Showing posts with label Title IV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Title IV. Show all posts

Monday, September 16, 2019

TEC Falls Behind the Times in Standards of Pastoral Conduct

Years ago, activists within The Episcopal Church began clamoring for the development of programs to prevent and address sexual misconduct. The move came at a time when the church was struggling to find ways to include those who historically had been marginalized on the basis of gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and other criteria. Many among those groups recognized that church canons, which at the time only addressed heresy, simply were not adequate to prevent conduct intended to exploit, repress, and intimidate women and others who sought full inclusion in the life of the church. And while the resulting changes to church disciplinary canons and policies to prevent sexual misconduct were game changers at the time, the church has come to rest on its laurels, with the result that The Episcopal Church today lags behind the Roman Catholic church and other denominations in its protections. As a result, much work needs to be done to bring standards of conduct within The Episcopal Church up to par with those of other faith traditions.

Before we go further, we should recognize that outstanding work that has been done to promote inclusion and safety within the church by many, including the late Ann Fontaine, a much-loved staff member for the Cafe for many years. Ann, a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised, noted in a 2010 article that while the church has had considerable success in preventing and addressing child sexual abuse, its track record with adults, vulnerable persons, and non-sexual abuse was, at best, mixed:

Exploitation of vulnerable adults and harassment has a more mixed success rate. Much depends on the local diocese and requirements for response and discipline. Although the canons are in place, it is often a hard road to get the canons enforced. Rather than viewing events as abuse of power, they are confused with "affairs" or the victim is blamed for the occurrence. Egregious, multiple offenses are usually dealt with eventually but justice is slow to be found for these abuses. Most professions realize that the person in power has the responsibility in any relationship – regardless of actions. The church is beginning to understand this. The discipline of bishops is the least successful area in the church.

So what needs to change? And how can the church be made safer for all?
  • We need to make these issues a priority. Too often, discussion of these topics elicits a bored yawn or blank look. Yet these matters affect the very fiber of the church and the health of the Body of Christ; violations result in often irreparable damage to those who have been hurt and the parishes involved.
  • We need to promote a culture of transparency and accountability. Indeed, after the Heather Cook debacle, the church convened a task force to review the matter, which concluded that the church has faulty understanding of forgiveness and a lack of accountability. Yet despite the results of this and previous studies, not much has changed. Indeed, here in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, the diocesan alcohol policy, posted online in 2015, ends by saying, “In response to Bishop Johnston’s statement at Annual Council in 2015 about the importance of examining our policies surrounding the use of alcohol, a more extensive policy will be affirmed by Executive Board and posted at a later date.” Yet as of this writing, nothing has happened. So much for accountability.
  • We need to better educate church members and officials. While the new church website on the Title IV disciplinary canons is a good start, my observation is that church members at all levels remain woefully uninformed about these issues. Indeed, I was shocked and alarmed when a senior denominational official recently told me that bishops cannot get involved in the details of a priest’s misconduct absent an active disciplinary case. This is at direct variance with the provisions of Title IV, which expressly provide that a pastoral direction may be issued in such circumstances. Similarly, diocesan staff often lack even rudimentary knowledge of these issues, despite their importance to the life of the church.
  • We need specific written guidelines about appropriate pastoral boundaries. For example, most Catholic dioceses have written standards of conduct about bullying, harassment, and intimidation, as well as a toll free phone number to report violations. In The Episcopal Church, however, the weasel wording of Title IV leaves such conduct exempt from scrutiny in many dioceses, for it would be dismissed as “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.”
  • We need diocesan officials to take these issues seriously. My own experience with the disciplinary canons suggests that if it doesn’t involve sex or children, church officials will take a pass. Indeed, I have had church officials expressly state, in writing, that illegal conduct by clergy will not be addressed unless criminal charges are brought. This is a shocking proposition, and one that would exclude even the most egregious clergy misconduct from diocesan review.
  • We need to be alert to efforts by denominational officials to water down protections. Specifically, during the last General Convention, the House of Bishops appears to have rendered illusory a number of #metoo safeguards passed by the House of Delegates. 
  • We need church vestries and other decisionmaking bodies to implement their own standards of conduct, including addressing bullying and establishing written norms for conduct. Accountability becomes impossible without a means to benchmark and assess conduct.
While The Episcopal Church was, at one time, a leader in its efforts to end misconduct, the church has fallen woefully far behind the times, even with the legislative changes at the last General Convention. To remain relevant in the 21st century, it must do far more to ensure that it truly is the inclusive church that it claims to be.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Grace Episcopal: Another Great Repost

Earlier, I posted about the recent Virginia Supreme Court decision, in which the court held that even non-hierarchical churches in the state may potentially be liable for negligence when it comes to the actions of their clergy. That’s a problematic ruling, particularly for the diocese, which wants to be hierarchical when it comes to property rights, but wants to be congregational in polity when it comes to clergy discipline that doesn’t involve sexual misconduct. Like Bob Malm and his repeated nonfeasance and misuse of his office as rector.

