Analysis of the recent surge in traffic to this website reveals that a great many visitors to the site are clergy and others interested both in issues at Grace church and the possibility of serving as the interim rector. With that in mind, here is my advice to anyone considering serving as interim: Run. Like. Hell.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Analysis of the recent surge in traffic to this website reveals that a great many visitors to the site are clergy and others interested both in issues at Grace church and the possibility of serving as the interim rector. With that in mind, here is my advice to anyone considering serving as interim: Run. Like. Hell.
Let’s start with the lay of the land.
Problems in the Parish
Dysfunctional Bob “served” for more than 30 years. That in itself is an issue, because you’re not coming in after someone has made a hash of things for a few years, then moved on. Instead, you’ve got three decades of dysfunction, misfeasance and nonfeasance. As a result, only a handful of parishioners have known anything other than the so-called Planet Malm paradigm.
Why do I refer to the church as Planet Malm? The other handle sometimes used for the place, “Bobby Malm’s Playground,” speaks to that issue. Simply put, Grace Church is all about Bob Malm. He decides who serves on the Executive Committee, thus ensuring a rubber-stamp vestry. As a result, there’s zero accountability for Bob or church staff. No annual performance review, no annual mutual ministry review. Or, as one former assistant rector of the parish says, “Bob’s been getting away with murder for years.” And while Bob’s friendly, there is zero genuine concern for others. Instead, the church is all about meeting Bob’s needs
Bob’s also been very clever in playing to the whole “lay-driven church” thing. Bob claims, and rightly so, that laity at the church are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the church. What this means is that things like church administration, facilities issues, and programmatic activities all fall to laity. In other words, Bob simply doesn’t get involved in the food pantry, Carpenter’s Shelter, planning Shrine Mont, or much of anything else. His role is liturgy, answering emails, and very limited pastoral care—as in Bob will show up for a few minutes, smile, chat, give you a hug and dash off. But with a vestry that reports to Bob, and where Bob can bypass or overrule the vestry at any time, the result is that even basics, like ensuring that cash is handled appropriately, were ignored by Bob for much of his tenure. Consider: thousands of dollars in cash and stale checks were found in the office of a previous parish administrator following her departure. Are we really to assume that no one ever called to ask why these checks were never cashed? What does this tell people about the church, its clergy/staff, and its “stewardship?”
Moreover, Dysfunctional Bob uses this paradigm to dismiss anyone who claims he’s abusive, arguing that laity would not put up with things like gross mismanagement. But the reality is that laity has done exactly that for many years, lacking any meaningful recourse.
Predictably enough, Bob exploits this paradigm to his personal advantage. His annual compensation exceeds that of even top denominational officials, despite a demonstrably mediocre track record. His insistence that the church tear down the rectory and help him buy a personal residence was a financially disastrous move for the parish, and one that he bullied through a reluctant vestry. And Bob pretty much comes and goes as he pleases.
It is in the matter of Bob’s 2014 bonus of $100,000 in the form of debt he owed the church that one really begins to understand this situation. “Negotiated” by two members of the executive committee directly with Bob (one’s husband is a regular golfing buddy of Bob’s), this was an outrageously large bonus for a feckless rector, particularly in light of the looming massive expenses facing the church. Yet members of the vestry supported the measure, with vestry member Lisa Medley even suggesting that the bonus be $200,000.
Why did vestry members make such an ill-advised decision? The answer is that, like many narcissists, Bob is good at turning on the superficial flattery and charm. He’s also very good at manipulating people and playing them against each other, with the result that conflict is rife in the parish.
Nor should one be misled by Bob’s claim that he doesn’t like conflict, which he trots out when faced with demands to address conflict within the parish. The reality is that his claim is true in part, in that he doesn’t like to do anything that will engender criticism. Yet the larger truth is that Bob often foments conflict among parishioners. His favorite tactic is to make himself out to be the friend, ally, and supporter, while claiming that others are hostile. As a result, people glob on to Bob, never realizing that he actually is the source of the underlying conflict. Much like Donald Trump, Bob exploits this paradigm to meet his own perceived needs, both oblivious and indifferent to the underlying harm he is causing the larger organization.
By now, astute readers will have concluded that, like Trump, Bob may be a narcissist. I believe that conclusion is spot on, and that Dysfunctional Bob exhibits other signs of possible narcissism and psychological maladjustment, including a propensity for lying. Whether it’s his claim that church office employees will be “retiring this year” (a lie he told repeatedly over the years), or his claims in writing, under oath, made with the advice of legal counsel that my mom or someone claiming to be her repeatedly made appointments with him and no-showed, Bob demonstrates a shocking lack of integrity, particularly for a priest.
