Inconvenient Truths: Does The Episcopal Church Listen?

by

THE MAGAZINE

by Eric Bonetti

 

As Christians, we are to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being. Many times, that will involve bringing secrets into the light. These secrets may be shameful parts of our past, like supporting slavery. They may be misconduct that is part of the here and now. Or they may be the personal demons that, to a greater or lesser extent, haunt all of us.

 

With this month’s focus on storytelling, I asked myself, “But what about these stories? The uncomfortable and inconvenient ones that bring that which is dark into the light? The unpopular stories? Do we welcome those stories, and those who tell them? Do we prefer silence over justice? And as an institution, does The Episcopal Church welcome those who speak with a prophetic voice?”

 

Sadly, as I look at our response to various recent issues, including the Heather Cook case, I increasingly believe that, as a church, we do not welcome those who speak truth to power. Instead, we provide powerful disincentives to those who would speak up, and who would bring light to the darkness. And those who persist in sharing their concerns often are punished for doing so. When this happens, we discard our Christian witness in favor of a gospel, not of Jesus, but of convenience and comfort. Gone is the Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, replaced with a divine Caspar Milquetoast who offends no one.

 

Before we go further, let me recognize up front: It is never easy to bring up that which is unpopular, or unpleasant, and that is the case in all of human life. It is human nature to prefer the status quo and to avoid conflict.

 

This preference for the devil that we know plays out in the subtle, and not-so-subtle, social pressures that come into play when vexing issues come up in church. How often have we been at a vestry or other meeting in someone brings up an inconvenient truth, only to elicit strained expressions and sighs, or pointedly passive-aggressive silence?

 

Similarly, every parish and diocese has a number of people who will never be elected to vestry or the standing committee, as they live with the label of “troublemaker,” even though they may have acquired that label for whistle-blowing, or other behaviors we would otherwise regard as morally correct. Ironically, as most non-profit executives know, it is these organizational curmudgeons who often are among the most valuable board members at a nonprofit, for they don’t fear to tread on sometimes treacherous terrain, and they engender accountability at all levels of the organization. But all too often, we regard these individuals in The Episcopal Church as virtual lepers, whose very existence might engender, well, accountability.

 

Accountability also comes into play when a parishioner locks horns with his or her rector. Rather than recognizing that conflict often is the Holy Spirit’s way of knocking on our doors, clergy often will retaliate in these situations. Penalties may range from ostracism to being asked to find a new parish. In such cases, there may be little recourse, with diocesan officials reluctant to address such abuses of power, preferring instead to treat the parishioner as a troublemaker, or labeling the parishioner as a “chronic malcontent.”

 

Even in cases where there is no head-on collision between clergy and parishioner, many clergy will quietly work to undercut or sideline those lay leaders who are perceived as unwilling to rubber stamp decisions made by clergy.

 

Another powerful disincentive against bringing forward inconvenient truths is the parish/family system itself, which can exert tremendous social pressure to maintain the status quo. Parishioners typically respond badly to those who dare rock the boat. This is the case even when, for example, substantiated instances of sexual misconduct have occurred. In these cases, the judicatory often discovers that large portions of the parish blame the victim for what transpired. “Father _____ would never do that,” people respond, even when confronted with irrefutable evidence of misconduct.

 

Our ability to receive and process negative information appropriately is further hindered by the fact that the parish system has, built into its very structure, triangulation. Have a complaint about the rector? Many will respond by saying that the matter should be discussed with the parish wardens, versus the better response, which is to ask, “Have you discussed your concerns directly with the rector?”

 

Even in the case of formal mechanisms to address misconduct, misplaced concerns about pastoral care may prevent an appropriate response. I personally saw this play out in a parish in Pennsylvania, where parishioners were shocked to discover that they were the victims of an embezzler, who had been stealing from the church for years. Even more disconcerting was the discovery that the rector had known of the issue the entire time, but had ignored the matter, ostensibly because he did not wish to harm the culprit.

 

But the most telling recent case study of our ability as an organization to welcome those would tell an unpleasant story is that of Heather Cook.

 

While we will never know all the details, there have been social media posts that suggest that some in the diocese knew of Cook’s issues with substance abuse many years prior to her consecration. For example, one member of the diocese recounts being given a ride home from a church event by Cook, who at the time was a parish priest; Cook allegedly was highly intoxicated at the time.

