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Known and unknown,
things done and left undone

Known and unknown,
things done and left undone

Since the news came that the Rev. Bede Parry has resigned from All Saints Church in Las Vegas and from the Episcopal priesthood, we have had statements mainly from Bishop Daniel Edwards and the Diocese of Nevada (here, here) a description of the process used to receive Parry’s orders, a news story from Episcopal News Service and timeline from the Office of Public Affairs. As the story has bubbled up a little on the main-stream media, and there is much discussion on the internet, it took over a week for the first substantive statements to come out.

We appreciate the timeline and the detail offered by Bishop Edwards so far. As the Bede Parry case unfolds, here are some things we know, and some things we don’t know and some things that just confuse us.

The discussion from the diocese of Nevada and 815 centers on the lawsuit filed against Conception Abbey for abuse that took place in 1987 in the Benedictine monastery in Missouri. It is less clear as to whether the Bishop and Diocese of Nevada knew about the other incidents, particularly in Minnesota.

We know that the Bishop and diocese of Nevada knew about the 1987 incident. The fact sheet says: “Parry was forthcoming about the 1987 incident at Conception Abbey in the background check.”

What we don’t know is whether Parry was also as forthcoming to the Bishop and Diocese of Nevada about the other incidents of sexual misconduct. The original Kansas City Star report says:

Parry confirmed to The Star his three relationships between 1973 and 1979 at Conception Abbey and one in 1981 in Minnesota. He said he reported those incidents to then-abbot Jerome Hanus at Conception Abbey and to the abbot at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota….

…Parry said he first opened up about his sexual misconduct last fall, when a Seattle area man named Pat Marker showed up at his doorstep. Marker, a sex abuse victim who had attended St. John’s Preparatory School in Minnesota, had learned about Parry while researching other cases from St. John’s.

“I confronted Bede with the allegations … that took place at St. John’s, and he admitted to the misconduct and expressed remorse but did not disclose any information about the (Conception Abbey) boys choir at that time,” Marker said. “After learning he directed the choir, I confronted him again. At first he denied anything but later admitted to misconduct.”

The responses this week from Bishop Edwards and through the Office of Public Affairs only discuss the one incident, in 1987, that he admitted to Bishop Jefferts Schori in 2002. Apparently all the canonical steps in 2002-04 were taken in light of that one incident being fully known. They make the case that based on the dioceses own psychological evaluation, Parry posed no threat. Two question remain: if Parry was not a threat, then why the restriction on children and, does the decision by the bishop and diocese change when other incidents come to light?

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that in 2000 a Roman Catholic religious order conducted a psychological evaluation of Parry.

The lawsuit alleged that the results of psychological testing in 2000 showed that Parry was a “sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors.” The results were provided to Catholic and Episcopal church leaders in Nevada, the lawsuit said.

Parry acknowledged the results but said Episcopal leaders here were not informed in 2000. He said he told church officials about the 1987 incident when he was applying to become an Episcopal priest in 2002. They did a background check and ended up allowing him into the priesthood in 2004.

Parry knew of the outcome of that evaluation and did not disclose it when he entered the ordination process in the Episcopal Church. Even if this report was never sent to the Episcopal Diocese, it was Parry’s responsibility to disclose that it had taken place.

Once it became clear that there was abuse in addition to the 1987 incident, and that the applicant knew and withheld critical information, doesn’t the withholding of material facts from the Bishop, Commission on the Ministry and the Standing Committee have an effect on the discipline of the cleric?

Bishop Edwards’ statement goes to great lengths to clarify that the Bede is not a pedophile.

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.

It would be inaccurate to say in a blanket manner that Parry abused children. He does admit to inappropriate sexual contact with members of his choirs most of whom were between the ages of 18 and 20. This is not pedophilia, but it is sexual abuse and harassment. That two of his known victims were between 16 and 18 at the time, makes matters more complicated.

