. But there is this safety: the church already knows this priest has a pattern of harm. They won’t be trying to protect him; they’ve already dismissed him. If he has harmed other women, the church is more likely to hear and believe them now.

God bless all who have the courage to shine the light of truth.

Anger Rises to the Surface

It’s been two and a half weeks since I learned of Kevin’s defrocking and eleven days since the congregational meeting. I’m relieved that the church is free of a dangerous priest, I’m grateful that the bishop called me directly to share the news, and I’m feeling validated since he finally dropped the veil of secrecy around my complaint.

Relieved, grateful, and validated: I wish that’s all I were feeling. I’ve been trying to write a relieved, grateful, validated response to the bishop’s words. But every attempt came out brittle, formal, and fake. Last night, I finally realized why.

Because I’m ANGRY. Once I got over the miracle that the bishop shared the truth at all, I start looking at what he said about my story. And what did he say? That what happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal, and that he still believes he was right to keep it from the congregation. 

WHO IS HE to say that Kevin’s offenses against me “didn’t rise to the level of a Title IV complaint”? What kind of yardstick did he use? Does the church keep a manual that says if it’s only words, or if there’s only one complaint, then it’s okay to brush it under the carpet? (In 2010, the bishop actually told me that’s why he chose a “pastoral” response instead of invoking the canons). What if a priest deliberately misconstrues a directive from the bishop in order to continue meeting with his favorite congregants? What if he spends years working to gain a congregant’s trust, then misjudges and springs the trap too soon? What if he openly tells her that she’s part of a years-long pattern of inappropriate behavior toward “beautiful women”? Is a predator less guilty because a particular prey escaped without physical injury? 

The bishop ignored Kevin’s pattern of grooming, instead focusing on a few words that he spoke to me on a specific day in 2008. Even worse, he ignored the impact of Kevin’s behavior. Author Marilyn Peterson, in her book At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships (Norton, 1992), says that the only reliable measure is the harm an offense causes to the victim. “Determining severity by content alone does not allow a violation to be identified as legitimate or valid unless and until it has progressed to the most severe and overt extreme. … To get a truer, more comprehensive picture, it is essential that degree of pain felt by clients be measured.” My injuries at the time — a serious eating disorder and a diagnosis of PTSD — were severe. Six years after the church closed the case, I’m still trying to process what Kevin and the church did to me. Does this not signal an offense worthy of a Title IV response, and of a stronger warning to Kevin’s next congregation?

And why did the bishop think the congregation didn’t need to know? At last Tuesday’s meeting he told us, “I made a measured decision [not to disclose].” He was vague as to how he measured it, but he has spoken clearly on this question before. When I brought my complaint, he refused to inform the congregation, protesting that Kevin was “the [highest ranking priest] of my [most prominent congregation]!” Church scandals drive people and dollars away, and there was a lot at stake with this congregation. The bishop may have thought he could prevent this damage with secrecy. (I wonder how that has worked out.) Two years later, I was in the room when he told a group of clergy that this kind of news would be a “body blow” to a congregation — as if a group of full-grown Christian adults would be too weak to deal with hard truth. 

The bishop decided to avoid the harsh official sentences, placing Kevin under pastoral direction instead.  “I [required] that he not do certain ministerial functions, and [required] him to do certain other things to address the behavior.” First of all, isn’t that what suspension is — a temporary ban from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry? Second, why use vague language like “certain ministerial functions”? Why not name those functions, as he did with me in January of 2010? The day I filed my complaint, the bishop told me that Kevin was forbidden to offer pastoral counseling during the investigation. Two months later, he extended that ban for another 12 to 18 months. When a church’s senior minister is not allowed to do pastoral counseling, the congregation has a right and a need to know.  

Toward the end of last Tuesday’s meeting, the bishop had harsh words for the people of St _____’s. “I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” he said. “We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job.” What?!? How can the bishop blame the congregation for responding badly to something that officially “never happened”? Instead of disclosing the truth, the bishop left my reputation in the hands of the priest who was then writhing under the humiliating restraints of pastoral direction. What did he think Kevin was going to say about me? Now, six years later, he blames the congregation for not being nicer to me? I’m going to be brutally honest with you, bishop: you set those good people up for failure. You don’t owe them a scolding; you owe them an apology.

Finally, the bishop admitted that his official silence was no match for the real voices of hurting, angry people. “What I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter.” He shouldn’t have been surprised; this is exactly what I told him I would do. When he wrapped up my case, I warned him that I was going to tell my friends why I was leaving the church. “I can’t carry the burden of this toxic secret any longer,” I said. He told me that if I did, I would “lose control” of the information. He was right; my words to a few trusted friends triggered an ugly wave of ostracism. I stopped talking for a while; I now speak through this blog. Although I’m not writing for my old churchmates, it seems that a few of them read it. If my strong voice helped the bishop find his, then I’ve done something right and I’m proud.