 

While we cannot know if a complaint was filed about this incident, or if so, how it may have been handled or not handled, we can surmise that the passenger did not complain to the diocese. Doing so would have involved an awkward disciplinary process that likely would have resulted in Cook denying that the event ever occurred, then working to retaliate against the complainant. And the deference given to clergy likely would have resulted in many clergy, and diocesan officials as well, rallying to Cook’s defense, regardless of the truth of the underlying claims.

 

Similarly, with the “consecration train” having left the station, the mechanisms of the church pushed the event forward, despite the fact that the bishop diocesan apparently had alerted the presiding bishop to Cook’s problems. Even with members of the diocesan staff allegedly having seen Cook drunk at an event shortly before the consecration, it appears that no effort was made to put the consecration on hold. Regrettable indeed, but certainly understandable, for who would have wanted to be the person to initiate a Title IV complaint, just days before the event? And would the bishop have been willing to place Cook on administrative leave, or otherwise derail the event, particularly when it already was within his power as bishop diocesan to do so, even without a formal complaint? And even if a Title IV case had been initiated, the intake officer might well have decided that Cook’s alleged drunkenness at the pre-consecration dinner was a single instance of bad behavior, not actionable under Title IV. In short, there exists no mechanism in the church to have a difficult conversation of this sort, unless one wishes to jump in front of the proverbial train. And, with the wheels turning full-speed towards consecration, anyone who had the courage to speak up probably would have been turned into the train equivalent of a hood ornament. In short, speaking up would have been political suicide, and the “culprit” likely would have found life in the diocese unbearable.

 

Our follow-on response to the Cook tragedy is equally troubling. While the recent general convention resolutions about alcohol were appropriate and useful, there has been scant attention paid to the real issue, which is about whistleblowers in the church. Do we have a culture in which one can share one’s concerns openly, and without fear of retaliation? I think not. And even if one has the courage of one’s convictions, what mechanism exists for responding to a complaint of this sort? Unsuitability for ordination is likely not actionable under Title IV, so where does one go from there?

 

In theory, of course, the bishop diocesan has authority to address these issues. My experience, however, is that most are reluctant to wade too far into matters of this sort, even in cases of impairment or clear mental illness. In such cases, our hierarchy often regards the various options as equally unpalatable, and so it goes with the easiest approach, which is inertia. And in Cook’s case, a meeting with the bishop in the hours prior to the consecration was neither likely, nor would have resulted in any changes. Having tossed the hot potato to 815, it would have indeed been surprising had the bishop suddenly taken action on his own.

 

As those who have followed the Cook case know all too well, these situations often are exacerbated by the confidentiality of issues involving pastoral care. We are told, for example, that the Cook search committee knew that one of the candidates had a DUI in their past, but it appears that they did not know more than that. Had they known that this information pertained to Cook, committee members might well have asked to explore the issue more thoroughly. Thus, the inevitable tension between privacy and transparency resulted in a failure to disclose a vitally important piece of information.

 

Even had this information been shared, however, it is not clear that it would have been processed appropriately. Regrettably, our seminaries typically teach nothing about the basics of laws affecting the workplace, including fair labor standards, employee privacy, and anti-discrimination statutes. As a result, parish and diocesan staff often are at complete loss when it comes to these issues, and I have personally observed behaviors that would get one fired in record time were they to occur in the context of employment with a for-profit organization.

 

Compounding these challenges is the fact that many dioceses have no written framework to address governance issues. Other than their constitutions and canons, the Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs, and policies on sexual misconduct, dioceses often lack even rudimentary governance documents, including anti-discrimination, fair employment, and other basic HR policies. Thus, there is no starting point or framework for a discussion of the sort that would have been needed to head off the Heather Cook issue. And with no publicly available “rules of the road,” it would have taken a brave soul indeed to bring these issues to the light of day.

 

In conclusion, The Episcopal Church, taken as a whole, lacks the willingness to have meaningful discussions about misconduct or other inconvenient realities of modern life. Our governance structures, including the parish system, provide a powerful disincentive to avoid conflict, and tend toward a punitive response when someone rocks the boat by bringing up uncomfortable or unpopular concerns. Yet if we are to be a healthy church, we must learn to welcome, embrace, and respond appropriately to both unpopular stories, and to the people who tell them. It is only by doing so that we can truly learn from our past mistakes and bring light into the darkness.