In short. Bob’s tenure with the parish has produced a church that, not surprisingly, is much like him: Outwardly friendly and welcoming, while lacking inward faith and integrity, with a strong bias towards real or perceived self-interest, and willing to engage in virtually any behavior to meet its own needs.
Dysfunction at the Diocese
Things are no better at the diocese. Over the past few years, the diocese has repeatedly refused to deal with Bob Malm’s misconduct, even in the face of clear evidence that Bob has engaged in illegal activity. The latter includes perjury and deliberate misuse of restricted solicitations. Indeed, I am told by one church official that Bishop Shannon expressly understood that Bob’s misuse of funds was illegal, but still did not want to get involved.
The diocese also has ignored both church canons and the recommendations of its own officials. For instance, Title IV intake officer Rev. Randall Prior recommended that the church engage in conciliation of my conflict with Bob, only to be ignored by Bishop Shannon. In fact, when it did so, the diocese ignored the canonical requirement of providing written notice of its decision, instead simply falling silent. Hardly reassuring, especially coming from a diocese that had just spent seven years caterwauling to the courts about the canons and their applicability to dissidents who had left the organization.
Even more disturbingly, the diocese has said that there’s no point in its getting involved, as reconciliation is not possible. But reconciliation is not the only goal of church disciplinary canons; justice is also an objective. Nor did the diocese ever ask if I wanted to be reconciled with Bob. I don’t, as reconcilation is neither possible nor desirable when dealing with someone with Bob’s level of dysfunction.
In short, the diocese is part and parcel of the problem, for it is dysfunction at the diocese that has allowed the mess at Grace Church to take on a life of its own.
Trouble at Grace, a Stained Glass Slice of Paradise
So what does all this mean for an interim and the stained glass slice of paradise that is Grace Church?
Primarily, it means that problems within the parish will not not easily fixed. Part of the problem is that the issues that loom largest for the church are actually symptoms of bigger problems. For example, plummeting revenue and attendance at the church are seen by members of the church as themselves being challenges, while the real issues are the causes of these declines. These causes include organizational narcissism, troubled interpersonal relationships, and a lack of understanding what it means to be the Body of Christ. In other words, the parish has become much like Dysfunctional Bob: outwardly friendly, but in a narcissistic way, with all sorts of meanness right behind the scenes and a lack of self-awareness. Church members simply do not see that the place is toxic.
Predictably enough, people are very used to Bob’s way of doing things, and change will be met with resistance, a lack of understanding, and a lack of charity. (Keep in mind this is a church and diocese in which Bob Malm writes to diocesan officials, calling me “sick” and “twisted.”) Yet at the same time the challenge is to become a church, versus a religion club. This is a sea change akin to the challenges that faced The Falls Church and the Church of the Epiphany following the property recovery litigation, and it’s a massive effort, complicated by the fact that there is no external enemy akin to the “Orthodox Anglicans.”
In the case of my conflict with Bob, which in many ways is the least of the church’s problems, Bob’s all-out effort to pull members of the church in to the conflict and to create fear among parishioners, complete with his ridiculous BS about mental illness and “single-button emergency transmitters,” etc., will make it very hard for folks to reverse course and approach the issue with clarity. Even otherwise intelligent, reasonable people have fallen prey to Bob’s manipulation, and few appear to see how laughable it is to claim to be “servants of Christ,” while failing to show any love or compassion for those who are the subjects of their gossip and speculation. It’s also worth noting that I am allegedly neither the first nor the second person that Bob has tried to push out of the church; long-time members say this is a pattern of behavior on Bob’s part.
Even more laughable are people like David Crosby, who see fit to lecture me on being hateful, yet turn a blind eye to Bob Malm’s perjury. But I can say with certainty that neither David, nor anyone else at Grace, has ever seen evidence of those alleged appointments that Mom — or someone claiming to be her — made with Bob Malm. Yet David and many others continue to support a priest who commits perjury and bullies the dying. In other words, Bob may not literally be getting away with murder, but he is literally getting away with perjury.