So, with that in mind, here is an email from parish employee Jenni Faires to both diocesan officials and parish officials, clearly establishing that all involved have had full knowledge of Bob’s conduct. Moreover, my emails to Susan Goff and Shannon Johnston, which were ignored, establish that the diocese has washed its hands of the matter. Indeed, when the issue of Bob’s deliberate misuse of memorial donations came to light, Bishop Johnston told the Title IV intake officer that he didn’t want to get involved, although I am told he fully understood that Bob’s conduct was illegal. Later, intake officer Caroline Parkinson covered up the matter, claiming that “mistakes were made.” That is a lie: Bob’s conduct was done with full knowledge and intent. It was in no way a “mistake.”

Meanwhile, chalk up another incident of remarkably stupid behavior on Bob Malm’s part apropos free speech. Apparently, nowhere in his education did he read about the First Amendment, or the notion of “prior restraint.”

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Caroline Parkinson: Title IV Intake Officer Lies in Official Proceedings

One of the troubling things about the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is the lack of personal and organizational integrity at every level. Were these isolated cases, one might write these instances off as honest mistakes. But they have happened repeatedly, and over serious issues.

In the case of the Rev. Caroline Parkinson, she at one point stated, in writing, that my complaint about the removal of our names from the church directory had been considered by the reference panel in July 2015. That’s a lie, pure and simple.

First off, it is unlikely that there was a reference panel, which is the panel under Title IV that refers a case out for resolution. When one is set up, there must be an advisor to the complainant and the respondent, and the reference panel is required to notify participants of the outcome. Neither occurred, so there either was no such panel, or it failed to follow church canons.

Second, even if there was such a panel, a dismissal, which occurred in my case, has no preclusive effect. In other words, Caroline’s contention is a red herring and irrelevant to the larger issues.

Third, the matter of the directory did not arise until October 2015. It thus is impossible for the reference panel to have considered the matter the previous summer.

Lastly, under other circumstances, one might argue that Caroline simply was misinformed. But when dealing with the lives of others, their careers, their spiritual and temporal well-being, and the reputation/integrity of the church, one simply cannot be cavalier about such issues. So even if Caroline’s mistake is an honest one, it is unacceptable. Moreover, I pointed the matter out to her and the diocese promptly, only to be ignored, so it is not like Caroline or others are unaware. They have actual notice of the falsity of their written statements, but have failed to correct the matter.

Tellingly, even after bearing false witness in this matter, Caroline remains a priest in good standing. Yet to this day Caroline has taken no action to correct her lies.

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.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

See for Yourself: My Comments to St. Albans School About Melissa Hollerith

As I posted previously, it is shocking, alarming, and somewhat amusing that Melissa Hollerith, who is prepared to say that perjury by priests is okay as long as they don’t get convicted for it, teaches ethics at the prestigious St. Albans school.

With that in mind, I sent the following message to both the headmaster and the chair of her department. Predictably enough, neither had the respond, but I believe this is a valid question. Do you really want to spend just shy of $60K a year to send your son to a school that has such a thin grip on ethics? Do you really think he is going to learn the right sort of life lessons from a priest who is morally bankrupt?

The fact that Melissa has any role in the church at all shows just how bad things have become in The Episcopal Church. And no, I am not a member of the GAFCON crowd. I say that as someone who is politically progressive and inclusive.

The Episcopal Church is dying, and rightly so.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Melissa Hollerith:Truth in Advertising?

Check it out—a screen cap of Melissa Hollerith’s Twitter account, in which she claims to be sharing “love, forgiveness and grace.” 

To that, I say bullshit.

How can she make this claim when she just signed off on the notion that perjury is okay for Episcopal clergy as long as they’re not convicted? When she and other officials repeatedly ignore church canon law in order to avoid dealing with abusive clergy? When it’s okay for clergy to try and drag the dying into court, to threaten people, to bully other Christians and more?

Jesus would have no use for Melissa and the other modern-day Scribes and Pharisees of the Episcopal Church, where criminal conduct is okay. 

Just don’t get convicted.