 

 

Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.

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Paul Woodrum
Guest

Thanks Ann for the guide to Canon IV changes. For those who are not deputies to convention, finding specific information is a chore. Glad to see the A-130 amendment.

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Sharon Moon
Guest
Sharon Moon

Despite all that I said above that may sound to the hearer that I believe the Episcopal Church does not listen, my experience is that there are always those here and among us who are ready to listen and serve and who have strong and dedicated hearts and keep on marching to Zion.

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Clifford Baum
Guest
Clifford Baum

Interesting article, but I have difficulty understanding this sentence:

" Our governance structures, including the parish system, provide a powerful disincentive to avoid conflict, and tend toward a punitive response when someone rocks the boat by bringing up uncomfortable or unpopular concerns."

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

A124 Amend Title IV
A125 Amend Canon IV.5.3(g) Qualification of Clerk
A127 Amend Canon IV.5 — Add Canon IV.5.4
A128 Amend Canon IV.6.3 Mandatory Reporting by Bishop
A129 Amend Canons IV.6.5, IV.6.6 and IV.19.10(b) Notice of Dismissal and Appeal Matters
A130 Amend Canon IV.6.7 Notice of Complaint to Clergy
A131 Amend Canon IV.6.8 Progress and Accountability
A132 Amend Canon IV.6.9 Time to Reach an Agreement
A133 Amend Canon IV.7.4 Clarification of Compensation under Restriction
A134 Amend Canon IV.12.12 Move to 14.8
A135 Amend Canon IV.13 Procedural Matters and Discovery
A136 Amend Canon IV.14.4 Distribution of Accord
A137 Amend Canon IV.14.5 Modification of Times
A138 Amend Canon IV.14.8 Shorten Times
A139 Amend Canon IV.14.11 Adding Church Attorney to Comport with Parallel Canon
A140 Amend Canon IV.12 Add President of House of Deputies as Recipient of Notice of Accord
A141 Amend Canon IV.14.12(b) Correction to References to Office of Transition Ministry
A143 Amend Canon IV.16 Clarification of Matters Concerning Abandonment
A145 Amend Canon IV.19.6 Clarifying Consequences of Default by Respondent
A146 Amend Canon IV.19.14(b) and (c) Impartiality
A147 Amend Canon IV.19.25 Clarification of Bishops Performing as Bishop Diocesan
A148 Amend Canon IV.19.30 Requiring Electronic Copies of Proceedings

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Thank you, Ann. A130 is an important step in the improvement of the process. Still lots more to go but the education will also help enormously.

"At the same time as forwarding the intake report to the Reference Panel, the Intake Officer shall send a notice to the subject Member of the Clergy
informing him or her of the nature of the alleged Offense(s), the identity of the Complainant, and describing the next procedural steps that the Member of the Clergy can anticipate."

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

http://www.generalconvention.org

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Sharon Moon
Guest
Sharon Moon

In re: Title IV: I have been in three parishes who have "gotten rid of" priests In two out of the three it was done in a quiet, subverted way so the Bishop would simply force the priest to resign. In the one case of Title IV, the priest involved requested that he be able to to leave more informally, he then requested the Vestry drop their action (which they did), and then he turned around and sought support to elect a new vestry at the next election, fomenting anti-gay and other similar sentiment and turned it into a virtual blood bath. Nothing quiet or private about it once he shifted gears. Ugly. Poison. Not caring about the cost. In one of these situations the priest, in my view, was a complete innocent. In the second, he was poorly equipped. The third speaks for itself IMHO. What is more painful is to be in a parish that is afraid to address clergy dysfunction. Severe addiction especially. That is why this article is so important. The three rules of many alcoholic families are lived out in parish life: Don't think, don't feel and don't speak

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Anand Gnanadesikan
Guest
Anand Gnanadesikan

I wonder how much the problem is that in many organizations being "nice" is more important than being "good."

Certainly it's easy to see how that happens in mainline churches, but to some extent I've seen it in evangelical churches as well. The people making a fuss are often hurt, angry, and uncomfortable to be around. They don't come across as "nice". The psychopaths or narcissists who have hurt them though, are perfectly capable of looking astonished and hurt by the "unfairness" of the accusations hurled against them. Because they honestly don't feel the force of them.