At the same time, any potential interim faces a grim reality, which is that the diocese, which should be leading the charge to fix things at Grace, is worse than no help at all. Diocesan officials are fine with Bob’s perjury and bullying of a dying woman, and have refused to address Bob’s forcing Mike out of the Christian faith. So the diocese is not going to provide air cover and lacks the ethical underpinnings to act as an honest broker going forward. Moreover, given the track record of diocesan officials, it would be difficult for anyone to take the diocese seriously at this point, even if it attempts that role. Indeed, the role of the diocese seems best confined to lamenting slavery and reflecting on reproductive rights, versus actually addressing real-world conflict. And the diocese lacks the self-awareness and Christian ethics needed to examine its own extensive role, both in my conflict with Bob and with the larger mess that is Grace Church, to wade in, accept responsibility, and fix things. Nor does the diocese have a great track record in that regard, for it made a hash of things over at St. Thomas’ McLean and managed to violate virtually every best practice out there regarding care for a church injured by allegations of misconduct, while conveniently ignoring church canons as well.
Of course, as Bob likes to say, “Charity starts at home.” While this is an ironic statement for a priest whose noisy fights with his wife are legendary, it underscores the reality that a denomination that cannot fix problems in its own house is unlikely to be able to do much to fix the issues in the world around it.
In closing, problems at Grace church far exceed the scope of a single post. These problems start with a lack of introspection, and are threaded through every aspect of church life, up to and including the diocese itself. Moreover, they go back many years, meaning that no interim, no matter how skilled or diligent, can fully resolve all or even most of these issues. Much like an alcoholic, who can only get better when he or she hits bottom and decides it’s time to change, so too can Grace Church only become healthy once it has hit rock bottom and decides something has to give. And for this to be successful, the diocese must also embrace a healthy approach, both to the parish and to its relationship with the parish.
The analogy to an alcoholic goes even further. Much like the drunk who lashes out at those who try to intervene, potential interims need to understand that members of the parish will have no compunction against trying to obstruct their efforts, or throwing them under the bus. One has only to look at the ugly comments coming from within the church, including the college-aged parishioner who urged me to commit suicide, to realize just how sick Grace Church really is. And the Jean Reeds of the place can bloviate all they want to about defamation, etc., but Bob Malm’s perjury, his manipulative behavior, his bullying, and even the comments from the parishioner about suicide are all documented in writing.
Fixing the mess at Grace Church is a Herculean task, and I have yet to meet the interim who is up to the challenge. But if you are a prospective interim and considering taking on the job, I urge you to do your homework before signing on the dotted line. You are in for a rough and rocky road.
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Among the guests at Dysfunctional Bob’s final service at Grace, slated for September 29, is the Episcopal bishop of Virginia. That may be a good sign, but it carries with it enormous risks. It also underscores the diocese’s role in supporting and covering up Bob Malm’s repeated incidents of misconduct, including his perjury.
On the one hand, the presence of the bishop may indicate that the diocese is taking the ungodly mess at Grace seriously. If Grace Church is to become healthy and survive, there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done, and the diocese needs to be a missional partner in making that happen.
At the same time, the messaging here is both tricky and vital. The bishop cannot be seen to be dissing Dysfunctional Bob, but at the same time must be careful not to praise the many problems within the church, including bickering, shunning, and the utter disregard for the baptismal covenant evinced by many, including Dysfunctional Bob, Sugarland Chiow, and the parish vestry. Indeed, my conclusion is that Grace is not a church, but instead a religion club, with dynamics modeled on a college fraternity or sorority. Thus, the task at hand is not just to recover from the problems of Bob Malm’s tenure—it’s actually to build a church from what is now a social organization.
Complicating matters is the fact that Bob continues to try to tug on people’s heartstrings in order to convince them that his departure is a great loss, on a par with the stages of dying identified by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. This, from a priest whose response when people leave the parish due to conflict with him is, “Why should I give a fuck? People transfer all the time.” But the reality is the same goes for clergy, and Bob’s departure is long, long overdue. Moreover, while Bob would not agree with this statement, the years of dysfunction in the parish office, his refusal to supervise staff, his efforts to avoid dealing with staff issues by lying to vestry members, his failure to comply with denominational requirements like having a parish finance manual, his ongoing violation of church canons, and his sense of superiority and entitlement render Bob’s track record as rector sub-par, at best. And to parallel Bob’s statement about departing parishioners, priests transfer all the time, except that in healthy parishes it doesn’t take 30 years for this to happen.
As a result, the bishop can help by providing a vision of the future that focuses on hope, growth, unity, and cooperation. While Bob’s goal may be to pull in every last bit of adulation, the bishop can temper things by pointing people’s focus towards things that matter.
