Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Catholic Church. Show all posts

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Catholic Efforts to Address Abuse Ignore Lessons from Title IV



One of the sad things about the myriad denominations within Christianity is that they too often fail to learn from one another. And so it is with the recent papal efforts to address abuse. These, while well intentioned, will prove problematic in exactly the same way as The Episcopal Church’s clergy disciplinary canon, Title IV, is inherently flawed.

For starters, much like the recent changes to Title IV, which purport to protect whistleblowers, the papal decree requires people to blow the whistle on abuse and coverup. But just as dioceses—including the Diocese of Virginia—are already ignoring the whistleblower protection provisions of Title IV with impunity, the lack of an enforcement mechanism within the papal provisions makes it highly likely that Catholic dioceses will ignore these requirements. In other words, only the truly foolhardy or those with incredible fortitude will risk the reprisals they will face if they come forward with allegations.

Similarly, the requirement in the new Catholic legislation that survivors be treated with respect will quickly fall prey to the advice of attorneys, who will urge diocesan officials not to get too involved. This is common in The Episcopal Church, where dioceses routinely ignore the Title IV requirement of a pastoral response in every case in which a complaint is made to the intake officer, even when a parish is traumatized by the removal of a rector in a Title IV proceeding. This mirrors the finding of the Church of England’s recent report on clergy abuse and Bishop Bell, which found that the needs of survivors were routinely ignored in the quest to protect the church’s reputation.

Most importantly, the new Catholic regulations permit bishops to ignore complaints if they are found to be “manifestly unfounded.” This mirrors the materiality provisions of Title IV, which apply a two-pronged test to complaints; they must be both a violation of Title IV and “of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” Given that Episcopal dioceses that wish to avoid dealing with a complaint routinely invoke this clause, even in cases that involve retaliation by clergy and allegations of criminal conduct, one may be confident that Catholic bishops will find myriad behaviors that most of us would consider patently antithetical to Christian values to involve allegations that are “manifestly unfounded.”

In short, while the attention to these issues is to be commended, we remain far from resolution, regardless of the denomination.

Papal Law on Reporting of Abuse Underscores Problems in The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia



Earlier today, the pope issued a decree mandating various changes to abuse reporting in the Catholic Church. Among the changes:
  • Anyone in the church, lay or clergy, who believes or suspects that abuse has occurred is required to report it to church officials.
  • Required reporting of coverup, defined as “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” civil or canonical investigations.
  • Whistleblower protection, albeit limited in scope.
  • An increase in the age of consent from 16 to 18.
  • The inclusion of possession of child pornography in the list of offenses.
  • Reporting to civil authorities per local law.
  • The ability to report to regional metropolitans in situations that may implicate a bishop.
  • The ability to report coverup and other abuse of power directly to Rome.
  • The requirement that victims be treated with respect.
These measures, while well-intended, are likely to be ineffective, and every bit as useless as Title IV as implemented in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

As it stands, the Episcopal Church’s Title IV does not prevent retaliation against whistleblowers. Instead, it provides for anonymity in the complaint process, and ostensibly protects opposition to practices prohibited by Title IV. This protection is almost entirely illusory, however, as it provides no definition of prohibited conduct. Thus, shunning and other retaliation such as Bob Malm’s conduct towards me and my family almost certainly would be ignored. Moreover, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia refuses to see retaliation as within the penumbra of “conduct unbecoming,” so it refuses to address retaliation occurring before the effective date (January 1, 2019) of the recent changes to Title IV. Further, thus far the diocese is ignoring the whistleblower provisions, as evinced by its identifying me to Bob Malm in its most recent correspondence. (In fairness, my opposition to Bob’s conduct is hardly a secret, but some effort to adhere to the requirements of Title IV would have been appreciated. Moreover, it’s laughable that the diocese tried, in its correspondence with me, to insist on confidentiality, even though the letter itself violated confidentiality.)

Another issue with Title IV is that there is no meaningful appeal beyond the diocesan level. As it stands, +Todd Ousley and the rest of the crowd at 815 (church headquarters) may, if pushed, go through the motions of a Title IV case against a bishop, but unless he or she intentionally runs you over in a church parking lot (witnesses required), you can bet your bottom dollar that nothing will come of it.