But the prophets were not "nice" people. Their main concern was not on making those around them like them or feel comfortable.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

Astute. And true of a situation I witnessed. And you might have noticed, I'm not always "nice."

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David Allen
Guest
David Allen

But the prophets were not “nice” people. Their main concern was not on making those around them like them or feel comfortable.

But they were not evil people either. They were there to speak the truth, not to make the truth bend to the results that they wished to achieve. However, that is the behavior that I have experienced in so-called "prophets" in parishes. The truth has become relative to their motives.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

I think this is an excellent point and has a great deal of truth in it.

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Elizabeth Digby
Guest
Elizabeth Digby

Ellen, I am so very sorry at your experience and am grateful that you have stayed with our church, despite the difficulties you have faced.

My heartfelt prayers for you and your husband, and for all those who have been hurt or let down by the church. And my apologies to those who I may have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly, over the years.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Thank you Elizabeth. I think it is important that we, as a church, have these difficult conversations. You brought important insight into the dialogue.

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Elizabeth Digby
Guest
Elizabeth Digby

I was for many years involved in the disciplinary process in my diocese. During that time, I saw very few unfounded complaints. Clergy also were adept at playing the victim card, and the worse the behavior, the more likely the clergy was to claim how hurt and offended they were, sometimes accompanied by great theatrics. Yet when we dug deeper, in almost every case the respondent had been flirting with trouble for years.

The secret to resolving complaints was to ask the question, "Whose needs are being met here?" If the answer was the respondent's (whether emotional, financial, sexual, or spiritual), versus the lay person's, then there is misconduct. Other signs of a problem include abuse of leave by clergy (a suprisingly reliable indicator), exodus of strong lay leaders, ongoing personnel issues, and avoidance of conflict. Lack of annual mutual ministry reviews and written operating procedures also lend credence to claims of misconduct.

A few further observations:

Our disciplinary structures are quite bad at addressing emotional and spiritual abuse. Many times, these are written off as "personality conflicts," even when clergy have engaged in clear misconduct.

The emotional pain of filing a complaint is not minor. Judicatory authorities who receive a complaint should ensure immediate pastoral care. Many times, what the complainant most wants is to be heard, loved, and assured that they are in a safe environment. Cases often take on lives of their own when pastoral care is not a priority.

It is best to avoid dismissing a case if possible. That someone has taken the time and trouble to complain means that there is a need, and love and care for all parties can go a long way towards healing.

My advice to clergy is to not get tense. Easier said than done, but retaliation makes things worse, and many otherwise minor issues have exploded when clergy did not take the high road.

Conversely, many tense situations have been solved when the respondent has said to the bishop, "Let's figure out together how to fix this." In several such cases, I have been powerfully reminded that we are a resurrection people, and have seen great growth and healing for all involved.

Too often overlooked is the power of the public apology. Not the, "If I said it, I didn't mean it," type of apology. A real apology, especially if the next question is, "How can I make this right?"

It also can be helpful for the bishop to meet in person with the complainant early in the process. This can greatly reduce anxiety for all involved, especially if the bishop thanks the complainant for reaching out, and makes it clear that the focus will be on healing.

Last, I hope that no one reading this concludes that I lack sympathy for clergy who face bad behavior. I well remember when a priest and family member was accused of having an affair with a married female parishioner. All sorts of commotion, until I pointed out that he and his husband were out of the country at the time of the "affair."

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Elizabeth Digby, this is a very wise posting and thank you for your input. My situation was very similar to what you describe; there was a long standing problem with this person's behavior. Laity do not file these claims lightly, in order to do so most leave their faith communities (as I did) and in many times the lay person is further abused by the diocese in which she reports. Laity file these claims in good faith, thinking that the diocese has no tolerance for the reported behavior. My claim was handled in such an abusive manner by this diocese, I contacted the National Church, and they became involved. I remain grateful to how the National Church responded to me, treated me and helped facilitate an Accord that both my husband and I were satisfied with. Although very satisfied with the National Church and satisfied with the Accord, I have never received an apology from this bishop for either the injuries sustained or the abusive way I was treated. I agree with you, you cannot over state the importance of an apology. The National Church acknowledged what happened and apologized to me. That was most appreciated.

