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.”
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.