As to treating victims with respect, that falls within the purview of Title IV’s entirely illusory “pastoral response,” which is required any time a complaint is made to a Title IV intake officer. Thus far, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia consistently refuses to implement that provision, even in cases where a parish is traumatized by a successful Title IV removal of clergy. (Yes, I am thinking of St. Thomas’ McLean. In that case, the diocese did next to nothing to care for the parish. While +Shannon later apologized and said that its refusal to get involved was based on the advice of legal counsel, the damage is done. And this effort at protecting the organization at the expense of laity who support it is damning in the message it sends to those of us in the pews.)

Similarly, reporting to Rome sounds good on paper, right up until you consider that George Pell, the former number 3 at the Vatican, also was an abuser. Does anyone really think that some fat cat in Rome, immersed in the system, is really going to do anything about abuse in some remote corner of the world?

Equally problematic is the requirement that coverups be reported. Great idea, but with no sanctions or penalties set forth in the statute, including for dioceses that fail to implement the new provisions, this one is every bit as toothless at Title IV.

The heart of the problem, both in The Episcopal and Catholic Churches, is neatly summarized in the comments of Cardinal Cupich, who said of the new law, “this past year has taught us that the systematic failures in holding clerics of all rank responsible are due in large measure to flaws in the way we interact and communicate with each other in the college of bishops.” This tendency in all hierarchies to minimize problems and to see criticism of individual conduct as criticism of the organization is alive and well in both churches, and I see no signs that either organization is doing anything to change this phenomena. Indeed, it will only be when churches recognize that this tendency is destroying organized religion from within that they will again find secure footing.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the creaking, shuddering constructs that make up the Episcopal and Catholic churches continue their rapid unraveling.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

“Trust Arrives Slowly, On Foot, But Leaves on Horseback”

During the recent Catholic synod to address abuse in the church, one of the participants made a particularly insightful remark, “Trust arrives slowly, on foot, but leaves quickly, on horseback.” That, and several other comments made during the meeting, are relevant to my conflict with Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal Church.

To be clear, the Catholic synod is meeting to address sexual abuse; there is no allegation that Bob Malm has engaged in sexual misconduct.

That said, abuse exists across a wide spectrum, ranging from emotional abuse, to relational abuse, to abuse of power. Spiritual abuse encompasses all of these, and other types of abuse as well.

In Bob’s case, his misuse of authority, including his efforts to include Mike and Mom in his vendetta, have destroyed trust on multiple fronts. And, having left on a horse in 2015, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s efforts to flog that horse via accusations of “domestic terrorism” and other inflammatory rhetoric both reflect a lack of understanding of church dynamics, and of the Christian faith.  

The larger point in all of this is encompassed by another comment coming out of the Synod, which is that the abuse crisis “undermines the church in practically every way.” That is true for every type of abuse, including Bob Malm’s spiritual abuse. At every level, Bob and Sugarland Chiow have eroded trust in the church and its moral authority. Even total strangers are shocked and appalled at their efforts, for example, to drag a dying woman into court in violation of Pennsylvania law.

Nor will the damage be quickly resolved. Having spent considerable time and effort over the past three years in trying to get the upper hand in our conflict, Bob and Jeff have underscored their real motivation, which is power and control, not faith. That is an issue that cannot be resolved through a settlement agreement. Indeed, Jeff’s proposed settlement agreement, which contains a non-disclosure clause, would actually have exacerbated things, for conflict cannot be resolved by simply sweeping it under the rug and offering an, “agreed-upon statement.” Such an approach simply drives conflict underground, where it can fester for years afterwards, only to explode back to life unexpectedly.

Of course, the situation also underscores the serious issues that exist with Bishop Shannon and the Diocese of Virginia. Had someone pulled Bob aside long ago and pointed out that things like lying in court aren’t exactly helpful to the church, much of the damage would have been prevented. But having failed to provide adult supervision, Bishop Shannon leaves for others a hot mess. 

It’s interesting too: The Diocese has been consistently flatfooted in its handling of such situations. For example, when issues emerged at St. Thomas’ McLean, the Diocese was supremely indifferent to the effect on the parish and its people. True, the new rector is an excellent choice, but the damage is already done. (If nothing else, don’t announce the news as a surprise at Divine Worship. #clueless)

Can things be resolved going forward? Hard to say. Mom is fast running out of time, and with no one in my family now considering themselves to be Christian, there would be difficulty finding a shared reference point. Indeed, Mike is rabidly anti-Christian, and I want no parts of any faith that thinks trying to drag a dying woman into court is okay, or refers to those who criticize it as “terrorists.”

