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Should the Episcopal Church explain why McDonald and Baumgarten were fired?

Should the Episcopal Church explain why McDonald and Baumgarten were fired?

Issues of trust, transparency and legality inform both critics’ and supporters’ responses to the Episcopal Church’s silence surrounding the termination of TEC Chief Deputy Operating Officer Sam McDonald and Director of Public Engagement Alex Baumgarten.

Religion News includes a number of perspectives in a story published today, including the impact on future situations:

By saying nothing about what types of violations occurred, the church heightens the risk that wrongful behavior will be repeated elsewhere as McDonald and Baumgarten move on, according to Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel for the Victim Rights Law Center…

including whistleblowers, according to Washington, D.C., attorney Russell Randle:

“If anytime somebody makes a whistleblower complaint it’s going to be spread across the pages of your paper or others, it’s going to put a real damper on anybody coming forward with a whistleblower complaint,” he said.

…possible confidentiality agreements:

In such agreements, terminated employees typically promise not to sue in exchange for severance payments and an employer’s promise to never tell anyone what happened, according to Manhattan employment attorney Matthew Schatz.

…the risk of lawsuits, according to David Gregory, executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at St. John’s University:

“If you make certain disclosures, you might get sued, but you can defend against a lawsuit that has no merit,” Gregory said. “But if you don’t publish and somebody subsequently is assaulted by one of these persons, then you’ve got the knowledge that you didn’t do the right thing at the right time. And that could lead to complicity of a criminal nature.”

…and the risk to the community:

Liz Shear, a professor of nonprofit governance at the University of San Diego, said rank-and-file church members will eventually need more information in order to restore their trust.



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Pete Haynsworth

A glimpse into the national church’s otherwise opaque headquarters operation is provided by the positions-by-department pages at

_Nine_ communications positions, including “Drupal Front-end Designer/Drupal Themer”!?

Maybe the knock on 815 is that it just hasn’t been led by experienced managers … certainly not the previous presiding bishop or her COO.

Eric Bonetti

Agree with those who say that discretion is the better part of valor. If nothing else, many times in these situations you open yet another can of worms. For example, all three terminated employees worked under ++Katherine. Do we really want to start down the road of, “What did she know and when did she know it?”

Absent demonstrably illegal behavior, best to just fix the problem and move on. Besides, 815 has been a snake pit for years and we all know it.

Thom Forde

I see absolutely nothing here that warrants a public discussion.

Mark Harris

My sense is this is a case of “let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything more is evil.” The PB reported, “Sam McDonald and Alex Baumgarten were found to have violated established workplace policies and to have failed to live up to the Church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees, which contributed to a workplace environment often inconsistent with the values and expectations of The Episcopal Church. Both are therefore immediately terminated.” They were fired.

As to the nature of the failure in personal conduct, perhaps the nature of the “substantive retraining for the entire Episcopal Church staff” will be revealing.

David H. Johnson

I think ECC and the PB are caught between a rock and a hard place. Transparency is preferable, of course, but sometimes there are mitigating factors which impact decisions about disclosure. There have been times in my diocesan staff ministry when we have not disclosed all details of certain matters because to do so would have caused greater problems. In many situations (especially Title IV), we “told all the truth that could be told.” Sometimes, for very practical reasons, we can say no more.

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