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In email solicitation, lawyer offers Title IV insurance, advice

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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Elizabeth Kaeton

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/

Ann Fontaine

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?

Elizabeth Kaeton

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.”

Lane Hensley

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.

E B

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

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