In email solicitation, lawyer offers Title IV insurance, advice

Following is a letter that many clergy received in the last couple of days. It is from Michael Rehill. What is your reaction? Have you had experience with Title IV as it now stands? Have you served on a Title IV committee?

My Sisters and Brothers:

I am writing to you because you are a Member of the Clergy of the Episcopal Church, and you are at risk of facing a proceeding under Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church ("Ecclesiastical Discipline"). As a result of recent revisions to Title IV, many more Members of the Clergy are now facing ecclesiastical discipline. Not a week passes without our receiving at least one call from a Priest who is suddenly facing Title IV issues or a Title IV proceeding. We frequently hear Priests saying, "I never thought it could happen to me!" But it can happen to any Member of the Clergy, regardless of age, gender, experience or Diocese. You need to be prepared before it happens to you.

A total revision of Title IV ("Ecclesiastical Discipline") took effect on July 1, 2011. That revision to Title IV established new disciplinary structures; added numerous new canonical offenses; and stripped Members of the Clergy of fundamental due process rights which under the predecessors to Title IV were intended to provide Clergy facing ecclesiastical discipline with a fair process and a fair trial.

THE NEW TITLE IV

Title IV now includes several new offenses for which a Member of the Clergy may be subject to discipline which had never previously been included in the Canons of the Episcopal Church. In addition to the Offenses under the old Title IV, a Member of the Clergy may now face disciplinary proceedings for (a) "attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese;" (b) failing to "cooperate" with any Title IV investigation or proceeding; (c) bringing a false accusation or providing false testimony or false evidence in any Title IV investigation or proceeding: and (d) failing to report all matters "which may constitute an Offense" under Canons IV. 3 or IV.4.

In addition, Title IV now has entirely new disciplinary structures and multiple phases, and it contains provisions which give broad new powers to Bishops, disgruntled parishioners and former parishioners, and others who can now anonymously file unsubstantiated charges; and the rights of Episcopal Clergy have been substantially reduced. For example a Bishop may, without prior notice or hearing, (a) place restrictions upon the exercise of the ministry of such Member of the Clergy or (b) place such Member of the Clergy on "Administrative Leave", the equivalent of "Inhibition" under the former Title IV. Canon IV.7.3.

Although attempts were made to restore the rights of our Clergy at General Convention in 2012 by resolutions to amend Title IV, most were not adopted. Instead they were referred to the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons for further study. That means that for at least the next three years, Members of the Clergy in the Episcopal Church will remain vulnerable to false and malicious Title IV charges.

The procedures under Title IV are complex, and the potential consequences are serious. All Episcopal Clergy have the right to be represented at every stage of Title IV proceedings. No Member of the Clergy should ever face a proceeding under Title IV without adequate, experienced and knowledgeable representation.

HOW WE CAN HELP

We at CanonLawyer, Inc. are available to represent you if you are faced with possible discipline under Title IV. However, we are acutely aware that the cost of obtaining representation in Title IV matters is often beyond the means of most Episcopal Clergy. Representation from the initial accusation or complaint through the final determination of a Hearing Panel can easily run to as much as $100,000.00. The high cost of defense, even against completely baseless charges, is forcing many Priests to resign their cures and enter into unreasonable accords simply to preserve their Holy Orders, regardless of the merits and factual basis of the accusation or complaint, or the lack thereof. To address that issue, CanonLawyer, Inc. is now offering membership in the CanonLawyer Clergy Assistance Plan.

The CanonLawyer Clergy Assistance Plan will provide experienced and knowledgeable canon lawyers and canon law professionals to act as Consultants and Advisors to member Clergy who are facing charges under Title IV for a reasonable annual membership fee. The CanonLawyer Clergy Assistance Plan operates much like a prepaid legal services plan, to guarantee you proper representation at a reasonable and affordable cost. Do not wait until you are facing a Title IV proceeding to act to protect yourself.

For more information about Title IV and the Clergy Assistance Plan, and for an application for membership, please visit us on-line at www.canonlawyer.org.

Faithfully,

Michael F. Rehill, Esq.
CanonLawyer, Inc.

The shield device and the terms CanonLawyer, CanonLawyer.org, CanonLawyer and Clergy Assistance Plan are trademarks of CanonLawyer, Inc., a New Jersey corporation.

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Comments (14)

Let me say, first, that many of you may know Michael - or, may remember his name when I tell you a little of his history.

Michael Rehill was the Chancellor of the DioNwk, serving Jack Spong. He advised Jack during the proposed (but never imposed) censure from the HOB for his stance on LGBT issues. Rehill also represented Bishop Walter Righter during the heresy trial. He is a Municipal Judge and has also served many General Conventions as deputy. He is a man of great integrity and is passionate about issues of justice. You can hear that in his letter.

