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Bishop of Nevada on history of how Parry was received as priest

Bishop of Nevada on history of how Parry was received as priest

The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards has issued a statement on the history of how Bede Parry came to be a priest in the Diocese of Nevada during the tenure of his predecessor, the current Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

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Wednesday, 06 July 2011 14:49


Statement Regarding Resignation Of Fr. Bede Parry

We have now reviewed the history of how Bede Parry became a priest in Nevada. I will tell you the story as forthrightly as possible. Many people are involved in this story. To understand their decisions and actions, it is necessary first to understand two things: what this story is not and what our guiding principles are.

First, what this story is not: This is not the horrifying story of a predatory pedophile priest who is passed from parish to parish so he can continue his predatory behavior. Far from it. For those who have the story of the predatory pedophile fixed in their minds, it will be difficult to hear and accept the actual facts. These facts will not fit their entrenched assumptions. But if we are to tell the truth, we must tell a different story.

Second, our guiding principles: Keeping children safe is an absolute moral duty. There is no exception to that. We also believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ to change people. That transforming power can be mediated through psychotherapy. We do not naively believe people have changed just because they say so. When someone truly changes, there is evidence of that change in their conduct. It is visible, verifiable.

How did the Diocese of Nevada decide to ordain Bede Parry to the priesthood? In the Episcopal Church it is not possible for a bishop, acting alone, to receive a priest from another denomination. It was a multi-level decision which meticulously followed the applicable canons. Title III Canon 11 Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church (2,000). When Fr. Bede applied to be received as an Episcopal priest, that request had to be judged by several levels of church governance – each with both clergy and lay people participating in the decision. The process of considering his application began in 2002 culminating in his being received two years later in October, 2004. The Commission on Ministry (made up of both clergy and laity) knew everything the bishop knew about Bede Parry. These good people did not decide to put children at risk. By accepting Fr. Bede as a priest, they were determining that he was not a threat to children.

Why did they decide he was not a threat? The Commission on Ministry knew of the incident of “inappropriate touching” that allegedly occurred with a young man in his late teens. That incident was not covered up. It was reported to the police who did not choose to prosecute the case. However, Fr. Bede did leave his monastery and receive intensive psychotherapy.

It has been reported that there was a psychological examination showing that he was likely to repeat his offense. No such report was sent to the Diocese of Nevada and, to this day, we have no knowledge of its existence other than an assertion by the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in a John Doe lawsuit against the monastery. Reliable testing to predict such sexual abuse was not even developed until nearly two decades later, so the assertion in the John Doe complaint is dubious. The Diocese of Nevada, however, did have our own independent psychological evaluation done by a psychologist and it did not indicate any pathology or risk.

At the time of Fr. Bede’s application, he had been working in churches as an organist for 15 years without a hint of any impropriety. An incident with a late adolescent, while certainly morally wrong, and unquestionably a matter for serious concern, does not indicate pedophilia. Pedophilia is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. It is a condition that is usually compulsive, so repeated misconduct is common. American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 1994) (DSM IV) Pedophilia Sec. 302.2 pp. 527-528. Fr. Bede is not a pedophile. This is not a moral difference but it is a psychological difference that matters a great deal in determining whether someone is likely to err again.

Based on the known facts and interviews with Fr. Bede, lay and clergy church representatives agreed that he should be received as a priest. The record shows no dissent. Nonetheless, the bishop added the restriction that he should not have contact with minors. This was to add double protection and prevent even the appearance of any threat to minors. This restriction and the reasons for it were conveyed by the bishop to people who supervised Fr. Bede’s work. Further, the bishop, in consultation with the diocesan attorney, recommended abuse awareness workshops.

For nearly a decade since that decision, Fr. Bede has served faithfully, still without a hint of misconduct. Some in the blogosphere want to speculate that there have been ongoing depredations that have not come to light. I wish there were a way to reassure them, but since their imaginings are purely the fantasies of their own minds, there is nothing we can do to answer that. It is impossible to prove a negative. The facts are that for fifteen years before Fr. Bede became a priest and for over nine years since he became a priest, there has been no report, formal or informal, credible or incredible, no rumor or innuendo of any repetition of the incident that is alleged to have occurred in Missouri a quarter of a century ago.

As I review what was done 2002 – 2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained. The bishop, priests, and lay people of Nevada kept children safe and they were true to our belief that people can be redeemed. It is ironic that some have taken this incident as a pretext to attack Bishop Katharine for laxity in enforcing rules for the safety of children. Bishop Katharine introduced Safeguarding God’s Children standards and training here. No bishop has ever done so much to rid our diocese of clergy misconduct or to establish and enforce rules to preserve healthy boundaries.

Of course we can always improve and when the matter is so important we must keep striving to do better. We did have Safeguarding God’s Children training and standards in place. But it would be better to have more people keeping a special watch; so I will be more proactive to insure that more people in the parishes know about any restrictions on ministry such as the “no-contact with minors” restriction in this case. While Fr. Bede’s record in Nevada remains unblemished, we can and should learn what we can from this experience and redouble our commitment to Safeguarding God’s Children training and standards.

Our duty to keep children safe is absolute. That duty requires more than precautions. It requires us to live in faith rather than fear, in hope rather than despair over human nature. Our children will grow stronger and healthier in a church that dares to believe in redemption when we see it solidly proven over many years as we did here.

