Bishop Hahn “steps away” for a period of “repentance, retreat and reflection”

The Rt Revd Doug Hahn, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, will step out of any position of ordained leadership for a period of one year, following an Accord reached between Hahn and Presiding Bishop Curry.

The Accord addresses revelations of an affair between Hahn and an adult female parishioner some years ago. The Diocese of Lexington website is silent on the matter, but the President of the Standing Committee published a letter from the Bishop to the Diocese on his parish website.

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Hahn

March 14, 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I write you with great love for the clergy and people of this diocese, and with great commitment to the work of God’s mission among us.

I also write you with some difficult personal and family news, which I shared with our diocesan leadership earlier this week.

Several years ago – long before I was your bishop – I engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with an adult woman parishioner. I was wrong, and I have regretted it ever since.

I ended the affair, confessed my sin to a priest, and worked with a therapist to understand and heal my out of character breach in behavior. I asked for forgiveness from the other party and, in time, believed the matter was resolved. Beyond my confessor and therapist, I did not reveal this matter, believing that to do so would cause greater harm to my wife Kaye, other persons, and other communities.

A few months ago this matter came to light and was passed to the Presiding Bishop’s office. I confessed to Kaye and to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and together we have sought a healing and reconciling way forward. Many people, including you, have been hurt by my behavior and their consequences. I am sorry and I ask for your forgiveness.

Now is the time for healing and reconciliation. Kaye and I have begun our work of healing, and we are on a strong path. I ask that you provide us privacy as we continue to do the work of repairing and strengthening our marriage.

Now I am facing the wider consequences of my actions. Through the canonical process of the church – a process designed to help create healing and reconciliation – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and I have reached an “Accord”, or agreement, that for a period of one year I will step away from my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese and ordained leadership. This period will begin immediately.

We have agreed that this should be a time of repentance, retreat and reflection. It will be a time of healing of hurts. I will spend this time doing whatever is possible to make this right with the Church.

Bishop Michael and I, along with others involved in this process, reached this accord as brothers and sisters in Christ. We agree that this will allow me to return to my ministry as a stronger, healthier Bishop. …

At the appropriate time we will work on ways that I will be reintegrated into our common life and leadership. In the meantime I ask that you keep Kaye, me and our family in your daily prayers, as we will keep you in ours.

We serve a good God. We are a good church. I believe the grace and mercy of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will see us through the coming days.

Christ’s Peace,

Bishop Doug Hahn

Doug Hahn was elected the seventh Bishop of Lexington in 2012, the successor to Bishop Stacy Sauls.

Photo: Bishop Hahn and his family at his service of ordination December 2012, via ENS

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  1. David Allen

    I’m a bit concerned by this. Normally I feel that our personal indiscretions are best handled in private, but that determination is based on the circumstances. This was not just a sin against his wife whom he chose to keep in the dark by sweeping it under the carpet discreetly with a private confession and absolution, it was done in a professional capacity, a priest and a parishioner. That should be relevant to an episcopal search committee. Had the committee had that information, their deliberations for candidates may have not included him for election.

    The assumption that he will just be eased back in as bishop ordinary in a year is also disconcerting.

    • John D Lane

      Re an episcopal search committee, withholding this information is analogous to withholding Heather Cook’s DUI arrest from the Diocese of Maryland search. I too wonder how Hahn can come back in 1 year.

      • Gail Greenwell

        In the epsicopal search process, one is usually asked, “is there anything in your past which might cause embarrassment to this church or diocese?” Not that this is comeasurate with the betrayal of trust with his wife and family nor the abuse of power with a person under his pastoral care, but it also means there was a deliberate obfuscation during the search process. The ‘greater harm’ as the bishop says is to all of the above.

  2. John D Lane

    Some years ago at a Prov 3 meeting, Bp Walter Dennis presented a report on Title IV (disciplinary canons) changes proposed for the next General Convention. During Q&A, I asked my good friend Walter why priests who got in trouble usually lost their posts, while bishops in similar circumstances got “a time out.” 22 years later, I ask the same question.