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Paul Woodrum
Guest

In its insistence on confidentiality and lack of transparency, Title IV plays right into Bonetti's critique. A respondent can be restricted or dismissed without ever being told the charges or who's making them. It is "victim" oriented and ignores the basic legal principle of protection against false accusations including knowing who is complaining and the complaint.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Hi, Paul. Ann Fontaine posted a very helpful list below regarding all of the resolutions passed at GC regarding Title IV. I had lost track of them all and really appreciate her listing them here.

A130 is an important step in the improvement of the process. We probably both know several clergy who got a call out of the blue saying, "Hi my name is ____ and you have been charged with a Title IV offense. Do you have any idea what that might be about?" Seriously. Still lots more to improve Title IV but the education component will also help enormously in terms of reducing the number of frivolous charges as well as making sure justice is served more widely in the process. I suspect it will also expose more flaws in the process.

The Episcopal Women's Caucus (EWC) and the Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations (NECA) collaborated to bring some of the stories of clergy experiences with Title IV and false accusations. You can still find those stories (12 of them, as I recall), on both websites. We'd like to believe that those stories helped to inspire some of the many, many changes we saw last General Convention. NECA has named Title IV reform one of their highest priorities for the next three years.

Here's the language of A130: “At the same time as forwarding the intake report to the Reference Panel, the Intake Officer shall send a notice to the subject Member of the Clergy informing him or her of the nature of the alleged Offense(s), the identity of the Complainant, and describing the next procedural steps that the Member of the Clergy can anticipate.”

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Hi, Paul - This ENS article has a summary of actions which provide helpful links to all the Resolutions regarding Title IV, none of which, far as I can tell, address the very serious concern you raise and I share.

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/07/14/convention-acts-to-streamline-title-iv-process-fund-training-materials/

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Paul, Please look at A130, which was passed at GC, Notice of Complaint to Clergy. Until the Committee has completed its work in reflecting all of the extensive changes to a Title IV, it is best to go to the GC website for all resolutions passed. Ann Fontaine has listed all the passed resolutions below. The resolutions passed regarding Title IV are so extensive,they cannot be captured in a single news article.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Paul, I would suggest you read the Title IV reform legislation that was passed at GC. What you are describing no longer exists.

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Eric Bonetti
Member
Eric Bonetti

Anjel, I write about that in an upcoming story; it's about a clergy friend who was bullied in the name of forgiveness

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Anjel Scarborough
Guest
Anjel Scarborough

Not all disagreements are about accountability. While accountability may be an issue in play when a parishioner "locks horns" with a rector, it is just as likely to be a case of clergy bullying.

The Diocese of Newark is engaging in study and the construction of a response to a rise of clergy bullying by lay persons. Title IV has been used as a weapon of threat against clergy by lay people who are, indeed, malcontents who wish nothing more than to force their own way on the whole congregation. These people employ the tools of triangulation, rumor and innuendo, lies in the public sphere, and all manner of means to destroy the clergy person. Social media has provided an open forum to try and destroy good priests. Dennis Maynard+ wrote about this phenomenon in "When Sheep Attack" and G. Lloyd Redinger also addressed it in his book "Clergy Killers."

Sadly, it seems, disagreements are leading to entrenchment as people cannot put aside their own agendas for the sake of the Body of Christ. True for clergy AND for laity.

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

Clergy tend to feel powerless even though they have more power in the system. Building allies among other leadership can defuse lay people who just have a personal agenda.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

In my experience and in the anecdotal evidence provided by folks like Maynard and Redinger, the power in "the system" depends greatly upon the diocesan bishop, who often has a "preferential option" for the congregational pledge. Maynard states explicitly that, in more than 90% of the situations, the bishop creates more of a problem than was originally there.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Clergy bullying is a serious problem and needs to be addressed through education such as the Diocese of Newark is planning to do and it is terrific they have a task force studying on his to move forward with this. Education is the only means since, as we know, the laity are not subject to the canons of the church. This being said, however, we must remember the overwhelming percentage of Title IV cases revolve around clergy sexual misconduct. I am not saying other cases do not exist; clearly they do. I think, at times, the clergy overestimate the amount of "nuisance" cases aimed at harassing clergy. Again, I am not saying these cases do not exist; I am simply pointing out what the majority of Title IV cases are about.