My heart goes out to the people at All Saints who are living through this ordeal. I met with the congregation last week and with concerned parents last night. I will meet with the vestry tonight. Being the church is hard because we are all broken, but by the grace and power of Jesus, when this is past, we will be as Hemingway said, “stronger in the broken places.”

Yours in Christ,

Dan Edwards

10th Bishop of Nevada

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Rob

At the risk of adding more words to a long discussion in which many thoughts, concerns, and feelings have been raised, I do remain troubled by Fr Parry's reception into the Episcopal Church.

To my mind, any conduct in the past that indicates a potential danger to a priest's charges seems to be an item that would restrict him or her from entering priestly ministry.

When someone demonstrates an ability to so blur the lines of authority and pastoral responsibility then how can we, in good conscience, bring that person into a role of pastoral leadership?

Our responsibility seems to lie far more with protecting our congregations than on the individual - even individuals whose demonstrated and clear repentance has been made manifest.

We are not excommunicating nor de-baptizing persons. They can absolutely be wonderful and faithful leaders and a solid presence in our parishes whose ability to communicate a sense of grace and forgiveness will be a blessing to those around them. However, we should draw lines at ordination.

With the profound distrust of clergy that now exists, in part because of clergy abuse scandals, our approach to this must be clear and firm - with the weight being given to safeguarding congregations.

When hiring people in the past or promoting them (and in offering advice to those in relationships) my advice has been "past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior." It is often the only thing we have by which to measure those we encounter.

This is not to discount grace, forgiveness, repentance, and the work of the Spirit. God is mighty to save and we all need that saving love.

However, the standard by which we set aside people for the priesthood (or receive them) must recognize that ministry can take so many forms that ordained ministry is not the only place for service to God.

I do not know all of the exigent circumstances of this particular case nor do I know Fr Parry. I trust that those charged with bringing him into the Episcopal Church did so after earnest prayer and deep thought.

It does seem, however, that admitting someone to the ordained ministry and creating a caveat that they not have interactions with minors is deeply problematic. That such a caveat would have to exist is profoundly distressing in one who is to be entrusted with a congregation.

Putting persons with a difficult past in situations where such temptations are naturally going to arise (and where the lines of authority are such that those situations will be even more fraught) is not kind to the individuals and it seems entirely inappropriate for the congregations involved.

Those who are part of discernment committees and have a role in guiding new clergy along often have wonderful, faithful, and gifted leaders they are asked to evaluate and advise.

Committees and bishops who would ask those who have committed such improprieties in the past to consider other forms of ministry are not wielding some great strength nor dwelling on one person's weakness - they are recognizing that some weaknesses, once revealed, make giving that person ordained responsibilities a chance for new hurt to unfold. They are acknowledging that our collective sins make risking new pain unthinkable.

There is no sure way to determine whether someone is actually "fit" for ministry. So many of us will fail at any given point. Yet, in this case, it seems that once such conduct is revealed - forgetting it is not an option. The lifelong impact of abuse is so grave that we cannot risk being a party by ordaining those we know to be a risk (and in this particular case acknowledging such with a specific caveat).

This whole question is not specifically about the Presiding Bishop nor the Bishop of Nevada. I think these questions need to be asked of the whole church and not about one case but about the overall standards which we use to shepherd men and women into the ordained life.

Robert Hendrickson

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Hgrayowl

The longer this goes on, from a layman's perspective, we have too many "barracks lawyers" trying to score points. We need more prayerful and thoughful commentary. It is a sad story all around. What is past is past. We need to move forward.

Herb Gray

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Execute

John, I'm looking at this statement in the Kansas City Star article: "Between 1973 and 1979, the lawsuit says, Parry told the Conception Abbey abbot that he had inappropriate sexual contact with three people at the abbey. And in 1981, the lawsuit says, Parry had sexual contact with a student at St. John’s in Minnesota. Parry admitted that misconduct to several people, including abbots at Conception and St. John’s, according to the lawsuit."

So, the part of the complaint against the Monastery is that the abbots knew about these events because Parry admitted them at the time. That's the basis of my use of "consistent."

Marshall Scott

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Richard E. Helmer

First, I don't think it's fair to argue that most of the people have some axe to grind with our PB or are out to get Bede Parry.

Perhaps not, but I detect an undertow of this kind of blaming in this thread. I think not to admit that we want someone to blame for this mess would be disingenuous.

I generally agree,for the sake of our children, with zero tolerance for known abusers in positions of trust, and also with the suggestion that we review our canons.

That said, I've never met a perfect canon. At the end of the day, people make the judgments and determinations, as did our sisters and brothers in Nevada. Those decisions don't always turn out the way we hope.

All I'm saying is we do better to resist rushes to judgment. I think Jesus has something to say about that.

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Scott Christian

First, I don't think it's fair to argue that most of the people have some axe to grind with our PB or are out to get Bede Parry. If they are like me, they are genuinely shocked that a diocese would ordain anyone who had admitted to child sex abuse. This does not mean that the offender should be cast out into darkness, but simply that TEC should not put a collar around his neck, with all that that means both inside and outside the church community.

Second, I suggest that we all ask our individual dioceses about their canons and policies in this regard. I had wrongly assumed from hearing over the years that TEC was a leader in the prevention of child sex abuse, that hiring Mr. Parry would have been out of the question. Clearly not. And this does not mean that I am judging him as a human being; I'm just not willing to risk any child's safety by putting him in back into this role, in which he committed a reprehensible and usually life-altering act on a child. There are so many other ways that he and others in a similar situation can serve God and their neighbor.

Scott Christian

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