    • John Chilton

      Yes. Just imagine a priest coming back to the parish where he had committed the indiscretion. Ok, he didn’t have an affair while bishop – but he was not forthcoming with the search committee.

      I recall a bishop-elect (was it for the Diocese of Atlanta) who packed for the move and told his wife she wasn’t coming – she told the diocese, and they him the wedding was off. But what he’d been consecrated? Yikes is what you get.

  3. Donald R. Hands

    What happened to the victim and her life and faith? This is an abuse of power and resembles the RC Church’s over care for the clergy abuser and only viewing the matter as a sin of the priest and not an injustice to the parishioner. The pastor-parishioner relationship is not equal. I agree this was very relevant to an episcopal search committee.

  4. Ann Fontaine

    Yes- that has been the way it is – bishops get a pass. I wish the letter had mentioned prayers for the victim(s) and family

  5. Ellen Campbell

    Unbridled arrogance. If the church really cared about leaders instead of protecting the institution, they would realize this guy can’t lead effectively now.

  6. Terri

    Please follow the comment policy and post with your first & last names in the future. – ed

    As a member of the Episcopal Church in the Lexington KY diocese affected, I am heartbroken by what happened. I do wish that this affair had been brought up before he became Bishop, as well.

  7. Oh dear! Sex again. Ironically the ultimate sin for which there is no forgiveness in a society saturated with sexuality from ads to internet porn. Deny God, murder your brother, but stepping outside the purity code boundaries is a sin forever.

  8. My sympathy for the people of DioLex, who apparently went through a rough time under Bp Sauls as well. Bp Hahn cheated on his wife and papered it over by confessing to a priest but not telling her. This is despicable behavior. He needs to look for another line of work following his slap-on-the-wrist time out.

  9. Daniel Jarvis

    really folks?…didnt you get the Jesus memo re. mercy, grace, forgiveness? I am disappointed in Pb’s action as well. Good thing I didn’t take the Bishop post offered…just not righteous enough for you all
    Daniel Jarvis

  10. David Allen

    Really Daniel?

    I think that you are unfairly misconstruing folks comments here. I don’t hear anyone questioning the man’s right to just forgiveness. I hear concerns about someone’s professionalism and fitness for an office.

    About that Jesus memo, is there a line to be drawn anywhere when we are considering someone for the office of bishop? He violated his marriage and was sexually involved with a parishioner, that gets a pass from what you appear to be saying. What if he had a sexual relationship with a 12 year old parishioner? Does that also get a pass? Or had he absconded with parish funds? Is he still qualified to be a bishop?

  11. Carol Hartsfield Gardner

    Jesus words to the woman caught in adultery seem appropriate here. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her….Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

    Didn’t the bishop repent, wasn’t he forgiven and did he not refrain from commiting that particular sin again? Wasn’t it God who did the forgiving? If a priest’s words of absolution have no value, why pronounce them? What am I missing here?

    • Ann Fontaine

      Of course he can be forgiven – but that does not mean he can continue as a bishop or priest. There are consequences for clergy sexual abuse. It is long standing policy which all who enter the ordination and most laity know.

    • David Allen

      Didn’t the bishop repent…? What am I missing here?

      You tell us, if he violated the vows pertaining to his marriage, but didn’t confess his violation to his wife as part of the process, did he fully repent?

      If he had pilfered $50,000 from his parish and then confessed quietly to a priest, but didn’t confess to his congregation as part of the process, did he fully repent?

      Does the example of the New Testament regarding a bishop not maintain a bit higher standard for those who would ascend to that office?

  12. Marie Alford-Harkey

    I am a firm believe in grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restorative justice. But to begin, the wrong must be named. This was not “an affair,” it was clergy sexual misconduct. There is an inherent power dynamic and an abuse of that power involved in this situation and in any situation where a clergy person has a sexual relationship with a congregant. The Canons of the Episcopal Church define it as such. The Canons also require training in clergy sexual misconduct prevention prior to ordination to any order of ministry, for just this reason.