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

I think it is more that laity can make their voices heard for the first time. When clergy and other hierarchy don't listen - people take the only option they see.

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June Butler
Guest

There is much truth in what you say, Ann. "Both sides do it" may be true, but ordinary people have a voice now in social media, for better or for worse, and speaking out is not entirely without risk.

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Eric Bonetti
Member
Eric Bonetti

Elizabeth, there is an excellent discussion about this topic in Robin Hammeal-Urban's book, "Wholeness After Betrayal," which is based on Robin's experiences as Canon for Mission Integrity and Leadership in the diocese of Connecticut. The book is about Title IV and practical strategies to promote healing. Robin notes that the Title IV process is confidential apropos the respondent and clergy participants. Complainants, she notes, must never be told to keep the matter secret, but should be made aware that if they do disclose, they may face difficult repurcussions from within their parish or community. So I suspect that most cases are only disclosed if there are a large number of complainants, thus immunizing the complainants from retaliation; or if the clergy in question breach confidentiality; or if congregants are able to "connect the dots." Otherwise, those who publicly participate in a Title IV claim will likely find themselves thrown under the bus, regardless of the merit of their complaint. Very sad, as church should be the one place where one can speak the truth without fear.

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

"What happened in many social media platforms following the news reports of the fatality was worse than any lynching scene from any movie or Puritan public stockade or whipping from the history books."
No - it was nothing like lynching - lynching was intended to shut people up and terrorize black men.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

We'll just have to agree to disagree on this, Ann. My experience was very different and shared by many people. Yours was different and shared by many other people. Doesn't make one right and the other wrong. Just means the author is right: we need to find ways to have MEANINGFUL discussions about difficult situations.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Thank you, Eric for an excellent essay. You point out an important side of the story of telling the whole story and the costs of being prophetic about the truth we see in the church.

There is another side to this story, however. That happens when "publicly stated allegations" are suddenly transformed into "publicly known instances." Conjecture and innuendo rapidly take on a life of their own and the person is judged - and condemned - before all the facts can be known. We have seen this happen too many times in Title IV charges which were used against clergy by disgruntled congregational members and even bishops who used it as a tool to try and rid the church and the diocese from clergy whose theo-political positions were different and therefore not welcome.

Clearly, that was not the situation in the Heather Cook case, coming to light as it did only after the fatal accident. Had "something" been said earlier, had the state and church not colluded to keep the secret about the first DUI . . . . well, we can hope the ending of the story would not have been tragic. Even so, as you state, we can not know all of the details of the situation. What happened in many social media platforms following the news reports of the fatality was worse than any lynching scene from any movie or Puritan public stockade or whipping from the history books. What was carried out on platforms that were Christian and Episcopalian was shocking in its brutality and ugliness and deeply disturbing.

I suspect that this is due, at least in part, to the main point of your essay: We don't know how to tell the story. So, when the story gets told, we don't know how to tell the story of our responses to it with a modicum of restraint and Christian charity. We seem to over correct our Episcopal politeness and niceness.

Your essay articulates the problem well: We do, as a church, "lack the willingness to have MEANINGFUL discussions about misconduct or other inconvenient realities of modern life." Perhaps a place to begin to change our attitudes and eventually change the structures which support those attitudes is to speak this truth loudly and repeatedly.

I thank you for an essay which I hope will put us on that path.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

Lynching? Puritan public stockyard? Whipping? The first and third images here are invoking the violence committed against African Americans as slaves and the murdering of African Americans in the post reconstruction and Jim Crow south. When someone says "we don't know how to tell the story" perhaps this is one of the reasons. The most high drama language is invoked to silence anyone that would like to discuss any issues that effect the our Church. The fact is the Diocese of Maryland reported that Heather Cook killed Tom Palermo while driving drunk and texting and left the accident scene. One could argue that the Diocese over stepped Heather Cook's civil rights by doing so. What happened in the aftermath of this is there were certain groups and people in the Church that were unhappy about ANY discussion of the incident. There were certain groups and people that actually denied that Heather Cook killed Tom Palermo, or suggested that he caused his own death, or that Heather Cook had stopped her car and tended to Tom Palermo, all in the face of the Diocese issuing a statement that it was a drunk driving and texting hit and run. In this time period, I would frequently think about what the Palermo family would have thought about all this denial and excuses. Of course, there were the chorus of daily postings from people declaring how "they had forgiven Heather". Not only was this egocentric, again I thought what if the Palermo family had been reading this. My group site provided one of the few places on Facebook where people could have honest discussions about this tragedy without the fear of reprisal.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

Exactly my point.