We are told a condition of Parry’s reception of orders into this church was that he would not have contact with minors, and statements from the diocese indicate that he has focused his priestly ministrations on the elderly, but it is hard to conceive of a priest in an active parish–especially when he is the music director–never having contact with any minor ever.

Again, how was the parish informed of this condition on his ministry and how was it enacted? Was the agreement that he would not form a children’s choir, teach Sunday School or run a youth group? Or was the restriction more general?

Which brings us back to the initial question: if Parry was not a pedophile then why restrict his interactions at all?

Bishop Edwards wrote:

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.

It may be true that, as Bishop Edwards says, that there is not even a hint or rumor of inappropriate behavior on Parry’s part since his reception into the Episcopal Church, the question remains: why would Bishop Jefferts Schori, the Commission on the Ministry and the Standing Committee move forward with a candidate who was removed from his previous religious order and denomination for an admitted act professional misconduct?

The core of these allegations–which Parry has acknowledged as true–is that these were people under his care and direction and that Parry, both as a choir director and a priest, was in a position of authority over them and that he violated that trust.

And while it is true that neither Parry, the Diocese of Nevada, nor the Episcopal Church is party to any lawsuit, this does not eliminate the requirement to investigate once new information came to light.

As we look more and more deeply into this story is very apparent that Parry said what he needed to say to get where he wanted to be. He told the truth, but not all of the truth. When confronted with additional truth, he admits only enough to deal with what is in front of him. Even when he resigned his position at All Saints, one can’t escape the notion that he will only take just enough responsibility for his past while giving the impression that he is somehow a victim of that same past.


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Cyberia Rune

Thanks, Benedict, I think we’re getting fairly close to “eye-to-eye,” here!

My proviso on this being about Parry’s case holds for my RCC-related comments – though I surely would prefer fairness to be applied, experienced, and appreciated by all churches and all candidates. I think that in Parry’s case, given differences in basic theological sensibilities, working out a program of additional seminary study which would have allowed him the advantages of that continuing education and offered TEC longer and better interaction, information, and documentation would have been mutually beneficial.

To study for how long? I dunno. That’s where his old transcripts, a seminary course advisor, he, and the bishop speak, not me.

All of which says nothing about anybody else’s case. Regardless of how this circle of questions and options get polished and honed, it comes down to the bishop in charge – which, conversely, says nothing of the current PB that doesn’t apply equally to all bishops.

Their autonomy is the reason that they’re in charge of the process – and responsible for engineering that particular, individual process which suits both TEC and each candidate best. While “each Anglican priest must be formed in the same way,” has an interestingly “Edward Scissorhands” imagery to it, such a program would be silly and its’ results most likely catastrophic. Rather, diversity is that gift which requires episcopal oversight for proper governance of the process. To cite a more recent article in “The Lead,” we need a steadying, practiced hand in dealing with the potential “Pastafarian” applicant.

Perhaps, when bishops hear so much more, and more often, from lawyers than from clergy and laity on such important matters, it falls to clergy and laity to let them know that active, involved, committed interest in, and follow-up of, the process – whatever form it takes, case by case – is desirable, supported, and encouraged by those who are relying upon them. At the very least, what could it hurt?

Rev. CW Brockenbrough

Benedict Varnum

Thanks for your clarifying thoughts, CW — I think that I have a closer grasp of your position now.

I want to avoid that constant internet temptation to go line-by-line, and offer these thoughts back to you at present.

It seems to me that certain elements of our ordination process (this case points to the background checks fairly clearly) could be easily used in the reception process (indeed, I suspect they are, though I confess that I speak without deep knowledge of this) without forcing clergy to go through our full ordination process (a year’s involvement in an Episcopal parish, 6-12 months’ discernment with that parish’s rector, a 6-12 month parish discernment committee, a postulancy interview, a postulancy period of formation for ministry (this one seems especially peculiar), a candidacy interview with the standing committee, an M.Div (presumably their old one counts), a unit of CPE, and a year of Anglican studies followed by the General Ordination Exams to prove they can apply academics to ministry, together with various re-commitments of the support of their sponsoring community).

