Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow: A Breakdown in Pastoral Ethics

One of the telling things about the current situation is that Bob Malm is using Jeff Chiow, a parishioner, as legal counsel. But if folks stopped to think about it, this is highly inappropriate and a breach of pastoral boundaries.

Consider an analogous situation. If I am a priest, and I see a physician who is also a parishioner, can I maintain an appropriate relationship with my physician? What if she has to deliver bad news to me? Or tell me that, for medical reasons, I should not continue as a priest?

Conversely, suppose I want to go to my doctor to tell her that I suffer from an addiction? (I don’t; it’s just an example.) Does that impinge on my ability to meet her pastoral needs?

The upshot is that, in all but the most unusual circumstances, one cannot be priest and patient simultaneously and successfully.

Similarly, Jeff cannot be both parishioner and attorney and do so successfully. There are inherent conflicts of interest, including his relationship with other parishioners. This puts him in an awkward place, and it is unfair to both sides. And what if, for example, Bob engages in unethical conduct in the course of the legal engagement? Is Jeff’s first obligation going to be to Bob? To the parish? To the diocese? To Bob’s wife, Leslie, whom he also represents? What about the fact that Jeff does not practice in this area of law? Does that expose the parish to risk? If so, is Jeff meeting his ethical obligations as an attorney to the church?

These are thorny issues, and it would be far better to use outside counsel. But true to form, Bob tries to fly for free on these matters, oblivious to the potential harm to the parish and the pastoral boundaries that he has trampled on. And while it is ALWAYS the responsibility of clergy to maintain appropriate boundaries, Jeff has been around long enough that he should have spotted this issue long ago. Or a member of the vestry.

Of course, if +Shannon were more engaged, he’d realize the inherent conflict of interest, and steer Bob and the parish in a healthier direction. That said, this is one leopard that can’t and won’t change its spots.

As things stand, it illustrates how Bob maintains the illusion of healthy boundaries, when in reality, many of his relationships are marked by boundary violations and violations of pastoral ethics.