  13. TVR Anthony Thurston

    Sounds like the Diocese of Lexington has somewhat of a problem with the last two bishops–Sauls and Hahn.

  14. Daniel Jarvis

    hi David Allen the Lord be with you
    and yes David REALLY.
    the church is faithful when it mirrors the reign of God and those principles are not the same as those of the world It is my position that what the church is doing to this bishop is just as much sin as what he did 20 years ago I will add his name to the list of clergy I pray for

  15. Robert Martin

    I strongly dislike when damaged bishops damage the church. They are to guide the faith and unity of the Church and when they fail it is very terrible because their failure goes out like ripples and they destroy and weaken relationships. In my opinion the HoB over the decades has failed in key respects to perform its Godly functions. I would be pleased if the HoD assumed a more prominent and ministerial function. An across the board pay cut for all bishops would be nice too.

    As an aside: didn’t ++Curry suspend Sauls, the prior bishop in this diocese? I wonder if this had anything to do with that.

  16. Susan Buchanan

    This was not an affair. It was clergy sexual abuse. An abuse of a pastoral relationship. An abuse of power differential. I am truly troubled that there was no call for prayer for the victim. How do we give voice to those who are victimized in this way? So often, it takes a long time for them to come to terms with the fact that they were not at fault. Our Title IV processes do not seem to take that into account. We do not offer strong enough advocacy to those who find themselves victimized by those who are their pastors. They too often lose their possibility of raising their voices, because the process itself leaves them behind. And I know that Bp. Hahn had to have lied more than once about this in the vetting process of becoming a bishop.

  17. Jonathan Galliher

    Does the Episcopal Church really have a one strike policy for clergy misconduct? That seems a bit draconian, especially if it applies to every type of clergy misconduct. It’s different if there’s a pattern of misconduct, especially one that extends across supposed repentance. It also seems like it ought to matter some that it happened in an earlier call since he hasn’t yet been found guilty of misconduct from his time as bishop. I mean, is it really right to permanently remove a priest from their current parish if they did something wrong once three or four parishes back, for example someone who is now a recovering alcoholic? guess it might be, but I would hope it depended on the severity of the offense and whether the parish wanted the priest back afterward the assigned punishment was over.

    That said, his letter doesn’t fill me with hope, and if the diocese doesn’t want him back he’d better do the right thing and resign without making a fuss.

    • Jonathan, the Episcopal Church does not have a “one strike” policy for clergy misconduct. There is a process in Title IV of the Canons, with various possible results of such a process. As noted, in this case the immediate result (that is, it may not be the ultimate result, and Hahn may not return to his see) came as an Accord, a step agreed between Hahn and the Presiding Bishop (on behalf of the House of Bishops; not Bishop Curry’s sole authority). There are other possibilities, and possibilities vary with the issue.

  18. Daniel Jarvis

    David Allen I would like to amend…I said I am disappointed in the PB thats not true, i love the guy, pray for himcdaily, and know he is exactly the one to be called the PB …I have probs with what was don here…..punative and public shaming.
    the shaming bench has a long tradition, but it is not of the kingdom of God and my beef is emotional, I hate to see people suffer needlessly. I fear this incident brings more suffering than healing hope I am proved wrong

  19. Earle King

    Although I suspect we will never find out, I wonder what Bishop Hahn certified on an Oxford Document Report (presuming that one was required). And/or, was he asked the series of “difficult” questions during his pre-election interview? If he lied (and I don’t know if he did or did not lie), then that would, in my mind, move this situation to a different level.

  20. Jill MNish

    David Allen, the point is he DIDN’T abscond with $50,000 and he DIDN’T sexually abuse a child. Neither is there any indication that there is a pattern of this behavior. Really, shouldn’t there be some proportionality in our judgment of his wrongdoing and in the discipline meted out? As for the judgment of many on this thread that he should have confessed his infidelity to his wife, depending on the circumstances there are many therapists and, yes, confessors, who would not recommend or require this because often such a confession is just a way for the wrongdoer to unburden himself and does a lot more damage to the marriage and no good. It seems to me that the discipline agreed to with Bishop Curry is proportionate and shouldn’t be second guessed. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

    • David Allen

      The questions were to assess where the person to whom I was responding would draw the line. Something that I believe you well understood.