PS Amusingly enough, Melissa teaches ethics at St. Albans school. If that’s where our future is leading, the Episcopal Church is already as good as gone.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Rev. Melissa Hollerith Confirms that Perjury is Okay for Episcopal Clergy Absent Conviction

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:

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

The Arrogance of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia: A Sign of Decline

Canon Mary Thorpe

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

My Email to Canon Mary Thorpe

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.


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.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Todd Ousley and the Big Brush-Off

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

See for Yourself: Despite Scandal, the Catholic Church is More Ethical than The Episcopal Church

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, January 28, 2019

See for Yourself: Mike’s Title IV Disciplinary Complaint Against Bob Malm

Here’s a good one: Mike’s Title IV disciplinary complaint against Bob Malm, after Dysfunctional Bob removed Mike from church membership rolls in order to get at me. Also attached is the church directory from that fall, Mike Jones’ email confirming Bob’s role in these matters, and Bob Malm’s email announcing his decision to force Mike out of the church.

True to form, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia declined to do anything.

Any priest who would try to force a parishioner out of the church who had been received into The Episcopal Church 15 months earlier is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Bob Malm aka Dysfunctional Bob.

Any attorney who would support Bob in those efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means Jeff Chiow aka Sugarland Chiow.

Any vestry that would support Bob and Jeff in these efforts is trailer park trash. And yes, that means the Grace Church vestry.

Meanwhile, Bob will be pleased to know he got his wish. Mike has renounced the Christian faith. No interest in what he terms Bob Malm’s “invisible friend,” or winding up the sort of person that Bob Malm is.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Episcopal Church Suspends Statute of Limitations for Clergy Abuse, I Call BS

As many know, The Episcopal Church has lifted the statute of limitations on clergy abuse. The Diocese of Olympia therefore has invited victims to come forward.

My advice: Think twice! Per Bishop Shannon Johnston AND Bishop Chilton Knudsen, retaliation is not actionable on the basis that it is “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” I have it in writing from both of them, and Shannon Johnston has even sent a letter saying he supports Bob Malm in his retaliation. And Bishop Susan Goff hasn’t even deigned to respond to my emails about this issue, so it’s a safe bet that she supports retaliation as well.

Check out this misleading article and my response at

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Commenter on Episcopal Cafe Confirms That TEC #Metoo Efforts a Crock

I recently posted a comment on Episcopal Cafe, pointing out that coming suspension of the canon law statute of limitations for clergy sexual misconduct is largely bogus. Specifically, the diocese of Virginia, the largest in The Episcopal Church, still insists that clergy retaliation for filing a Title IV case is acceptable. Thus, anyone who complains internally of clergy misconduct is at risk.

Not surprisingly, others agreed; see below.

Meanwhile, Dysfunctional Bob continues as clergy, Susan Goff continues to ignore the issue, and to my knowledge, nothing has been done about the allegations that bishop Shannon Johnston covered up the sexual harassment of a female church employee.

My advice: Do NOT pursue an internal complaint if you experience clergy misconduct. If you do, get the hell out of Dodge and leave the Episcopal Church before you do.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

See for Yourself: Bob Malm Violates Episcopal Title IV Disciplinary Canons

In an email that demonstrates both the paranoia of St. Dysfunction staff and Bob Malm’s flagrant violation of church canons that require that Title IV matters be treated as confidential, former director of parish operations Jeff Aaron contacts diocesan intake officer Caroline Parkinson about the original Title IV complaint against Bob. Pursuant to Canon IV.6.10, this is illegal under church law unless authorized by the bishop, which did not occur. Nor is this the only violation; evidence suggests multiple violations occurred. In other words, Bob Malm was not entitled to share this matter with others, full stop.

Needless to say, if you can’t trust Bob to adhere to church requirements involving confidentiality, you probably shouldn’t trust him with your confidential information. And if Bob isn’t prepared to adhere to the express provisions of Title IV, it’s a safe bet he’s prepared to play fast and loose on other ethical issues. But then, given his willingness to try and drag a dying woman into court, and to lie to the court, no surprise there.

Meanwhile, you gotta love the discussion about retaliation by calling my employer.