To be explicit, many of these steps seem redundant; a set of good interviews and a review of ministry (someone with parish ministry history, especially in this day and age, will have more salient records about applying their education than the GOEs would draw out) seems a more direct engagement with where potential “receptees” are in their lives and ministries. There is no need for such an engagement to be shallow or assumptive, nor for it to ignore issues such as a history with boundary issues.

To move to a general concern, I think it’s bad practice to make policy decisions as a reaction to one incident — and here we have an incident where the facts aren’t even clear: there are competing allegations about what did (not) exist ten years ago, who got it if it did, what other background checks were completed, etc.

Applying that here, suggesting that we not receive priests without making them go through a full Anglican ordination process seems to be a severe “baby-with-the-bathwatering.”

With regard to your other comments, the thing that I find uncomfortable is the implicit suggestion that our processes should strive for fairness and parity with Roman Catholic processes. I’m very fond of the RCC (“Really, I’ve got lots of RC friends!”), but my commitment is to the gospel as we can live it out as TEC, following the will of God and the Lordship of Christ, and not with parity between denominations (else, why diversity of denominations?). That said, I remain struck that “fairness” seems better-applied to a sense that their vocation is not false just because it began in a different branch of our common life, rather than “each Anglican priest must be formed in the same way,” (which I suspect is a principle that doesn’t hold up long even amongst cradle Episcopalians).

Cyberia Rune

Certainly there are “pastoral implications,” and I would suggest that they extend beyond “boundary violations” and public perceptions created by communications from or within the church, while agreeing that the pastoral care of Bede Parry is a factor of profound impact. Please, though, keep in mind that it’s his case. There are many factors in each applicant’s individual situation and the process of reviewing and making decisions relating to them falls ultimately to bishops due to their autonomy.

I have none, and make no pretense of owning any tidy answer that will fit all postulants like a snuggle-blanket, nor do I know of anyone who does.

Yes, Parry’s history included pastoral failings at several levels; my recitation of virtues was meant to emphasize that.

Yes, consideration of points which might seem esoteric to some does have its’ place in the pastoral care of priests whether by bishops or by others; it’s a package deal.

Yes, in his case, a process or “reprocessing” that allowed greater opportunity for more people to have input and interaction with him would and should have provided both greater surety, pro or con, and better documentation.

Yes, there is parity and fairness in setting such a requirement in Parry’s case. The RCC Ordinariate isn’t operating under an “open doors” policy, either. Both churches have the autonomy of deciding what each person must do to conform to their rules and that church’s best interests.

Yes, Parry’s RCC Orders were not in theologically apple pie order, and receiving them in that condition could raise questions, notably amongst other branches of the entire Catholic Church, with some of whom TEC already has challenges in maintaining understanding.

Yes, receiving his Orders in the manner in which it was done certainly appears to display evidence of at least one “mistake.”

Yes, TEC needs to address Parry’s case honestly and as openly as yet more and other laws and legal liabilities allow; neither stonewall pretense nor boilerplate from knee-jerk-reaction committees will serve TEC well in the long term.

So, as to “advocating”:

Yes, I’d like to see bishops make a stronger effort to engage actively and constructively in a process which ultimately relies upon them.

Yes, I would be thrilled to hear and read more address of the proper pastoral care of men like Parry.

And yes, I would very much like to see a thoughtful Christian address of his case released by TEC press office on behalf of the PB.

Rev. CW Brockenbrough

Benedict Varnum

I want to be clear at the start of my comment that I hope we can have care for the feelings around these topics as we post on other subjects that branch out from the original content; there are charged issues here for members of the church in all orders of ministry (of which the laity is certainly one), victims of boundary violations, and the priest in question.