The wrinkle in things, of course, is that the diocese still refuses to recognize or address Bob’s multiple incidents of misconduct, including his perjury, but instead insists on covering them up. Thus, no matter how skillfully the diocese handles Bob’s retirement and the subsequent interim period, there remains an elephant in the living room. No one will take Grace Church, the diocese, or the bishop seriously as long as diocesan officials cover up Bob Malm’s perjury. Yes, parishioners may defer to the bishop, but the larger outside world still sees a dysfunctional organization that has lost any claim to ethical relevance.
Meanwhile, the bishop’s presence reinforces the hypocrisy of diocesan officials. Grace Church is important enough to warrant a visit from the bishop at Bob’s farewell, but not important enough to address Bob’s perjury or the other severe problems that lurk right behind the scenes. It’s also fair to point out, as previously discussed, that the diocese’s track record when it comes to clergy transitions is mixed, at best. And when it bollixes things, often due to bad advice from J.P. Causey, the diocese has shown an unparalleled ability to leave a disaster in its wake.
I can also assure all involved that my efforts to publicize Bob’s misconduct and the diocese’s ensuing cover-up will not stop with Bob’s retirement. People need to understand that while the diocese talks a good game, and likes to gas on about the baptismal covenant, there is no substance to any of it, The reality is that even criminal activity such as perjury is okay for Episcopal clergy, as long as they’re not convicted.
So, the bishop can roll through, pointy hat and crozier in tow, and put on a good show, but it does nothing to correct the underlying moral bankruptcy of the parish, the diocese or The Episcopal Church. These issues cannot be ignored, glossed over, or be treated as matters that hopefully resolve themselves over time. Only when these issues are addressed will there be any hope for the future.
Monday, August 12, 2019
Sunday, July 21, 2019
One of the valid criticisms of The Episcopal Church is that dioceses all too often function like the personal fiefdoms of their bishops. Yes, bishops are elected, and yes there is an elected standing committee, but bishops, like most bureaucrats, tend to surround themselves with sycophants. And this is nowhere more true than in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, where these is both a long track record of backroom dealing, and recent evidence of corruption within the hierarchy. These allegations go all the way to the office of the bishop and include Susan Goff and, to an even greater extent, Shannon Johnston.
Most recently, allegations have again swirled that +Johnston covered up an egregious case of sexual harassment, reported via the Title IV disciplinary canons, involving a member of the clergy under his supervision. While I do not have firsthand knowledge of the specifics of the case, I believe the complainant. Moreover, one thing is abundantly clear, which is that Johnston has shown no care or concern for the woman who was abused. Nor has he provided the pastoral response mandated by church canon in a Title IV case. To the contrary, his only response to the victim has been to state that the matter is “confidential.” That is bogus, particularly since Title IV specifically states that the bishop has discretion to disclose otherwise confidential matters in order to afford a pastoral response to the parties. In this, I sense the baleful influence of Chancellor J.P. Causey, whose primary goal over time has consistently been to protect against potential legal liability, versus doing what is right. (Recall the situation of St. Thomas’ church in McLean Virginia, in which the diocese declined to provide a pastoral response to members of the church hurt by a successful Title IV case, on the grounds that it should not get “too involved,” per the advice of legal counsel. Talk about lack of compassion.) Nor has Bishop Goff done anything to fix this situation,
This sordid episode underscores my earlier point, which is that the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia appears to be okay with almost any form of clergy misconduct that doesn’t involve sex, so long as there isn’t a criminal conviction. And in my case, Bishop Susan Goff has personally signed off in writing on the notion that Bob Malm’s perjury is okay, since there hasn’t been a conviction.
It’s also interesting to compare the current hot mess in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia with the Bishop Bruno debacle. Just as Bishop Bruno was prepared to conduct his Corp Sole activities in secret, pulling in only a small circle of loyalists, so too did Bishop Shannon negotiate his confidential exit package. And while +Bruno publicly released a largely incomplete financial audit, to my knowledge the Diocese of Virginia doesn’t manage even that level of transparency. My concerns are exacerbated by the conflict with the Trustees of the Funds, who inter alia appear to have concerns about the quality of governance within the diocese.
So, my questions to Susan Goff and Shannon Johnston are these:
- How would you react if your spouse were sexually harassed? Would you be satisfied with being told by the diocese that the outcome of your complaint is confidential? If not, how would that influence your view of the diocese? Of The Episcopal Church? How would it influence your faith?
- Do you really believe that perjury is okay absent a criminal conviction? If not, how do you justify your dismissal of my Title IV complaint against Bob Malm? And what does your response tell me and the diocese about The Episcopal Church? About your personal faith? You routinely recite the baptismal covenant, but do you really believe it? Or is it merely a bunch of empty words? Or words that apply, right up until you can invoke the whole “greater good of the church” routine in your own mind?
