Friday, May 31, 2019
The sad saga of the late John Smyth, who allegedly brutally beat more than 100 boys while operating church summer camps connected with the Church of England, has been front and center in the UK, as media examine both the allegations and accusations that church officials ignored and covered up the allegations for decades. The controversy, which reaches all the way to the Archbishop of Canterbury, sounds painfully similar to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and its role in covering up and ignoring Bob Malm’s misconduct. As such, it serves as a cautionary tale of the myriad ways church officials abuse power as they seek to protect to the reputation of the church.
Before we go further, I want to be clear: Bob Malm is not accused of sexual misconduct, and Smith’s alleged conduct does not imply or suggest similar activity on Bob Malm’s part.
What is telling, however, is that the allegations about Smyth swirled from the 1980’s until his death approximately 30 years later. Not only does it appear that senior church officials were repeatedly informed, but at one point a senior official urged Smyth to leave the country. He then moved to Zimbabwe, where allegations of misconduct were almost constant.
It was not, however, until a youth under his care was found dead that any effort was made to hold Smyth accountable. The resulting criminal charges were later dropped when an official in the case was found to have a conflict of interest.
Survivors further allege that the Justin Welby, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, has known for many years of the allegations, and to this day has not requested to see documentation of the abuse compiled by survivors. Here is what the Church Times says about Welby:
Thursday, May 9, 2019
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.
Saturday, October 27, 2018
In the midst of the burgeoning Catholic sexual abuse scandal, there is a sad truth that is emerging. Specifically, the Catholics, at least on paper, get that abuse includes many things beyond sexual abuse. The Episcopal Church, and particularly the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, don’t get that.
In its recent communique, the Catholic synod noted that abuse takes many forms; that there often is no way to repair the harm caused by abuse; and that clericalism often comes from a feeling of privilege, versus a notion of being called to service.
Contrast that with Bishop Shannon’s notion that Bob Malm’s misconduct is suddenly, miraculously “behind us,” despite the distress many family members of mine have experienced and lack of any meaningful sign that the diocese, or Bob Malm, understand why his conduct was and is wrong.
Or Johnston’s claim that matters were “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statements of support for knuckleheads Bob Malm and Leslie Steffensen.
Or Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s desire to paper over things with a settlement agreement that basically says, “Give Bob everything he wants, and we’re good.”
Or the abusive, inflammatory language in Bob Malm and Sugarland’s pleadings.
The Catholic Church is a hot mess. But it’s still several steps ahead of the sordid, putrid crock of goo that is The Episcopal Church.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Someone recently asked me about +Shannon, and rumors swirling about the abrupt news of his departure, as well as the recent departure of other key personnel in the diocese. Specifically, I was asked if the allegations about +Shannon potentially covering up a case of sexual harassment have anything to do with another recent departure, presumably that of Pat Wingo.
By way of clarification, the allegations to which I am referring do not in any way suggest that Pat Wingo engaged in sexual harassment.
More than that I cannot say, except that +Shannon has a dubious track record when it comes to dealing with clergy misconduct. That includes his whole approach of, “tell the wardens about it.” But as anyone who ever worked in HR knows, there are times when, for a variety of reasons, those experiencing abuse or harassment simply cannot deal with the issue locally, or with these directly involved. In those situations, it is highly inappropriate to insist that they do.
In my case, I can also say that +Shannon has turned an appallingly blind eye to Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow’s actions, and the damage they are doing to The Episcopal Church. As a result, it is fair to ask, “Why even have a bishop if he or she won’t deal with clergy misconduct? In what sort of sick religion is it okay to bully the dying? In what sort of church is it okay for clergy to refer to their own parishioners as “sick,” “twisted,” and “dysfunctional,” as Bob Malm has done?”
Indeed, per the diocese, bullying, workplace harassment, and deliberate misuse of church funds are not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church. I have it in writing, reviewed and approved by Bishop Shannon personally.
My opinion is that all of this points up a larger truth, which is that we are really seeing just how troubled the Diocese of Virginia and Grace Episcopal church have really become. And no wonder Bob Malm doesn’t want to tell parishioners that this sort of thing is inappropriate—it’s his modus operandi, even if done behind the scenes. Something about a house divided....
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
For those interested, here is an early copy of the subpoena Bob Malm sent via Jeff Chiow to my mom.
It’s amusing, too—Jeff Chiow on more than one occasion has noisily complained about publication of materials related to the case, yet in 2015, when my attorney asked to discuss the matter in confidence with a view towards possible settlement, Bob, through Jeff, said no to both. So one must assume that, having previously rejected confidentiality, Jeff has no objection to publication of documents in the public domain, such as this subpoena.
I wonder how Bob would have felt had someone subpoenaed his mother while she was terminally ill?