The waters are starting to settle. In my next post, I’ll be sharing the power and beauty of a very different kind of voice in response to clergy misconduct. Stay tuned.

 

What The Bishop Said

The bishop opened last Tuesday’s meeting in prayer. “It might feel like I’m praying too much,” he said, “if such a thing is possible.” He wasn’t the only one praying. I could see others praying; I was praying myself. A lot of healing hung on what the bishop was about to say — and he took his time saying it. He spent half an hour explaining how Episcopal church discipline works. He was wise to slow things down; it gave all of us time to prepare for what we were about to hear. I won’t share everything from those thirty minutes, only what readers will need to understand how “Kevin” lost his credentials as a priest.

First, expectations. The church expects its clergy to be loyal to church doctrine, discipline, and worship; to obey their bishop; and to pattern their lives after the teachings of Christ. These vows are formalized in the service of ordination. To help clergy keep their vows, the church adds safeguards like boundary training; limits on frequency of pastoral counseling; and regular notices to congregants about how to recognize and report sexual misconduct. When clergy fail to keep their vows, the church’s Title IV process (the fourth of the five Canons, or governing laws, of the Episcopal Church) kicks in.

When any person believes they have been harmed by a member of the clergy, they contact an intake officer, who receives their information and helps them file a formal report. In most cases, the church investigates the complaint. When the bishop receives the result of the investigation, he or she has three options.
1. The bishop may dismiss any complaint that can’t be substantiated or that the bishop feels is not serious enough to warrant a formal response.
2. The bishop and the respondent (the clergy member who is the subject of the complaint) may come to accord, or agreement, on the appropriate ecclesiastical sentence.
3. Failing agreement, the bishop may order the appropriate sentence.

Title IV provides for these three sentences for misconduct of any type:
1. Admonition, or public reprimand;
2. Suspension, a temporary ban that prevents the offending priest from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry; and
3. Deposition, or permanent prohibition against exercising any of the gifts of ordained ministry. A priest deposed is no longer a priest.

To prevent the bishop from single-handedly controlling the process, Title IV requires collaboration. The bishop must consult his or her Standing Committee on any matter of consequence. In addition, a Hearing Panel (similar to a jury) may be convened if the bishop and respondent can’t reach an accord. But just as most court matters are resolved by settlement or plea bargain, most Episcopal disciplinary matters are settled by accord between bishop and respondent.

Title IV requires the bishop to offer appropriate care for all affected parties, and (notwithstanding any provision for privacy) allows the bishop to share information about the offense and any accord or order when the bishop deems it pastorally appropriate. The bishop told us, “The bishop is one who holds in tension the sometimes competing goods of transparency and confidentiality, of healing and justice.” (I’ll have more to say about these words in another post.)

At this point he paused and took a breath, and said, “Now let me talk about the matter at hand. And this is where it gets the most painful, because we are talking about real people.” This next piece – the bishop’s account of what Kevin did and how the church responded – has huge emotional impact for me. If I paraphrased, I might introduce my own bias against Kevin. To keep this post fair and objective, I’m going to use the bishop’s own words. I have omitted a few redundant phrases, and I’ve changed names to protect identities; otherwise the words in the next four paragraphs (italicized) are the exact words of the bishop.

In November of last year, the Diocese of _____ received multiple complaints against “Kevin Jones.” In a brief investigation and follow-up, Jones agreed to accept a sentence of deposition, no longer being a priest. An alternate sentence of suspension was posited by the Bishop of _____. Jones chose the sentence of deposition. The sentence was imposed pertaining to three complaints against Jones for multiple charges under… and I’ll read the canons and tell you what they mean. The first was Canon IV.4.1.h.1 which is any act of sexual misconduct. The canons define sexual misconduct [with adults] as sexual behavior at the request of, acquiesced to, or by a member of the clergy with an employee, volunteer, student, or counselee of that member of the clergy, or in the same congregation as the member of the clergy, or a person with whom the member of the clergy has a pastoral relationship. The second canon referenced in the deposition was Canon IV.4.1.h.6, conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. I think that one speaks for itself. Canon IV.4.1.h.8 is the last one referenced: ‘conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.’ [To] anybody who’s a veteran, that language probably feels familiar to you. It comes out of the military code of justice. It’s sort of a catch all [for] anything that’s not a stipulated part of the code of conduct. These behaviors violate the vows undertaken by clergy at the time of ordination. 

Now, I want at this point to share with you another piece of information that’s particularly relevant to this congregation. In January of 2010, I received a formal complaint against Kevin Jones while he was [priest-in-charge] of St. _____’s. The complaint resulted in a thorough investigation conducted by someone independent of my office. Jones and the complainant fully cooperated with this process. After assessing the facts, which were not in dispute, I made the determination that the matter did not rise to the level of a Title IV complaint, but was a serious error. I placed Jones under a pastoral direction. I’ll define what pastoral direction means for you. You may remember in the ordination vows it talks about “pastoral direction of the bishop.” The canons provide for the bishop to be able to give specific direction to clergy in extraordinary situations, that if that pastoral direction were not followed, it would be grounds for discipline as well. So it is a very serious thing. It is so serious that when we do our background check process, one of the questions on that is, “Have you ever been placed under pastoral direction by your bishop?” And so in this instance I put Jones on pastoral direction requiring that he not do certain ministerial functions, and requiring him to do certain other things to address the behavior. I subsequently gave a full briefing on this case as well as my response, to [the vestry of this church]. That was in June of that year, following the completion of this case.

