by Eric Bonetti
Letter to the Editor:
General Convention and Church Ethics: The Importance of Whistleblower Protection
In its report to the last General Convention, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons said that one of its goals for the triennium was adding whistleblower protection to the Title IV disciplinary canons. As someone who has faced retaliation for filing a Title IV complaint, only to be told repeatedly that such retaliation is not of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” I strongly believe enactment of such provisions is vital if The Episcopal Church is to live into its ostensible commitment to being a safe place for all persons.
Consider: In 2016, Human Synergistics, the HR consulting firm brought in to study workforce challenges at church headquarters (aka 815), undertook a survey of church employees. The result? Church workers repeatedly pointed to dynamics in which misconduct and other misbehavior could fester. Staff said, for instance, that when they have concerns, they’re expected to keep those to themselves and not speak up. The also said that they find it difficult to maintain personal integrity while working for the church.
Reports went on the say:
For his part, Curry sought to reassure bishops and deputies that their church’s staff problems do not make it an outlier.
“The Episcopal Church is no different than any other church, all right? — so don’t get depressed,” Curry said. “Christianity is dysfunctional. That’s just the name of the game. I mean, it’s called being human. How do we get from where we are to where Jesus the Christ is actually calling us to be?”
Consultants also reassured church leaders that an organization’s culture can change. Staff, supervisors, and executives will be encouraged to adopt behaviors that show respect and help achieve the culture they say they want.
Source: The Living Church
Similarly, Bishop Shannon’s comments about issues within the Diocese of Virginia sound distressingly familiar:
“Over the past few months, serious questions have been brought forward by members of the diocesan staff having to do with the leadership and the culture among diocesan staff. As Bishop I must take full responsibility for this situation. Utmost in my priorities will be to ensure that all of us function well together. The crucial point as we face this reality is that this is not the time to introduce a new bishop into the diocesan system. Rather, it is much preferable to bring in the help we need to address the difficulties and identify ways that the staff as a culture and system can be become fully functional again.” Source: The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
In short, it is clear that if the Episcopal Church is serious about becoming a safe place for all persons, it needs to start by making it safe to share concerns. Only by implementing whistleblower protections, together with a concerted effort to foster a safe environment at all levels, will it succeed in this effort.