- In light of the issues with transparency in the Catholic Church, including the emerging scandal in the Diocese of West Virginia, and the debacle in the Diocese of Los Angeles, are you happy with the level of transparency in the diocese? In that context, does the average person in the pew understand how you use church funds? And why isn’t an annual financial audit front and center on the diocesan website?
- You appear to readily take advice from J.P. Causey about avoiding potential legal liability for the diocese. But how often do you ask yourself the question, “Is this the right thing to do?”
- You were fully apprised of Bob Malm’s efforts to drag my mother, dying of COPD into court, yet you chose inaction. How does that comport with your purported commitment to social justice?
My take: The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is in major need of an ethics overhaul, in which accountability, transparency, and living out a Christian witness in day-to-day life are priorities. As things stand now, when I look at the Diocese of Virginia, I don’t see the face of Jesus, nor do I see Christian values. Instead, I see institutional narcissism, mendacity, corruption, indifference, and bunch of folks whose primary goal is to make it to retirement, where they will enjoy the church’s generous defined benefit plan.
Saturday, July 13, 2019
Monday, June 3, 2019
Check it out!
My buddy, Dee Parsons, who has written two blistering pieces covering Bob Malm’s misconduct and the resulting coverup by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, is garnering front-page coverage on The Washington Post. The preliminary piece appears here.
As the story mentions, Dee got her start when an alleged pedophile was discovered at her former SBC church. Since then, she has covered numerous cases, including the Jules Woodson case.
I’d add that Dee also has a niche market; she is one of the few bloggers to give equal air time to spiritual abuse. That’s huge, because in a day and age when the church is consumed by sex, my belief is that the majority of abuse is spiritual, not sexual. Indeed, while hard statistics are not available, an article I published anonymously on shunning in The Episcopal Church, published in Episcopal Cafe, garnered dozens and dozens of comments, all sharing experiences of being shunned by clergy.
Congrats, Dee! Keep up the good work.
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:
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Check it out: Melissa Hollerith, wife of the Dean of Washington National Cathedral, today confirmed in writing that perjury is acceptable conduct for Episcopal clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Here is her memo:
It is small wonder that, with so little ethical reference point, the Episcopal Church is collapsing. Indeed, the world will be a better place without it.
And here is my response:
It is small wonder that, with so little ethical reference point, the Episcopal Church is collapsing. Indeed, the world will be a better place without it.
Friday, May 17, 2019
It’s amazing, really. At a time when the rate at which The Episcopal Church is shedding members is surpassed only by the losses of the Presbyterian Church USA (and even that is questionable), the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is going pedal-to-the-metal in its efforts to drive away members. How does it do that? Chiefly through its incredible blind arrogance and belief that somehow people cannot exist without the church. In short, that it is, in the words of Saturday Night Live, “specccial.”
For example, in a letter to me and the other two complainants in one of the Title IV cases, intake officer Caroline Parkinson, after accusing us of “distracting, disingenous, and duplicitous” conduct, prattled on about how there would be no point to a Title IV case, as our alleged conduct would interfere with the Title IV goals of healing and reconciliation. That, of course, does four things:
- Conveniently overlooks Bob Malm’s misconduct.
- Assigns blame for the problem in the victims of Bob’s misconduct.
- Demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the dynamics of abuse, which is that victims often behave in ways that are not rational or helpful, up to and including things like alcoholism and suicide.
- Ignores the fact that Title IV applies only to clergy. As in, clergy are always responsible for maintaining boundaries, full stop. And, as illustrated by the +Bruno case, in which allegations swirled about the conduct of parishioners, clergy are supposed to be accountable for their conduct, regardless.
Caroline also violated confidentiality by disclosing a third complaint, and by lumping all three complaints together.
The real cherry on top, though, came when she reverted to Jesus-babble in her letter, urging us to have the “grace to find a new church.”
Why on God’s green earth would anyone want anything to do with the church after this, including the diocese’s decision that retaliation for filing a Title IV complaint is acceptable?
Then we get to Caroline’s lie, which is that the diocese had already considered the matter of Bob’s decision to remove our names from the church directory the previous summer. Leaving aside the fact that there was no advisor, or communication from the reference panel, which means there likely was no reference panel that summer, the issue of the directory didn’t arise until that fall. All I can say is that I was not aware that the ability to time travel was one of the benefits of ordination. How special.
