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The time has come for transparency in the handling of abuse cases

The time has come for transparency in the handling of abuse cases

On June 24, Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem left a comment on at item on The Lead that concerned the case of the Rev. Bede Parry, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Nevada who had sexually abused young men in his charge while a Catholic monk.


Parry was received into the Episcopal priesthood while Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was the Bishop of Nevada. Marshall was responding to comments by other visitors to the Café who wished that the Presiding Bishop and the Episcopal Church were handling the release of information regarding this incident in a more transparent fashion.

Referring to Episcopal Church Center by its street address (815) and the Roman Catholic Church by initials, he wrote:

Now let’s be serious. When 815-level lawyers threaten and cajole diocesan bishops not to reveal multiple sex-abuse cover-ups at the highest level lest former leaders be embarrassed, what can we expect, and why do we look down on the RCC? Serious and credentialled investigative reporters can contact me.

As a rector I had to follow a priest who was simply passed along by another bishop, and as a bishop have had the same experience with a staff member who was protected by his bishop, with catastrophic results here.

On paper, we are a one-strike church, but in reality, too may people are walked. 815 refused comment on this story with principled-sounding obfuscation, which essentially tells it all, doesn’t it? There is no more transparency at 815 than previously, as some of the commentators above know to their pain.

His comment was picked up by several influential bloggers. Religion News Service has filed a story on the Parry case, and a Reuters reporter has written a story for that news service’s blog.

Since the bishop wrote his comment, the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, the current Bishop of Nevada, has spoken about Parry’s case. He has defended the Presiding Bishop’s decision to receive Parry into the church as a priest. He has also disputed the assertion, made by lawyers of a man who is suing the Roman Catholic abbey where Parry was a monk, that the diocese had access in 2000 to psychological testing suggesting Parry had a proclivity to sexually abuse minors.

The public affairs office at Church Center has issued a fact sheet congruent with Edwards’ statements. The Presiding Bishop has yet to speak about the case.

It may take some time before all the facts regarding Bede Parry’s reception into the Episcopal Church are clear. It seems prudent to continue asking questions (such as why the Presiding Bishop decided to receive Parry into the church as a priest, but to instruct his superiors that he was not to work with children) because clarity on this issue is important, but to avoid drawing conclusions until more information is in hand.

Bishop Marshall’s concern remains, however.

In responding to issues raised by the Parry case, the Presiding Bishop seems to have chosen a course that will erode her ability to lead and to inspire, and significantly diminish her ability to speak with the press. It is possible to ride out certain controversies by refusing to comment on them, but only if one can avoid the media more or less entirely. The Presiding Bishop, however, encounters the media regularly as part of her job—and almost always to excellent effect. Mainstream media in the dioceses she visits may well ask about her decision to receive Bede Parry into the church. She will almost certainly face questions about the Parry situation by church media covering the next meeting of Executive Council. The longer she refuses to speak on this issue, the more it will appear that she is hiding something—even if she is not. This isn’t good for her, and it isn’t good for the church.

The Presiding Bishop, being a smart woman with sharp communications advisors, is probably aware of these facts, so one assumes that either other facts—currently unknown to the public—or a different kind of advice dictates this course of action. It is the second of these possibilities that lies at the heart of Bishop Marshall’s concern.

He alleges that “815-level lawyers” are exerting pressure on individuals within the church, including, presumably, bishops to remain silent about “multiple sex-abuse cover-ups at the highest level.” The bishop provides no details—which leaves the “815-level lawyers” hanging—though he does offer to speak to serious reporters.

At this point, Marshall’s allegations await confirmation. However, victims’ advocates have expressed concern for many years about the handling of abuse cases within the church, particularly at Church Center. Due to the sensitive and usually confidential nature of these situations, few details are available, and victims’ advocates have told me that their pleas for greater institutional transparency have gone unheeded.

The current strategy of keeping the Presiding Bishop silent in an instance in which there are no allegations against her or the Episcopal Church does little to allay concerns that previous wrongdoing in which the church was directly implicated have been concealed from public view.

Perhaps it is time for a thoroughgoing review of how the Church Center has handled sexual abuses cases brought to its attention through the years—preferably by an independent auditor. As a moral matter, if the church has done wrong by victims of sexual abuse, we need to repent and make amends. And as a practical matter, it will go better for us if we confess our own sins than if we have the investigative reporters who take Bishop Marshall up on his offer confess them for us.

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John Iliff

THANK YOU FOR THIS !!!

(yes, I know I'm shouting.)

- ccing this to SNAP and Bishop Accountability.org -

Catholic feet were held - metaphorically - to the fire by the secular media to bring about change in the Church.

What's our excuse???

Honestly, sometimes I swear average Episcopalians behave like a bunch of "Stepford Wives".

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ministryman

Lawyers' bad advice to Bishops has been a large part of the problem. As a psychologist, I examined a RC sexual abuser priest in the early 90's and concluded he was more likely than not to re-offend. He admitted to more victims than were known at the time. However I was instructed by the attorneys to send the report to them and not to the Bishop. I was told the Bishop would not see it. He therefore could have deniability. The price paid for that deniability was high: no ability to identify or minster to the other victims.

Don Hands

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Benedict Varnum

I agree with the thanks for maintaining a focus on this issue, and I very very much value the consistent conversation standards held up by many of the posters on Episcopal Café, which I have recently rediscovered and really come to appreciate. That said, I wonder at the productivity of Bishop Marshall's comments.

The bishop uses the very dramatic language of "When 815-level lawyers threaten and cajole diocesan bishops not to reveal multiple sex-abuse cover-ups at the highest level lest former leaders be embarrassed, what can we expect, and why do we look down on the RCC?" The fact that it is a bishop of the church making this statement, and that it's juxtaposed with anecdotal situations he's experienced, makes it very unclear whether he's speaking as a frustrated member of the church thinking of his own stories, or with the full authority of a leader of his diocese, or as someone who really has come to know a systemic problem.

Drama isn't always inappropriate, but to leave it "hanging" (as Jim Naughton notes) just calls us to wild speculation about what's behind the bishop's comments.

I am surprised that Bp. Marshall can on the one hand call for transparent communication and on the other use dramatic and accusatory language without being clear about what he's referring to. If he intends to bring out significant information about the systemic failing he hints at, it could surely be brought up, either here or in a more appropriate venue (with the story referred to here for the sake of ongoing conversation).

Other posters have kept a clear focus on the need for independent review of the oversight, and on a desire to hear from the presiding bishop. Either of these seem to me to be fruitful places to organize attention and energy.

If Bp. Marshall actually knows of a systemic cover-up, then he should bring that forward. Hinting at one, especially with the force of episcopal orders behind his voice, distracts from more patient and productive work.

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Paige Baker

I echo June's thanks, Jim.

I continue to be mystified by those who are critical of asking questions about this issue.

We are the CHURCH. We have a responsibility to be honest, forthright, and pastoral. Our loyalty should always lie with the oppressed and the abused, and we need to be proactive about this situation.

For once, can't we show the world that Christians actually believe--and act on--what they say on Sunday mornings?

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GrandmèreMimi

Jim, thanks for continuing to press for the Presiding Bishop to end the silence on the Bede Parry affair and the suggestion of an independent review of the handling of abuse cases over the years. If information is not forthcoming from the Church Center, people will form their own conclusions, for good or for ill.

I've been asked to ease up on my statements and questions about the Parry affair, but I won't. I've formed no conclusions, except that it's past time for the PB's silence to end.

June Butler

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