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Commission on Impairment and Leadership publishes report

Commission on Impairment and Leadership publishes report

The Commission on Impairment and Leadership in the Episcopal Church has offered its report to General Convention. As it notes in the Introduction:

The work of the Commission on Impairment and Leadership was precipitated by a crisis: the death of a bicyclist caused by a bishop of the Episcopal Church who was driving while impaired. Less than three months later, the House of Bishops passed a resolution asking the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to appoint a commission to “explore the canonical, environmental, behavioral and procedural dimensions of matters involving the serious impairment of individuals serving as leaders in the Church, with special attention to issues of addiction and substance abuse.”

The report notes that it recommends

actions that promote a significant cultural shift in the Episcopal Church. These recommendations address the problem of impaired leaders, but they also diagnose and suggest treatment for an impaired system that maintains denial and helplessness toward addiction, mental illness, and physical disease.

Tensions between privacy and accountability, and between responsibility and forgiveness have contributed to that system of denial and helplessness, adding from its Case Studies (emphasis added):

Unfortunately, in almost every case that we examined, the ecclesial structure and polity of our church proved to contribute negatively to the situation. Clericalism, a misunderstanding of hierarchy, the canonical autonomy of parishes and dioceses, and a polity that hinders the enforcement of expectations all contributed to inactivity by responsible persons and bodies (such as bishops, chancellors, vestries, Standing Committees, search committees and consultants, Commissions on Ministry, and seminaries). Fear of exposure to liability (as individuals and as a corporate body) provided additional reason for these groups to avoid action. An often underdeveloped theology of forgiveness also contributed to the abusers being given multiple opportunities to repeat their behaviors without consequences.

The detailed recommendations of the Commission, regarding education, evaluation, intervention, and recovery support are available here; it is worth noting further that

The recommendations of this report are not addressed solely to the General Convention, the Executive Council, or the House of Bishops. These bodies do have a significant leadership role in the health and well-being of our church. Some of the commission’s recommendations invite the consideration of legislative action, canonical changes, and the possible implementation of new policy by these bodies. But the commission cannot state strongly enough our belief that legislation and policy alone cannot accomplish the greater cultural shift required in our church to address issues of addiction and substance abuse. We believe firmly that the health and wellbeing of our church invites a more concerted, broad-based, grassroots effort.
We invite all leadership bodies to whom these recommendations are directed to consider them openly, prayerfully, and seriously and to play an active part in the healing of the wider church.

The roster of individuals engaged with the Commission on Impairment and Leadership is here; their full report is here (pdf).


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As a bishop I found that the greatest responsibilities I had as well as the greatest stress revolved around the discernment over actions and behavior. When is there real opportunity for restored health and when is a situation such that one puts the church at risk. Policy changes alone will not resolve these matters. We must ensure that the best resources, guidance and accountability are available and used by those in leadership. The fact that all of this is now more public and transparent will be help because accountability will be more on the line. The fact that it will not easy should not deter doing all we can to have the church always be a place of health and safety.


Just read the report. It is impressive and It does indeed advocate a great “cultural shift” to address issues of addiction and substance abuse. Mandating classes on impairment akin to those on sexual misconduct would be just the start. Changing institutional culture is no small task. I wonder if we have the will and the resources necessary to do it.

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