Similarly, Canon Mary Thorpe, whose husband serves as Executive Director of the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care, should surely have a handle both on Title IV and the pastoral implications of violating the promises Title IV sets forth to laity. Yet she apparently has said nothing about:
- The outrageous and appalling conclusion set forth in the most recent Title IV notice of dismissal that perjury by members of the clergy is acceptable as long as there is no criminal violation.
- The fact that the diocese has repeatedly ignored the requirement of a pastoral response in all Title IV cases, including those involving dismissal. (Indeed, mapping out a pastoral response should be one of the first things to happen when a complaint is filed. But I guarantee you that the diocese has done nothing in this regard. Indeed, a pastoral response should be implemented from the moment a complaint is filed.)
- The fact that the diocese itself has repeatedly breached confidentiality in this matter, including through its violation of the Title IV whistleblower provisions.
Yet she wants to try to insist that I should keep the diocese’s actions confidential? All I can say is I call BS on that one. It takes a special kind of arrogance for the diocese to repeatedly violate Title IV in all directions, yet try to apply those very same provisions to laity. This, despite the fact that with the exception of one provision, Title IV expressly doesn’t apply to laity.
What’s really sad, though, is that we have clergy, aka professional Christians, who get paid to do this stuff full-time, who consider Title IV so unimportant that they don’t bother to learn its requirements, or to follow them. And doubly sad when I, as laity (if that’s what you want to call a former Christian), am far more familiar with the provisions of Title IV than they are.
And for the record, this is not the only time that the Diocese has ignored the Title IV requirement of a pastoral response. In the case of the lovely small church of St. Thomas’ in McLean, the diocese violated not only every best practice out there (including having Pat Wingo show up unannounced to tell people that the rector had been suspended), but it adamantly refused to do anything to care for the parish in the aftermath.
Why? Per Bishop Shannon, it was because diocesan chancellor JP Causey had told them not to get too involved due to fears of legal liability. All I can say is that’s pretty rich, coming from a chancellor who oversaw litigation in which the diocese bloviated on for years in the courts about the applicability of church canons to its constituent parishes. And no, there is no allegation of wrongdoing within the parish itself. And yes, it was nice that +Shannon apologized, but having not done anything to actually repair the damage, the gesture was purely symbolic.
In the meantime, a number of parishioners have left St. Thomas’, several of them life-long members, yet no one has ever reached out to them to care for them or attempt to fix the hurt that the diocese has caused. Proof that, as laity, we’re supposed to keep our mouths shut and send money, nothing more. And if we leave, we are of no consequence to the diocese. Next customer, window three, step right up.
The great irony in all of this is that these situations have created a deep well of knowledge and of pain among those hurt by the church. If the diocese had half the common sense God gave a goat, it would follow the lead of one of the dioceses in California, which ultimately invited friends of mine who had left the church due to abuse to serve on its advisory panel for preventing abuse. As is often pointed out within nonprofits, your critics are often your most useful allies, if you can lean into things and not feel threatened. But the church is nowhere near that self-aware.
With that in mind, it’s time I think for the diocese to engage in a period of introspection and repentence. Much of the harm it has caused in recent years is irreparable, and signs suggest that things are going to get worse, not better. But ignoring the problem will only allow it to fester.
For example, when the day comes in the not-distant future that Dysfunctional Bob packs it in, Grace church is headed for a period of turmoil. No matter how skilled an interim may be things will get ugly, especially when folks eventually realize just how problematic Bob Malm was and is. Having a priest for 30+ years who considers it nothing but a job, and who exploited the church shamelessly for his personal needs, is not a good situation for even the healthiest of churches, and Grace is far from healthy. But neither the parish itself nor the diocese see this, so there’s a storm lurking just over the horizon. Yikes.
Will the diocese reverse course and take my conflict with Bob seriously? Not bloody likely. Nor does it perceive any need to actually follow Title IV. And it is so blindly narcissistic as an organization that it has no concept or empathy for the pain it has caused and continues to cause. Moreover, just like individual narcissists, who often wind up late in life being profoundly isolated and alone (as appears increasingly likely for Bob Malm), it doesn’t realize that it’s sowing the seeds for its own destruction, for this sort of conduct inevitably causes organizations to rot from within.
That’s particularly troubling in light of +Goff’s progressive creds, as well as her academic background in psychology. One would think she, of all people, would recognize the looming problems, but she appears to have no insight beyond the tactical, day-to-day business of the rapidly dwindling diocese. Yes, she is a better tactician than +Johnston, but that’s not saying much. Indeed, the hot mess that was the diocese’s effort to find a bishop transitional should be of profound concern at every level in the organization, as it shows that problems are both systemic and structural.