      Your assertion about therapists and confessors is a statement that you have made up out of whole cloth, inventing facts on the ground!

      • Jon White

        Actually, I think his comment about therapists and confessors is spot on and your provocative assertion is unfair. I have encountered it enough to believe that is, indeed, the advice often given. FWIW, that’s also the advice of Dear Prudence.

      • David Allen

        If we are going to rely on facts based on anecdotal information, it might as well be supported by an advice columnist named for a song on the Beatles White album. 😀

      • Carolyn Peet

        On what basis are you calling Jill a liar? Do you have facts to back up your statements?

      • David Allen

        I could ask the same thing, where are the facts that back her truth claim. I find in a web search that there are a lot of articles that state that secular therapists advise to keep adultery/infidelity secret from the spouse, but I find no actual research that surveyed therapists & counselors to back the claim.

      • Paul Powers

        I remember a time when the conventional wisdom was that confessing infidelity should be avoided because of the pain it caused the other spouse. I have no idea whether professional counselors used to give this advice.

  21. Considering the American experience, it no doubt was to be expected that the sexual liberation of the late 20th century would spawn neo-puritanism in the beginning of the 21st. Gilt A’s all around.

  22. Linda M Kaufman

    I hope the Diocese is not paying him to have a year of repentance. I hope this is leave without pay.

    • Jon White

      The full letter clearly says that it is without pay

  23. Pete Haynsworth

    A harbinger of a similar tap-on-the-wrist, if not a finding of absolutely no-harm done, for Stacy Sauls and his two amigos?

  24. Jim Naughton

    I wish the Diocese of Lexington were being forthright about this in its communications. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time. But it still isn’t on their website.

    Some folks in this thread do seem to be confusing being forgiven for sin and being reinstated in a position of power that one has a record of abusing. It’s fair to ask whether someone is fit to return to a job that they might not have been offered had they been forthright about their past.

  25. Stroud Hellebusch

    My prayers are with Bishop Hahn and his wife Kaye. It’s a bit early to decide he cannot come back in a year to do the job in Lexington. Point 1: he has received the holy orders ( a sacrament) and he cannot be unordained. Just as priest cannot be unordained. Once ordained always ordained, just like baptism folks Point 2: true repentance does not require a confession to his wife. Point 3: he probably should never have put his hat in for bishop. But that is water over the dam now. Point 4: this sin isn’t analogous to pedophile priest ( which is not only a problem in the Roman church but in ours too) or misappropriation of funds. Those are crimes with much greater impact on the church’s people. Point 5: please join me in prayers for Bishop Hahn, his wife Kaye, and the diocese of Lexington.

    • David Allen

      I believe that your #2 is wrong.

      I believe that your #4 is dead wrong. Sexual infidelity with a member of his parish doesn’t have greater or leaser impact based on the age of the individual.

  26. Jill MNish

    Jim Naughton, I wonder who if anyone would be ordained as a priest or consecrated as a bishop if they all made full confessions to discernment committees of all past sins and weaknesses before being chosen. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” It seems to me that this insistence on complete purity in ordained people has gone a long way to foster the hypocrisy and falseness that people perceive in the church.

  27. Donald R. Hands

    This sexual exploitation of a parishioner is an ethical violation and may be criminal depending on jurisdiction. This is a sin and also a crime.

    State Laws Criminalize Clergy Sexual Relations with Congregant

    Fiduciary duty refers to the responsibility of licensed caregivers (doctors, therapists, lawyers, social workers, etc.) to “do no harm.” Society’s expectation of these caregivers is that they will attend to the needs of those in their care.