 When Jones was a candidate in the Diocese of _____, our church [did] what our church does in these situations. We do background checks. We use a group called Oxford Documents. I received a request from Oxford Documents for Kevin Jones and truthfully filled it out, answering the questions, marking that a complaint had been made, that he had been under pastoral direction, that he had been accused of ethical violations. I further [gave a brief narrative description] and invited the Bishop of _____ to be in touch with me for further details, which he was. And we had an oral briefing as well.

It’s tempting to see these events, and our response, as an error in light of subsequent events. I assure you that I continue to ponder that, what we knew in 2010, and to turn that over and over in my mind. However, what we now know does not make what happened a different thing. We take these things in real time and process them in real time. Permit me to address another aspect of this. I made a measured decision then to disclose to the [congregational] leadership, and not the whole community. At the time that decision was made, it seemed commensurate with the matter at hand. It still does, looking it [in] real time at that moment. However, what I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter. And in hindsight, it would have been helpful for me to make a statement to the community at that time, stating from my position how the matter was adjudicated. I offer this information to you for two reasons at this time. One is that the complainant in the matter has given me consent to do so. In addition, the complainant has stated that it would be helpful to that individual’s healing. And that is a very, very important consideration. 

The bishop continued: ““Our challenge tonight and in the days ahead is to process this difficult information.” Response to clergy misconduct is an obligation not only of bishops, but of the whole community. The bishop acknowledged that Kevin had done “some wonderful things at this church and over his three decades of service. But he also did some things that were so grievous that he can no longer be an Episcopal priest. There are injured persons. He has hurt people. And let me be as clear as I can on this point: the injured people are not to blame. It would be a violation of my ordination vows to tolerate blame of those upon whom there has been trespass. It is not consistent with my vows, and beloved, it is not consistent with yours.”

He stepped away from the podium. The moderator stepped forward and invited questions. Some congregants asked about Kevin: “Why did he choose deposition if suspension were an option?” (The bishop refused to speculate on Kevin’s motives.) “How do we pray for Kevin?” The bishop responded, “there are people in this room who have been harmed. The notion of praying for someone who has been disciplined for misconduct may be hard to think about right now.”

The bishop talked about the role of the congregation. “There’s only so much my position can do,” he said. “We need the collaborative support of all of you. I’m going to be brutally honest with you now. We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job, and that is my call to you.”

I have much to say in response to the bishop’s words. But for now, I just need to share them. I’ve waited six years for this acknowledgement. Sometimes it still feels like a dream. By sharing the bishop’s words here, I make it one degree more real.

Addendum, February 10: I have revised this post to remove a personal story shared by the bishop. He rightly pointed out that the story was his, and not mine to share. I apologize and accept responsibility for this error.

 

 

Shepherds Protecting Shepherds

The Sunday before last, I was so focused on listening to the bishop, speaking my truth where I’d been shunned, and not harming or betraying the complainant, that I barely paid attention to what my former church’s new pastor was saying.

When the bishop called “Pastor Nancy” forward to speak about the complaint against a pastor at her church, what did she say? Did she talk about how hard the experience was for the complainant? Or for Pastor X’s wife and family? Or for the congregation?

No. She talked about how hard it was for CLERGY to see the church holding their colleague accountable.

When Nancy mentioned the Episcopal Church’s new Title IV canon, which spells out the process for responding to misconduct, did she praise the church for adding new protection for victims of clergy misconduct? Did she thank the bishop for being faithful to the canons in the way he sought justice in this case?

No. She talked about how hard the new Title IV is on CLERGY.

Pastor Nancy isn’t alone in her worries. In a 2012 article published by Episcopal Digital Network, a lawyer for the church said, “In terms of what it’s done to clergy rights it’s more than a disaster,” and that the new law gives “incredible power to bishops to get rid of priests.” Most of the commenters seem to agree.

What that article doesn’t say: some priests need to be shown the door. Richard Blackmon’s 1983 doctoral thesis, “The Hazards of the Ministry,” found that 12% of Protestant clergy surveyed admitted to sexual intercourse with a parishioner. And what about the ones who don’t admit it? And what about the ones who sexualize their pastoral relationships without physical contact? That happened to me, and nearly seven years later I’m still trying to heal. I claim the title “survivor” because many of us literally don’t survive after sexual misconduct by a minister.

And Pastor Nancy thinks this is hard on CLERGY?

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