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Ellen Campbell
Guest
Ellen Campbell

We cannot have meaningful conversations when we use the inflammatory language that is deliberately used to shut the conversation down or make the point there is only one truth.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
Guest

You provide a perfect example of the expansion I made on the author's point: We will not be able to have MEANINGFUL conversations about the "inconvenient truths" in our lives of faith until we are able to have meaningful conversations between each other.

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Jerald Liko
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Jerald Liko

Very good article. In the weeks right after Heather Cook's disastrous accident, there was an atmosphere in many discussion forums - including EC, I have to note - in which demands for accountability or even simple requests for an explanation of how the search process failed so spectacularly were shouted down or shamed into silence. For my part, I had given up on trying to figure out where we screwed up because those who asked questions were so quickly labeled as unforgiving and, often, misogynistic - as if we'd be totally fine with a male bishop who got wasted and ran over a cyclist.

Perhaps those of us who were asking the questions were partially to blame, for asking pointed questions when the church community as a whole was still mired in shock and grief. But those questions need to be asked, and I'm pleased to see the discussion start in a thoughtful, positive way that is oriented toward improvement of our institutions and ourselves.

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Jeremy Bates
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Jeremy Bates

When criminal charges are brought, the larger society is holding someone accountable in the most serious way. My recollection is that there was much impatience here for those charges to be brought speedily--as if the local prosecutor was somehow not on the job. Of course the prosecutor was, as was the PB. Just not on the timescale that some expected.

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David Allen
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David Allen

including EC

100% False. It never happened.

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Cynthia Katsarelis
Member

I agree with David here. When the Heather Cook tragedy was discussed, people uniformly seemed to want her head and they wanted to examine the processes that failed on her ascent to bishop. No one was shouting these people down in shape.

One of the more moderate voices was mine, of all people. All I said was that she was an accident waiting to happen and I'm not sure the Episcopal Church could have stopped it. Though I'm sure we can do better...

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John Merchant
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John Merchant

The article is excellent. There is an old saying that Noah's Ark is a fitting metaphor for the institutional church in that the stench and noise on the inside would be far too much to bear were it not for the raging storm outside. I think we Episcopalians sometimes perceive ourselves as somehow above all the unseemly conflict and turmoil and misconduct that are occasionally seen in "those other churches," which are not like us after all. Civility and "doing nice" are meant to be our guiding principles within most every aspect of our church relationships.

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Ann Fontaine
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Ann Fontaine

I wonder if the issues of the essay played out in the Cook case. Did some try to speak out only to be dismissed as being too overreactive to alcohol use? "Don't be a prude" "What are we becoming WTCU?" "this is the Episcopal Church - where when 3 or 4 are gathered there is always a 5th." I have heard these reactions when people raise concerns about use of alcohol in leadership.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

I would not be surprised Ann.

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Theodore William Johnson
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Theodore William Johnson

Good essay! However, while the Diocese of Maryland bears much responsibility for the Heather Cook situation, still greater responsibility rests with the Diocese of Easton which appears to have protected her in many ways from the logical consequences of her uncontrolled drinking. If responsible action had been taken after what may have been her first DUI arrest and other incidents of intoxication while Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Easton, the later sad events might have been prevented.

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Peter Faass
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Peter Faass

Outstanding article and so timely. I am grateful for the insights of this article and bringing light to a critical issue in our Church. This should be mandated reading and discussion at The HoB and the HoD, all Standing Committees, Diocesan Councils and Vestries.

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Pamela Shier
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Pamela Shier

It is my fervent hope that we can overcome the stigma and "embarrassment" associated with the disease of alcoholism. Then when we see someone who has identified themselves as an alcoholic drinking alcohol we can promptly and sharply address the issue. It is akin to seeing someone we know exhibiting signs of a stroke. You might be surprised at how often the victim will deny or minimize stroke symptoms. If we pastorally and firmly press the issue we can save a life, even if it appears we are "meddling" or crossing boundaries. We must learn when lives are at stake it may well be appropriate to do so.