    Caregivers are prohibited by state criminal statutes, fiduciary duty laws and by codes of ethics from exploiting their clients or patients to meet their own emotional and psychological needs.
    Only thirteen states and the District of Columbia have penal statutes that, in at least some circumstances, support the criminal prosecution of clergypersons engaged in sexual misconduct with congregants or parishioners.

    These statutes, enacted by Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia turn on various linguistic formulations, including, most commonly, the specification that the misconduct occur within the confines of the counseling relationship

  28. Jim Naughton

    Jill, I didn’t say anything about a full confession of all past sins, and no one is talking about the fate of anyone’s immortal soul. But if you withhold information that you should have disclosed, and it comes to light later, then you can’t blame people for feeling that you have betrayed their trust. Invoking scriptural passages that have nothing to do with whether a person is fit to hold a particular office doesn’t change that. I don’t want purity, but I do want accountability from people in positions of power.

  29. Carolyn Peet

    Well, it’s comforting to know that at least adultery is still on the no-no list.

  30. George Foxworth

    Once again, bishops get a slap on the wrist that priests would never receive. I priest would have been hung out to dry. It is almost as heinous as the executives of Wall Street getting no repercussions from their criminal mishandling of the financial crisis.

    • Jill MNish

      I hardly think that a minimum of a year’s suspension without pay (maybe more) and being publicly shamed before his friends and family, his diocese, indeed the
      entire Episcopal Church, for a transgression that occurred years ago, is a “slap on the wrist.” Come on friends, let’s get a grip. Let’s be kind. I know there are those who think bishops and priests must at all times be paragons of purity and virtue but I really think that this is an attitude that has given rise to shame, dishonesty, and secrecy throughout the Church. And no sooner do we condemn one of our number than the next transgressor emerges, like night follows day. Giving rise to the adage, “The church is where we kill our own.”

      • Ann Fontaine

        Did you hear that he will not be paid during his “time out”?

  31. How did we get from an “affair” to “sexual exploitation?” “Facts not in evidence” as they say in court on “The Good Wife.” Nothing indicates that the priest, long before being a bishop, was exploiting a parishioner or being exploited by one, or if it was a mutual attraction.As most clergy discover sooner or later, at times the collar is it’s own aphrodisiac and sometimes boundaries get broken.

    Clergy are human. That is why the church decided long ago that the efficacy of sacraments does not depend on the moral purity of the officiant. Celibacy, originally imposed on secular clergy to preserve church property, might solve the sexual conundrum, though I doubt it would much change human nature or temptation for which the only solution is God’s compassion, grace and forgiveness.

  32. Mary Eno

    I was a parishioner at Saint Thomas church for many years. While I was by NO means a fan of Doug’s (due to his liberal views, as opposed to my own views as a cradle Episcopalian, regarding his leadership of the traditionally conservative Episcopal church), I do believe that anyone trying to speak upon the sinfulness of his behavior is themselves engaging in the very thing Christ spoke against. Love one another….even through each other’s sin.

    Yeah, he was wrong.
    But he’s been forgiven by both God and Kay.
    This was also something that happened between two consenting adults. Adultery happens. However, in light of recent news, I’d say there are bigger problems in this world.
    Whoever dug this up has an ax to grind, and obviously needs to read the Bible more carefully.
    It isn’t our job to attack and persecute one another. We are to love one another as Christ loved the church.

    Before you post anymore scathing remarks, ask yourself if you’ve been forgiven for your own sins. Also remember that you just forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.

    • Ann Fontaine

      This is not about forgiveness or lack of forgiveness – it is about consequences for actions against a parishioner. The Church is very clear that this is not allowed. Of course he can be forgiven — but should he continue in an ordained role? No IMO

  33. Dave Wells

    Just curious- is there a specific canon against adultery by a priest? if he hasn’t violated any canon, why is he being punished? I once knew a priest who broke up the marriage of her seminary professor (whom she later married after his divorce) and to my recollection both remained priests in good standing. So since there is no “core doctrine” regarding marriage and in the absence of specific canonical violation, what’s the fuss?