Here is Jeff Aaron’s email (which Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow attempted to redact to conceal evidence of the breach of confidentiality; the redacted version Jeff supplied in discovery is included at the bottom):

Here is a screen cap of the provision that expressly makes this a violation of Title IV:

And here is Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s redacted version, which tells you that he is fully aware that Bob violated church canons.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

See for Yourself: Bob Malm Violated Church Canons Requiring Confidentiality

Here’s a good one. In it, Jeff Aaron, then Director of Parish Operations, emails the diocesan intake officer, to forward a bunch of emails to her. In the part that is redacted, he asks about the Title IV disciplinary complaint lodged against Bob Malm—timeframe, when it will be concluded, and what Parkinson thinks of calling my then-employer, St. Thomas’ to retaliate. That’s noteworthy, because Title IV is expressly confidential for clergy, albeit not for laity.

For the record, yes, Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow redacted them, but no, he did not manage to conceal the fact that Bob Malm improperly disclosed the underlying complaint. 

Concealing evidence of a violation of the canons. Hmmm.

Why have canons if they are not enforced?


Friday, August 17, 2018

See for Yourself: Comments from Prominent Author on Bishop Shannon’s Violation of Title IV

Recently, I sent Bishop Shannon’s notice of dismissal, and my emailed response, to a prominent author who frequently writes about The Episcopal Church. Although he and I have profoundly different political views, as well as serious differences on issues like marriage equality, here’s what he writes about Bishop Shannon:

And at this point, the “institutional stupidity” continues, as Jeff Chiow and Bob Malm continue their efforts to trump up a bogus civil suit against me, and to drag my dying mother into court, with the full support and blessing of Bishops Shannon and Susan.

No wonder organized religion is dying.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

See for Yourself: Documentation that Bishop Shannon Johnston Violated Church Disciplinary Canons

Here is another interesting point of reference. Under Title IV, the Episcopal disciplinary canons, the reference panel, which is responsible for referring a case for resolution, has four options for dealing with a complaint. These options include:
  1. No further action except for the pastoral response mandated by Canon IV.8 at the time of intake.
  2. Conciliation pursuant to Canon IV.10.
  3. Investigation pursuant to Canon IV.11.
  4. Referral to the bishop for possible agreement on terms of discipline pursuant to Canon IV.9.
Instead, the diocese attempted, with Bishop Shannon’s full knowledge, to dismiss my complaint at the reference panel stage, thus violating its own canons, or laws.

Moreover, it:
  • Breached confidentiality by improperly combining, and disclosing, the existence of an independent complaint, filed by my mother.
  • Failed to provide the pastoral response mandate by Canon IV.8.
  • Inserted snotty, rude, dismissive language, accusing others of behaving badly, despite the fact that Title IV only covers clergy. (The latter changes on January 1, 2019)
  • Ignored written documentation that misuse of donations was illegal.
  • Improperly contacted respondents during the intake phase of the case.
  • Makes an interesting assumption, which is that anyone would want to have anything to do with The Episcopal Church after this experience.
Here’s the diocese’s notice:

Additionally, when I pointed out the diocese’s violation of church canons, it ignored me.

Here is my email:

Decide for yourself whether you believe Bishop Shannon Johnston responds appropriately to victims of clergy abuse, and see you think of his pastoral ethics.

My take: It is, shall we say, duplicitous and disingenuous to violate church canons, then accuse others of behaving badly. And you have to love a church that argues that the canons mean that it has an ownership interest in all parish property within the diocese, and yet it is free to disregard the very same canons any time it feels like doing so.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

See for Yourself: My Critique of Title IV

In July of 2017, I wrote a piece for Episcopal Cafe about challenges in the current implementation of Title IV. Below is the text of the original article; it and related comments can be found online at

Remember the Maginot Line? History buffs may recall that it was a massive series of fortifications along the French border, put in place after WWI, intended to repel potential future German attacks.

Unfortunately, the Maginot line had several fatal flaws. First, it did not extend to the Low Countries, allowing German troops to bypass French defenses. Second, the Maginot Line’s weaponry only pointed towards Germany, meaning that military forces that attacked from the rear could easily overwhelm these massive but now defenseless fortifications.

And so it is with Title IV. At first glance, Title IV appears to be a tightly crafted piece of canon law that provides an effective framework to address clergy misconduct. In reality, however, there are several fatal flaws that can, in certain circumstances, render Title IV’s protections largely illusory.

To be sure, the 2011 changes to Title IV were largely positive. By providing for multiple levels of conversation and discernment, the current version of Title IV affords greater opportunity for healing, justice, restitution and reconciliation. This, I believe, is consistent with our call as Christians.

Moreover, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC) appears well informed and responsive to the issues with the current Title IV. Prefacing its recent report with the accurate observation that a poorly handled Title IV case often cases irreparable harm to the reputation of all parties involved, the SCCC went on to note that there is a church-wide lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities in the Title IV process. This in turn causes delay, uncertainty, and unnecessary expense.