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Murdoch Matthew
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Murdoch Matthew

The 14th Bishop of New York was known to be keeping company with the diocesan director of vocational discernment; publicly the staff (including the 15th bishop-to-be) kept quiet. Indeed, although the bishop was estranged from his wife of 40 years, the diocesan newspaper saw fit to run a story about the bishop as a great family man, using pictures of the grandchildren (who weren't speaking to him because of how he was treating their mother). Worse, as the Dean of Bexley Hall reported:

Bishop Richard Grein of New York falsely accused a priest of financial misconduct, removed her from her post, placed the woman he was having an affair with in her place, divorced his wife, and married the woman he had appointed. A settlement later reached with the diocese of New York paid a financial settlement and agreed to remove any paperwork from the priest's file that had to do with financial misconduct, essentially admitting the charges were not valid. Three ecclesial charges were filed against Bishop Grein but no disciplinary action was ever taken.

The bishop continues to officiate in the diocese as the honored retired prelate. In contrast, the 13th Bishop was at the end strongly rumored (accurately, as it turned out) to be in the closet. I'm aware of no scandal attached to this situation, but his successors treated him coolly until his death.

All this is muddled background to the mis- and unhandled mess as the General Theological Seminary in New York City lurches into a real estate receivership. The current Bishop of New York initially voiced a mild dissent, but seems to have been persuaded to keep quiet.

The church of Jesus exists, if at all, in congregations and individuals. The institution is the church of Constantine, a department of a now-disintegrating empire.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

Yes and the person that was falsely accused had to go to great lengths to obtain justice for herself and she was able to through the civil court. I am happy to say she is still a priest in our Church, which is something I greatly admire about her.

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Murdoch Matthew
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Murdoch Matthew

The 15th bishop, who as coadjutor sat by during the multi-faced scandal, was quoted at the end: "I find it sad that such charges have been brought against a
retired bishop in the Diocese he has served faithfully and well for so
many years." Note: "That charges have been brought" is the sad part. This bishop, in retirement, is near the top of the General Thelogical seminary imbroglio.

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June Butler
Guest

Eric, thank you for your excellent essay. I agree completely. The one term I served on my church vestry was most discouraging, especially when I saw the reluctance to even consider a woman as a candidate for rector when we did our search. I was told that to call a woman would be an invitation to failure. I was shocked that such a comment would be made in the presence of women, and I questioned the assumption that a female rector was doomed to fail. With that question and a few other incidents, I presume I was considered a "troublemaker", not a "team player", and unsuited to serve. Actually, my gifts don't lie in the direction of serving on a vestry, so it was probably for the best in the end that I was not asked, but probably for the wrong reasons.

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Sharon Moon
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Sharon Moon

This certainly fits with my observations about life in the pews, bible studies, vestries and coffee hours and church "families" of the Episcopal church. It speaks so much truth that additional comment could only detract from its candor and thoughtfulness.

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Ellen Campbell
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Ellen Campbell

Ellen Campbell Wow! That is just a terrific piece Ann Fontaine and so timely. I have been ridiculed to such an extent, I have been the subject of two blog postings, the recent one was called Shame, Shame, Shame. In this posting the writer asserts that people that bring up any issues in our Church have the sole motivation of shaming someone and they are projecting their "church hurt". Mere running of a story, of let's say, St James Church, according to this blogger, is to shame Bishop Bruno. But these blog postings are very insidious, such as this one, where the writer claimed that the Title IV claim that I was unfortunately party to was dismissed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Completely false. My husband and I were very pleased with Clay Matthew's involvement, from the Presiding Bishops office, and we were happy with the Accord which inhibited this retired priest for 6 months and put severe restrictions on where and how often this priest can work supply. Then the writer, in the comments section on Facebook, totally fabricated that I gave been "bounced" from Facebook sites, which is COMPLETELY untrue. When I informed the writer of this in the comments section she deleted my comment, blocked me and left the fabrication there. We are in a sorry state with all this nonsense.

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Ann Fontaine
Member
Ann Fontaine

Excellent essay and have experienced this myself when I spoke out at GC and found myself no longer appointed by the chair to committees. One can survive and go on especially when the truth eventually emerges. On the other hand as a parish priest I find it difficult to discern the voices I need to hear -- from those who are just never happy.

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