Yes, the letter sounds very ominous. If you had dealt with clergy around the country who are either facing Title IV charges or are being threatened with Title IV charges, you would have the same ominous sense. I have known three clergy in the past five years who have been brought up on Title IV charges and I can tell you it was a nightmare, even from a distance.

One gay priest was falsely accused by a 15 year old choir boy who was angry because his advances were declined. The priest was immediately fired by the bishop. The Title IV process assumed guilt. They moved so quickly that they were actually ahead of the legal process. The detectives - you know, the trained professionals who are skilled and experienced in interrogation techniques - found holes in the boys's story and finally, after almost a year, got the truth.

The bishop - known to be "moderate" and proudly "tolerant" on the issue of sexuality - told the priest that, even though he was thoroughly exonerated, he could not be reinstated as rector. In fact, the priest was told by the bishop that he couldn't have a job anywhere in the diocese. And, probably because the bishops is Chief Pastor and all but not because he was embarrassed by the process or even homophobic in the least - told the man never to expect to work as a priest in this church again.

That priest is now working in a social service agency, doing Gospel work that makes Jesus' heart sing. I can tell you other stories - about women, mostly - who came into situations as agents of change and transformation who were met with great resistance. They were either brought up on nebulous charges of "conduct unbecoming" from the "old guard" who made up stories of questionable breaches of ethics or threatened with Title IV Charges. In each case, the bishop was not only unhelpful, he actually became part of the problem.

Michael Rehill is so passionate about this issue the he and his assistant, Pamela, had a booth at the last General Convention where they tried to educate anyone who was willing to listen about Title IV from the experience of those who have represented many clergy.

Part of the problem is that the stated goal of Title IV is "reconciliation". Well, of course, we all want that. but I don't think there can be reconciliation without justice. Title IV presumes guilt before being found innocent. That's not the system of justice in this country. It shouldn't be in our church.

Title IV also gives bishops too much power without appropriate channels of accountability. Finally, the process is very cumbersome. I understand we have 25 dioceses in TEC with less than 3,000 members. They simply don't have the resources to deal with the requirements of Title IV. How can justice be served when the resources aren't there to find the truth?

We should repeal Title IV at our next convention but since we have it for the next three years, it wouldn't be such a bad idea - if you can afford it - to put Michael on retainer at $1,2000 per year. It's not "liability insurance" - doctors and lawyers pay much, much more - but having Michael on retainer provides assurance that, if you do get hit with a Title IV complaint (or threat), you have a good lawyer who can advise and represent you.

>>What is your reaction?

1. This is a sales letter, not a news item.

2. If what he is selling is needed, then the situation in our church is very sad.

3. Mr. Rehill needs a new website.

Perhaps the problem with the new Title IV is that, like Christianity itself, it has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried (pace G.K. Chesterton).

While I no longer practice law, I'm old enough -- or old-fashioned enough, depending on your vantage point -- to be very uncomfortable with lawyer advertising, particularly of this ilk. Specifically, there's a big difference between letting prospective clients know of one's services and and areas of practice, and marketing materials that may tend to cause unwarranted fear and anxiety. I'm also more than a little uneasy with the use of a modified version of the church's logo, as it may create the impression of endorsement by the church.

Prepaid legal services also cause me some discomfort. While typically very lucrative for legal professionals, the coverage provided can be illusory at best, and there's a real risk to the client when she or he is "tied" to a legal professional before an issue arises, as the attorney who almost invariably represents the client may or may not be the one best suited to the task.

I note, of course, that the site contains the disclaimer that the services provided are ecclesiastical in nature, versus legal, although the old adage of "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck" comes to mind. I'd also add that I express no opinion on Mr. Rehill, his services, or his ethics--my observation is just that I have seen enough in this piece to make me extremely uneasy.

Eric Bonetti

This is fear mongering plain and simple. You can't read the first sentence without wondering: does this person know something I don't. I am trying to imagine the circumstances under which I would feel comfortable soliciting crisis communications work in this fashion and can't come up with any.

What I would really like not to happen in this thread is that people tell stories that can't be verified but make their point perfectly. I don't believe stories that can't be independently verified, contain anonymous actors, and make the writer's point perfectly, especially when there is obviously another side of the story--as is the case in every Title IV case.

I'd be very interested to hear what the women and LGBT people who helped work on the new Title IV make of the notion that it is being used unfairly against women and LGBT people.

How I hope the church will respond to Michael Rehill's offer- from my FB page from Sally Johnson (a well known expert on Title IV):
"I think it is great that there is discussion about Title IV! As one of the authors of the "new" Title IV effective in 2011 and as one who has worked on it since 1994, I would welcome hearing from people about their concerns. I am familiar with a number of situations described in these comments and there is usually a very different "side" to these in terms of what actually caused a Title IV proceeding to be intitiated. There is a great need for clergy to be educated about Title IV and I would encourage them to "demand" that their dioceses hold a clergy day or other ways of learning about it and discussing it."

