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.
Michael F. Rehill, Esq.
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