The fact that, even at the highest levels, the diocese can’t see the forest for the trees, and doesn’t recognize just how troubled it is, bespeaks an organization that is ill-prepared for the future—a future that will be marked by sharply declining revenue and membership. And until it actually cares for its members — even those who, like me, it both dislikes and distrusts — and demonstrates an ethical worldview marked by something more than empty Jesus-babble, the diocese will continue to crumble.
Not a pretty sight.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
After notifying the diocese that I have requested criminal charges against Dysfunctional Bob, there were several emails back and forth with Mary Thorpe, canon to the ordinary of the diocese. In her last one, she asked the following (emphasis added):
Thank you for the clarification, Eric. It is helpful to have a clearer picture of what happened from your perspective. And how far were you from the church property line? It is my understanding that there are restrictions as to how close you can stand to the church if you exercise your First Amendment rights in this way.
I am curious, though, now that I’ve looked at the blog, as to why you published the Disciplinary Report Notice of May 1, which clearly instructs you that “this matter is confidential and, except as authorized by Bishop Goff, you should not discuss it with anyone except your Advisor or your counsel.”
And here is my response (typos corrected):
I was well past 1000 feet, and that has been verified by the police. Additionally, I was well past 1000 feet from Bob’s home. Bob’s decision to engage in this behavior followed a conversation he had with his wife Leslie, who previously observed me there.Apropos the canons and confidentiality, that was addressed in previous emails. Specifically:
1) With the exception of 1 provision, effective following last convention, Title IV applies only to clergy. As Robin Hammeal-Urban notes in her excellent book, “Wholeness After Betrayal,” laity have every right to disclose a Title IV complaint, and it is highly improper to suggest otherwise. Robin does suggest cautioning complainants who wish to do so that they may face ostracism if they choose to do so. Having renounced Christianity due to my experiences with DioVa and Bob, the latter is of no concern to me.2) As I am not a Christian, the Diocese cannot instruct me to do anything. And with all respect, in light of its shocking proposition that perjury is only actionable if a conviction is secured, I will never agree to keep the diocese’s actions confidential.3) Having violated the whistleblower provisions of Title IV, which were effective 1 January 2019, the diocese is hardly in a position to argue for the sanctity of Title IV,4) Having repeatedly ignored the requirement under Title IV of a pastoral response (not the same as pastoral care) in all cases in which a complaint is made to the intake officer — including in the last case, where the reference panel specifically noted that requirement — again, the diocese cannot insist that I keep its repeated violations of Title IV confidential.With all due respect, you are dealing with people’s lives and their faith. You don’t get to pick and choose which aspects of Title IV apply. And any church that thinks perjury is acceptable clergy conduct absent a criminal conviction is morally bankrupt anyway, and not one that anyone should join who values their personal integrity.Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s an honest answer to your question.Eric
Thursday, May 9, 2019
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.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
Here is my follow-up email to Canon Mary Thorpe.
Of course, you have to love the logic: Because there’s been no conviction for perjury, Bob Malm cannot have engaged in perjury. If that’s the case, then we can equally infer that Bob’s failure to sue me for defamation suggests that my assertions are accurate.
The funny thing is that, in the end, The Episcopal Church is simply ensuring that it collapses into irrelevance. The fact that it cannot hold its clergy to basic standards of integrity, and cannot even adhere to the ethical standards of publicly traded companies (hardly a high standard in the scheme of things) makes clear that church no longer has a meaningful role in society. It’s just a clueless bunch of folks locked into a Madmen-era time warp, a good ole’ boys and girls club where folks look out for each other long enough to get to retirement.
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Remember when I posted that the Episcopal Church is morally bankrupt? Well, today’s email from Todd Ousley, the national intake officer for complaints against Episcopal bishops, confirms it.
Previously, I contacted the Diocese about Bob Malm’s perjury. Sure enough, the Diocese brushed off my concerns without even investigating. So, I kicked things upstairs to Todd Ousley. Sure enough, his response was essentially that as long as the diocese invokes Title IV in its response, that’s all that’s required. This, no matter how outrageous the conduct, the Diocese is free to dismiss it in this manner.
In my case, proving Bob Malm’s perjury is very simple. All the Diocese has to do is ask Bob for proof of his claim that Mom made multiple appointments with him—a claim at the very heart of his recent court case. But it refuses to even lift a finger.
Proof that The Episcopal Church is irretrievably dysfunctional.