Adam Wood is right, but his point #2 is, in fact, the case: Rehill is selling something that is needed, and the situation in our church is very sad.

I received Rehill's letter because I contacted him when I was charged under Title IV. I assume he's a good guy, and absolutely agree that he's offering a needed service. I ultimately retained a different attorney (who's excellent, by the way, and I'm happy to recommend him for west coast "respondents"). I ended up spending $15,000 on legal fees, the diocese spent $57,000 on the investigation, and my case never went to trial, or whatever the new Title IV euphemism is for "trial".

Because Adam's point #1 is correct, Episcopal Cafe should be asking different questions, which might require allowing for anonymous reply to get candid answers:

How many clergy -- including bishops -- are willing to share stories of abuse at the hands of false accusers and diocesan officials under the new Title IV?

More importantly, is the new Title IV working, or in need of major reform? (Hint: It's the latter.)

Title IV is dripping with nauseating euphemisms and self-rationalizations about reconciliation. It's about reconciliation the way AK-47s are about reconciliation. My own experience unnecessarily destroyed several relationships along the way. Under the new Title IV, the respondent/defendant has very few rights, and there is no barrier to entry at all. For example, you have no right to see complaint itself. And using a "pastoral direction," a bishop can (and will) compel you to do anything he/she feels like, including waiving civil protections. In my case, I was compelled to sign a release of HIPAA to allow my therapist to be interrogated about our privileged conversations.

If you want to make a malicious allegation against a priest, go for it. There is no down side. It's a Title IV offense to file a false claim, but that only applies to clergy, and even then, good luck proving intent.

I love my congregation, and that, together with my family's support, sustained me through a very dark period. I've pulled back pretty far (but not completely) from the idea of renouncing orders, not because I don't want to be a priest, but because this has shaken (and for a time, completely eliminated) my confidence in the canons I'm bound to and the people who administer them. I'm recovering to a new normal, but don't want to return to the naive stance I previously held. As a colleague said to me during all this, "I know Jesus loves me, but everything else is up in the air."

So to Rehill's letter: I think this is the shape of things to come. Next time I sign a letter of agreement (or re-negotiate the one I have), I'll ask for this or a comparable service to be included in my compensation package. It is, for clergy, what malpractice insurance is for doctors, and unless Title IV is revised, the problem will get a lot worse before it gets better.

When I contacted other clergy for advice, I learned that my situation wasn't in any way unusual. The things I heard from colleagues break my heart, and are breaking the back of the church. Episcopal Cafe: Ask the question differently, and get ready to read some stories.

My friend Lane Hensley's comment has gotten me thinking, and I invite you to think along with me.

Is there a way to collect the stories Lane discusses while restricting people to telling their own stories? What I object to isn't individuals telling their own side of a two sided story. Rather, I am disinclined to believe people who cherry pick unverifiable stories that are not their own to prove points.

Additionally, we need to do this in a way that doesn't libel anyone.

I don't mind granting anonymity, but unless we here at the Cafe can verify the story, we are vulnerable to perpetuating hoaxes, so we'd need some kind of interaction with the poster.

Is there a way to make this work?

I wish to make a few corrections to my comment. First, Michael is not just an attorney. He is a canon lawyer with years of experience. When he represents clergy, he does so not just as an attorney but as a canon lawyer.

Michael is a retired Municipal Judge. His partner - not assistant - is Pamela Lutz.

The $1,200 fee is not so much a retainer as it is membership in a Clergy Assistance Plan which allows you access to experienced canon law professionals and provides assurance that, if you do get hit with a Title IV complaint (or threat), you will have good advice and representation.

Finally, I am deeply grateful for Sally's measured and helpful response. Yes, we do need canon laws for those clergy who break boundaries or break the law. My sense is that Title IV changes are well intended but an over-correction. Good priests - creative, innovative agents of change - are getting hurt by those in power who are using Title IV for their own purposes.

I am also delighted that Lane was brave enough to tell his story. Part of what Michael and Pamela desire is to have people tell their stories. Its a difficult thing to do but as long as we keep secrets, we give power to those who would abuse the system - and others.

Dennis Maynard has written a book entitled "When Sheep Attack". In it, he stresses that the one consistent theme is that the bishops was not only not helpful, s/he became part of the problem.

Is it any wonder that Pew Research has reported that , across denominational lines, clergy are no longer in parish ministry five years after graduation from seminary?

