Showing posts with label clergy discipline. Show all posts
Showing posts with label clergy discipline. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bishop Susan Goff: Does She Also Approve of Sexual Abuse Absent a Criminal Conviction?

Bishop Susan Goff approves of perjury

Today’s post examines Bishop Susan Goff’s ludicrous decision to cover-up Bob Malm’s perjury. Specifically, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia recently held that it will not address Bob Malm’s perjury in our court case unless Bob is convicted of the crime of perjury. This is an absurd outcome and demonstrates the diocese’s true motive, which is to avoid dealing with Dysfunctional Bob’s spiritual abuse.

In a decision drafted by the Rev. Sven vanBaar, rector of the unfortunate Episcopal parish in Abingdon Virginia, the diocese held that it cannot conclude that Dysfunctional Bob committed perjury, as he hasn’t been convicted of the same.

That, of course, is the logical fallacy of appeal to ignorance. An example of such an argument is: 1) People believe in God. 2) The existence of God has never been proven. 3) Thus, God does not exist.

Similarly, the fact that Bob has not been convicted of perjury doesn’t mean he didn’t commit perjury. 

The other side of Sven’s argument, which is that the canons prohibit illegal conduct, also is a logical fallacy. Yes, they prohibit illegal conduct, but they also expressly prohibit conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation.

Of course, it may be that Sven is merely the clueless wonder when it comes to forming a logical paradigm. That’s where Bishop Susan Goff comes in, who must also sign off on any dismissal of a Title IV complaint. Being a bishop, one would hope she could organize her thoughts in a logical manner, or show a little integrity. Obviously, that didn’t happen here.

So, that’s where the Rev. Melissa Hollerith, our favorite ethics instructor and chair of the Diocese of Virginia Disciplinary Committee, comes in. But she too doesn’t see a problem with this approach either, which would suggest that logic and ethics aren’t the real issues. I mean, we’re batting three for three. Collusion and coverup, anyone?

Thus, if follow the diocese’s logic in this case, and apply it to other cases, where does that leave us?

In the case of child sexual abuse, for example, the underlying conduct is illegal. It’s also specifically proscribed by the Episcopal church clergy disciplinary canons. But assuming that the diocese follows its new rule that clergy misconduct won’t be investigated absent a criminal conviction, it is virtually impossible to do anything about clergy who engage in such conduct. And in fact there probably is no need to: Any priest already convicted of criminal sexual conduct likely faces jail time or other serious impediments to serving as a priest. Thus, the entire Title IV clergy process is irrelevant.

So, how do you feel about a church/school where clergy apparently are free to engage in any form of misconduct at all as long as they’re not convicted? Or where the diocese provides no protection whatsoever against clergy misconduct?

For the record, Bob Malm has not been accused of sexual misconduct. But the fact that the diocese is unwilling to address his perjury should be cause for alarm on multiple levels.

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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Good Article On Clergy Discipline

In The Episcopal Church, the clergy disciplinary canons are referred to as Title IV. Applying only to clergy and not laity, these provisions may not be reviewed in civil courts.

Some years ago, the church transitioned to a clergy disciplinary model that is restorative in nature, versus based on retribution or punishment. Specifically, the process focuses on healing and repair, both for the clergyperson and for those affected by his or her betrayal of trust.

Unfortunately, the Diocese of Virginia has shown that it is neither familiar with Title IV, nor committed to its goals. As a result, we see lasting harm to all parties involved, much of which will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

In the article, I find the discussion about clergy placing their own needs ahead of those they serve. While I want to be clear that there is no suggestion that Bob Malm has engaged in sexual impropriety (as was alleged with the rector who is the subject of the article), Bob’s continued focus on his own perceived needs, and his desire to “discipline” those he apparently sees as wayward former parishioners, betrays the trust of his parish, his family, and others.