    • Ann Fontaine

      It is a Title IV violation – sexual abuse. It is not about adultery – it is about the ordained person using his-her power over a vulnerable adult.

      • Dave Wells

        Ann, am I correct in assuming, then, that had it not involved a parishioner, then the adultery would be permissible, under the canons? Had he committed adultery with another priest, or with a member of a different parish, would the Title IV canon apply? I can see how a bishop should not commit adultery with a priest in his/her own diocese, but if it was a matter of crossing diocesan boundaries to commit adultery, or if it was adultery with another bishop (obviously not the coadjutor or suffragan bishop in the diocese), I presume it would be canonically acceptable.

      • Ann Fontaine

        Adultery is covered under “conduct unbecoming.” Someone who takes his marriage vows so lightly certainly can’t be taking his ordination vows seriously. If he were single – he could date any of those persons providing they are not committed to someone else at the time.

  34. Paul Powers

    From reading (or misreading) between the lines, I get the impression that Bishop Curry is taking a more pastoral than punitive approach here. Bishop Hahn is being given a year off to concentrate on trying to heal the damage he has inflicted on his wife and others and to get his spiritual life in order. Whether he’ll actually be able to return to his duties after a year remains to be seen, but even he isn’t, this approach is gentler than trying to depose him immediately.

  35. Ann, do you have absolutely any evidence that sexual abuse or exploitation was involved?

    • Rosalind Hughes

      The relative positions of priest and parishioner distort the dynamics. Abuse and exploitation become implicit in the absence of equality of influence. Generally speaking.

  36. Daniel Crockett

    Does anyone remember C.I. Jones? As I recall, the circumstances were very similar. He was exposed after the fact, while a bishop. He was disciplined by PB Browning and reinstated. Much later the statute of limitations was lifted and he was presented and defrocked. I think he may have subsequently sued and won. Why him, but not Hahn? I think I’m remembering correctly, but it was a while ago

  37. Jerald Liko

    Ugh. I fall in the camp of those who believe that withholding this information during the bishop-selection-process is the worst aspect of the story. We have got to improve our processes for vetting candidates. Of course, it would be wonderful if candidates told the whole truth during the process, but between this and the disaster in Maryland, it is clear that critical information bearing on suitability is being concealed, either by candidates themselves or by the committees who run the process.

    I disagree with those who feel that mentioning a major past indiscretion is merely a line-entry on an endless list of sins. We all have those. If I bullied a poor boy in 7th grade, shoplifted a CD when I was fifteen, smoked a joint at 22, and then had an affair with a parishioner as an adult priest, well, all are sins, and as been observed, all are going to be forgiven in due course on the divine level. But when the question is about fitness to serve as bishop, the affair is the sin that represents a problem under a common-sense analogy.

  38. John Merchant

    Whether or not such incidents are shared with a search committee, the candidates themselves KNOW of their indiscretions, failures, moral lapses–whatever one chooses to call them–and they obviously either decide to hide them further or to take it upon themselves to determine that their past moral lapses are not impediments to election, consecration, and service as bishops in the church. It would appear they look at their pasts through purple colored glasses. The church needs to be more thorough in its examination and assessment of each candidate’s personal as well as vocational integrity and moral character alongside the typical evaluation of talents, skills, and work experience. The most critical information about candidates for the episcopate cannot be found on a computer printout.

    • John Chilton

      Thank you, Jim.

  39. John Chilton

    From (emphasis added):

    The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, working through the canonical disciplinary and pastoral processes of the Church, took this action after learning that Hahn had a sexual relationship with an adult female parishioner and intentionally withheld this information when seeking the position of bishop. Hahn has admitted to these charges against him.

    [The Standing Committee] with the assistance of the Presiding Bishop’s office, has already begun the process of discerning the selection of a bishop to serve the Diocese of Lexington during the suspension.

  40. Karen Newman

    This situation of no bishop for a year, although unfortunate, would be a good opportunity to look into combining the two Kentucky dioceses.

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