In cases like Lane's, where clergy may want protection against legal fees when they negotiate their letters of agreement, it may be worth considering compensation for legal fees, versus participation in a legal plan. Regardless of the skill of the attorney in question, I am skeptical of any arrangement in which you choose your attorney in advance. And there are some ethical issues that may arise when one's attorney is paid for by one's employer. What if, for example, the complainant is someone represented by the same canon lawyer? Given the relatively small size of TEC, this is a very real possibility.

Lane, thank you for the remarkable candor and transparency in your posting--that was an act of courage.

Eric Bonetti

Thinking out loud a bit about Jim's question, "Is there a way to collect the stories ..."

There are, of course, limits to the value of anecdotal evidence, even if it turns out to be verifiably true. You'll always be able to find fodder to fill the Reader's Digest "That's Outrageous" column, and it's not constructive to one-up each other with victimization stories. (Some of us smart alecks think that's what seminary is for.)

The better public conversation has to do with the problems and limitations of Title IV. The cases and examples are useful only for the purpose of establishing that just because something bad CAN happen, there is reason to believe that it WILL happen or HAS happened. Jim's idea that we speak for ourselves and not for third parties is a good one. I'm writing from home, but back at the office, I have a long file I wrote one night when I couldn't sleep detailing specifically my own objections to Title IV, along with examples and, in some cases, proposed canonical revisions. I never finished the document, but it was gratifying to draft.

I wonder if there isn't value to a private conversation, too, and while I'm a big fan of Episcopal Cafe, I question whether this is the appropriate venue. I'm thinking specifically about how Title IV "respondents" can be in touch with each other in private online groups for the purpose of offering mutual support. I have to say that I've never felt as alone or hopeless as I did while enjoying the benefits of Christ's reconciling love through canonical process. Hearing from colleagues, including bishops, who had first-hand knowledge of being on the business end of T4 kept me sane, or arguably made me so. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about praying the Creed in community because the community can believe for her when she can't. I found that I could despair safely in the company of friends who could stay steady for me.

This is picking at an emotional scab for me that's well on its way to healing completely, but not entirely there yet. It's taken a long time to see God's presence in this. For a few months there, I concluded that there was no God at all, and when I came back around on that point, my fist shaking and cursing in prayer would have made Job blush. But I think God can stand my petulance, and the return feels like coming home from college: It's still home, but it's not the same because I'm not the same. And as Thomas discovered and a friend reminds me from time to time, the resurrected Body of Christ still bears wounds.

Author Dennis R. Maynard left a comment on my Facebook page:

Dennis wrote: "Elizabeth, I think the best part of this conversation is that our clergy are being made aware of the changes in Title IV. Michael's email is providing us with a great service. Since publishing "When Sheep Attack" I have now heard from over two hundred other clergy that were threatened into resigning their parishes. None of the Episcopal Clergy in that number made it to Title IV because the clergy simply chose to resign or retire before it got that far. Personally, I think the changes to Title IV give the clergy antagonists even more freedom to force clergy out. The two hundred additional responses I've received carry certain constants. The parochial statistics indicate the clergy were doing a good job at the time the bullying began. The attacks came as a complete surprise to them. Usually no more than four or five people were involved in the bullying process. They often included the threat to "get something on the pastor" or included vague rumors and innuendo. Once the clergy resigned or accepted early retirement the parish went into an immediate decline. I share this with you not in the spirit of "fear mongering" but factual accounts from the clergy themselves. The downside of this conversation is that just as it will raise the awareness among clergy it will also make those that target clergy more aware of the new resource at their disposal."Elizabeth, I think the best part of this conversation is that our clergy are being made aware of the changes in Title IV. Michael's email is providing us with a great service. Since publishing "When Sheep Attack" I have now heard from over two hundred other clergy that were threatened into resigning their parishes. None of the Episcopal Clergy in that number made it to Title IV because the clergy simply chose to resign or retire before it got that far. Personally, I think the changes to Title IV give the clergy antagonists even more freedom to force clergy out. The two hundred additional responses I've received carry certain constants. The parochial statistics indicate the clergy were doing a good job at the time the bullying began. The attacks came as a complete surprise to them. Usually no more than four or five people were involved in the bullying process. They often included the threat to "get something on the pastor" or included vague rumors and innuendo. Once the clergy resigned or accepted early retirement the parish went into an immediate decline. I share this with you not in the spirit of "fear mongering" but factual accounts from the clergy themselves. The downside of this conversation is that just as it will raise the awareness among clergy it will also make those that target clergy more aware of the new resource at their disposal."

Perhaps Dennis Maynard's book is good but the title angers me -- church members are not "sheep" and clergy are not their "shepherds" - maybe a lot of the problem is this sort of naming?

Agreed, Ann. The terms are part of the problem because the reflect the problem

Here's a good ENS article that gives a good summary of the Title IV debate. I commend it to your reading: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/08/14/title-iv-continues-to-attract-debate/

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