To the point that has been raised: Cyberia, or Rev. Brockenbrough, I’m not sure that there is the logic hole you have described. I’m certainly not an expert on RCC ecclesiology, but my sense is that they don’t describe their Holy Orders as being invalidated in the way you describe, or at least, did not in the 1980s. This seems on the face of it to be a theologically-defensible idea, all the way down to the mundane (priests make mistakes) and all the way up to the sweeping and historical (the condemnation of donatism as a heresy); the continuation of valid orders is certainly borne out in what I know of RCC practice (the RCC has at times — and I don’t know if this is current practice — sent priests to therapeutic centers, rather than defrocking them). It would seem the RCC didn’t consider these orders metaphysically invalidated.

Your sense that the Holy Spirit is transgressed-against is a powerful thought, but I believe it points us back to the comments already made on this and related threads about repentance and forgiveness, which are surely also elements of the Spirit’s movement in creation. I believe that the tension between the justice due to a violation and the mercy that may be offered (there’s been debate as to whether it should)leaves us again at a moment of discernment, without a clear judgment to announce for every case.

I’m not sure we don’t fall ourselves into “the country of lawyers” (to paraphrase) with a legalistic interpretation of an immediate metaphysical consequence. I’m also struck that if sacraments are making visible the already-real (or outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual graces), then there are more-profound ways to ask some questions already alluded to in these conversations: was his ministry in the time since his reception priestly? It would seem that this would be the metaphysical version of the question, while the settling of his canonical status is lawyerly. Neither of these seems quite appropriate to discussions of whether TEC needs to address its current procedures for protecting young persons.

Rev. Brockenbrough (apologies, I’m not clear as to whether this is the same poster as Cyberia) has also shifted the focus of the “reprocessing” question from a suggestion that a policy of reprocessing would have protected both TEC and the priest in question (because TEC’s process is in-house and gives us info more directly) to a suggestion that a new processing was necessary (and that TEC’s version is, of course, the only one we use) because the original orders did not exist in a metaphysical way. It seems to me that either of these topics is something that can be discussed, but I’m not clear which is being advocated or why.

I’ll have to admit that I’m more concerned personally with the pastoral implications, both for those who have been injured by boundary violations of any nature and degree, and in how the communications around this oblique lawsuit are affecting the sense of care that the community has, both for this priest (whatever his status) and for the communion at large (as in the questions that have been raised about the pastoral responses of the bishop of Nevada or the communication referrals to him from the national church office).

Cyberia Rune

The “mistake” in Bede Parry’s case rests upon his RCC Orders which, though no TEC bishop’s ruling would have any effect upon Rome, appear not to have been in anything approaching “good order,” no pun intended, when presented to the Diocese of Nevada. According to all sources including TEC, he violated those RCC Orders and admitted doing so… and at this point we pass over the Metaphysical Bridge into that country where lawyers, TEC or otherwise, don’t normally appear:

Ordination isn’t like getting a driver’s license, or being accredited as a surgeon, or being admitted to the Bar. Crash your car, mess up too many operations, or violate too many laws and you’ll be in court if not in jail. But violating Holy Orders involves penalties which are considerably stronger and infinitely more long-lasting, because to do so is an offense against the Holy Spirit. Thus, Bede Parry’s case presents many hazy areas, but that isn’t one of them.

There is a gargantuan logic hole in Parry’s case:

(a) If his RCC Orders were to be received, they had to exist.

(b) By violating them, Parry invalidated them, therefore, they no longer existed.

DioNev could not and TEC cannot claim that on the one hand, his RCC Orders were valid for reception into TEC, and simultaneously, his admitted abandonment of them and their consequent invalidation was of no importance. Abp. Cranmer on his best day couldn’t choke that one down! So, however boring or redundant it might have been for Parry, he could have made application to go through the Episcopal Ordination process, same as anybody else – and the same as any Anglican priest must do to enter RCC Orders.

He didn’t, and the resulting hash was supposed to be neatly rendered legally harmless by sticking a restriction on his ministry – for litigation and insurance purposes…

…but what about the Holy Spirit?

Rev. CW Brockenbrough

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