In short, when the seemingly inevitable day comes when St. Dysfunction aka Grace Church closes its doors, my feeling is that the world will be a better place. Yes, the food pantry, brown bag lunches and other services the church provides are important, but there’s no need to spend $1 million a year to surround these activities with a bunch of liturgical hoo-ha, especially when roughly 20 percent goes to pay for a “professional Christian,” or rector, who appears to have, at best, nominal religious beliefs. Moreover, Grace Church’s closing will end a bastion of organized bullying and control that is typified by Bob’s lying in court, and his trying to subpoena a dying woman.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Don’t let the karmic door hit you on the butt on the way out, Grace Church.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Catholic Church Abuse and Grace Church: Striking Similarities

Over the past several weeks, I’ve provided extensive coverage of the abuse scandal in the Catholic church in other media outlets and fora. As I’ve written about this topic, one thing has become increasingly clear to me, which is that the organizational and interpersonal dynamics underlying the Catholic church’s abusive behavior, and those behind abusive conduct at Grace Episcopal Church, are remarkably similar.

Before we go further, I want to be clear: To date, no credible source has accused Bob Malm or anyone else at St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Church, of sexual misconduct.

So what is the underlying goal of the Catholic church in cases where abuse has been alleged? Far too often, the objective has been the perpetuation of the institution. “We’re a church. Churches are good. Thus, it follows that we should do whatever we need to do to protect the church,” has been the argument. In this, the needs of victims either get dismissed out of hand, or dealt with in a minimal way. Yes, there have been some large cash settlements, but far too often the church pleads poverty, ponies up for a dozen sessions between the victim and a counselor, and that is the end of that.

Similarly, in the case of Grace church, both at the diocesan and the local level, the focus has been on protecting the parish. Even in conversations with Bishop Shannon, he’s talked about the importance of Grace as a “flagship” parish, with zero regard for the faith and ethics behind this particular standard-bearer. Just as the Catholic Church has for years refused to deal with abuse, instead preferring to silence critics, so too has Jeff Chiow’s whole goal been to silence my criticism. In both cases, the approach has been based on the notion that the ends justify the means. Lying in court is okay, even bullying the dying is okay, as long as the desired end result is that Grace Church and Dysfunctional Bob can go back to their usual antics.

In both cases, the behind-the-scenes is illustrative. Smear campaigns, innuendo, and political gamesmanship all come into play. And whether it’s Jean Reed bloviating about being a servant of Christ, all the while claiming that I am defaming the church, or Kemp Williams prattling on about his perceptions that I am mentally ill, the juxtaposition of Jesus-babble and really ugly commentary is strikingly similar to the antics of the Catholic church.

That ability to talk out both sides of the mouth is striking, both in the Catholic church and at Grace Church. In Pennsylvania, the bishops say they want to end abuse, but in the very same breath are trying to limit liability through creation of a “victim assistance fund.” Similarly, with no leg to stand on, Grace Church’s last “settlement proposal” was nothing more than an effort to find a way to silence me, proclaim an end to the conflict, and go right back to business. It’s interesting too: The proposal essentially wanted liquidated damages from me for a violation of the agreement, but referral to an ombudsman for “conciliation” if Grace violated its end of the agreement. And the space where Dysfunctional Bob does most of his nefarious work — behind the scenes, through innuendo and playing people against each other — was pointedly excluded from the agreement. All that begs the question: If Grace is a church in anything but name only, why wouldn’t it hold itself to the same standard to which it seeks to hold me?

Nor does either institution pay any attemption to what I will loosely term “collateral damage.” Mom and numerous other people, including Mike, remain deeply hurt by Bob Malm’s conduct, and indeed, Jeff Chiow’s spate of lies and misrepresentations has only exacerbated that situation. Yet the settlement proposal was silent on that issue. The same is true for the Catholic church, which has rarely done anything to resolve harm to family members and loved ones.

It’s interesting too: Both organizations pounce on issues they will think help their cause, instead of trying to fix the underlying problem. In the case of the Catholic church, folks already are cranking out the spin about how most of the abuse predates current policies, even as new accusations emerge. In Grace’s case, Dysfunctional Bob has been quick to point out that our earlier attempt at what he terms “reconciliation” included being added back to parish emails lists and — get this — being allowed to give money to the church.

I am bowled over by the generosity of Bob’s “reconciliation.”