Monday, April 8, 2019
As those familiar with my conflict with Bob Malm already know, in July 2015 the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia dismissed my Title IV complaint against Bob Malm. What does that mean in real-life? It means that my allegations, which included potential workplace harassment and clear retaliation by Bob for complaining, are not, per the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, even arguably violations of church canons. Indeed, even with the recent change to Title IV, which specifically forbids retaliation, the diocese does not view Bob’s conduct as being within the aegis of conduct unbecoming clergy, and thus actionable.
Before going further, you should note that the this decision was communicated in writing by the Rev. Carolyn Parkinson, then the diocesan intake officer.
That’s also really troubling.
Not only is retaliation illegal at publicly traded companies, but Bob’s conduct would expressly violate Catholic written “safe environment” policy, which requires inter alia that:
- Clergy refrain from creating or permitting an environment in which harassment of any sort is allowed.
- Clergy treat all persons with dignity and respect, and avoid intimidation, including verbal and written.
- Clergy provide an environment marked by fairness and justice.
- All involved take allegations of harassment seriously.
Guess that would preclude stating that harassment is not a violation of church canons, yelling at volunteers in front of others, permitting staff to do so, lying about parishioners, committing perjury, calling your parishioners “domestic terrorists,” or trying to drag the dying into court.
It is a sorry state of affairs when the Catholic Church takes the moral high ground versus the supposedly inclusive Episcopal Church.
The following screen caps are from Catholic Safe Environment policies:
Monday, April 1, 2019
Monday greetings from Mayo House, the somewhat ratty headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Located in an antebellum mansion in Richmond marked by peeling paint, broken fencing and a disgracefully unkempt yard, Mayo House has long struck me as emblematic of the decline of The Episcopal Church: Big, outdated, inefficient, bloated, crumbling and uncomfortable, yet an asset that a dying church tenaciously clings to as a vestigial reminder of a privileged past. And much like Catholic dioceses, spectacularly inefficient and willing to trade its integrity for its survival.
Anyway, nothing like a glorious spring day to remind the diocese and the good Christians of Grace Church that I am not going away any time soon.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Friday, March 8, 2019
Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Still Refuses to Even Investigate Allegations of Priest Bob Malm’s Perjury
As many of you know, in January 2018, Episcopal priest Bob Malm, my former rector, went to court, falsely claiming I had threatened him. Many, myself included, were suprised when the court ruled in his favor, despite a total lack of evidence that I, or anyone else, had threatened Bob.
I appealed, and Bob lied throughout much of the appeal process, including under oath. Thus, I believe Bob committed perjury.
Among his lies:
- That my mother, terminally ill, had made various appointments with him and no-showed.
- That only his wife had blogged about our conflict; the Alexandria police department directly contradicted this statement, indicating that his daughter, Lindsey Malm Anders, was actually the primary blogger.
- That I was never licensed to practice law (retired PA attorney ID 55971).
- That I had never served as a police officer. (Inter alia, former Arlington County volunteer officer).
- That I had violated the existing protective order.
Note that the statements, made in court filings, about my having allegedly not been an attorney and having allegedly not served as a police officer were not proferred to the court as opinions, or as the unproven results of legal research. Instead, they were proffered as facts.
Both at the time of these incidents and subsequently, I informed the Episcopal diocese of Virginia about Malm’s perjury. I even directly emailed both Bishop Shannon and Bishop Susan Goff. Neither responded, nor have they taken any action to investigate my claims.
Malm still serves as rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria. Bishop Goff still is the ecclesiastical authority for the Diocese of Virginia.
At a time when the Catholic Church finally is disclosing abuse after years of concealment and coverup, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is making every effort to conceal, cover-up, and avoid dealing with Bob Malm’s abusive, illegal, and unethical actions.
This Lent, know this: There is nothing Christian about the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Its only goal is to avoid accountability.
#bobmalm #fakechristians #perjury @thediocese @graceepisalexva
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Well, it’s another road trip for the long weekend, off to sign some paperwork. More to come on that.
Meanwhile, lots of interesting conversations with the Diocese of Virginia, including one in which the church basically told me that it has no problem with clergy retaliating against someone if they complain to the diocese.
It’s conversations like that that show just how clueless The Episcopal Church really is. It carries on about #metoo and its desire to be a safe church for all persons, while at the same time adhering to a standard that hasn’t been seen in publicly traded companies in many years.
Of course, that raises the question: If The Episcopal Church is 20+ years behind the times, is there a future for it?
I doubt it. Any organization, church or otherwise, with such a low ethical bar isn’t worth the time of day.
On an unrelated note, earlier this morning the blog broke 60,000 hits. That’s chump change compared to social media results so far, but still a cool milestone.
100,000 hits, here we come!