In response, the most recent General Convention funded the development of Title IV training materials, eventually to be translated into multiple languages. The status of this project is unclear to me, but with the next General Convention now roughly a year away, one hopes that these materials will soon be in widespread circulation.

Meanwhile, there are a number of serious challenges that remain unaddressed. These include:
  • Lack of clarity over what constitutes “conduct unbecoming.” Of course, that’s hardly surprising when dealing with a “catch-all” phrase such as this. But some dioceses basically treat “conduct unbecoming” as comprising only major illicit activities, such as rape, murder, and mayhem, while ignoring issues like workplace harassment, bullying, misuse of funds, abuse of office, and other serious matters. In dioceses where the “no blood, no foul” rule seemingly pertains, clergy misconduct is ignored that, were it to occur in most other employment settings, would result in immediate disciplinary action, including termination of employment. Thus, in these cases, clergy are held to an embarrassingly low standard of behavior—one that hasn’t been acceptable in much of the corporate world for decades. 
Meanwhile, an adjudicatory who simply doesn’t wish to be bothered leaves complainants with little recourse other than filing a complaint against the bishop diocesan—hardly an appetizing option for most complainants.

Of particular note is that Title IV never defines or references bullying. While one would assume that clergy who bully fall within the purview of the “conduct unbecoming,” clause, my experience is that intake officers either don’t recognize bullying when they see it, or are unwilling to address it. This ignores the excellent work done by the Diocese of Newark, and specifically addressing these gaps in the upcoming revisions to Title IV would be useful.
  • Lack of clarity about what constitutes conduct that is “weighty and material” to the ministry of the church. Often, intake officers who don’t wish to deal with a complaint will cite the “weighty and material” clause of Title IV. But how do you define “weighty and material?” In my experience, intake officers typically don’t recognize spiritual, financial or emotional abuse as meeting this threshold. Yet any mental health professional will tell you that these forms of abuse can be every bit as damaging as physical abuse. Or, as one complainant told me, “My intake officer was stuck in a 1950’s definition of misconduct. If it didn’t involve rape or physical violence, it just didn’t count.” 
  • Lack of a mechanism to address substantive or procedural errors during a Title IV proceeding. For example, if an intake officer interviews respondent clergy without the latter having access to an advisor, this is a violation of Title IV. Yet there is no meaningful mechanism to address issues such as this. Granted, the most recent revisions provide for a Title IV procedural officer, but with a poorly defined role and no real enforcement powers, this does not go nearly far enough. Similarly, if the reference or hearing panels violate the canons in their handling of a case, there often is no way to address the matter other than an appeal to the good graces of the bishop diocesan. 
  • Lack of recourse in cases of improper dismissal. In cases in which an intake officer improperly dismisses a complaint, the president of the diocesan disciplinary board may overturn the dismissal. But since the reference panel comprises the intake officer, the bishop diocesan, and the president of the disciplinary board, a bishop diocesan may be all too easily swayed by an intake officer with whom she or he already has a close professional relationship. Since there is no right of appeal from a dismissal that is upheld at this level, an intake officer has an almost unchecked ability to impede a complaint if they so choose. True, a dismissal has no preemptive effect against a future complaint, but as long as the complainant must deal with the same intake officer and same adjudicatory, chances of a successful outcome are slim. 
  • Lack of clarity over what constitutes a “pastoral response.” Title IV mandates a pastoral response whenever a complaint is made to an intake officer; that is the case even if the complaint is dismissed. But I have learned of numerous cases in which adjudicatories have used a pastoral response as an excuse to avoid dealing with serious clergy misconduct, including sexual relations with parishioners. Yes, there should always be pastoral care and concern for those affected by clergy misconduct, but when this provision is used to allow clergy to avoid accountability, a serious injustice is done. Additionally, I have heard anecdotes that suggest some adjudicatories define a pastoral response so loosely as to render it meaningless. For example, one bishop allegedly wrote to a sexual abuse survivor to say that he deeply regretted the situation and would pray for her and her family. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer, but not as a be-all-and-end-all solution for serious issues like sexual misconduct.
In short, the pastoral response provision is too often the exception that swallows the rule.
  • Lack of recourse against respondents who engage in misconduct during the early phases of a Title IV proceeding. To its credit, the most recent General Convention amended Title IV to include the possibility of sanctions against parties who engage in misconduct. But this really only applies at the hearing panel stage of proceedings. Thus, clergy who, for example, lie during the intake process or during conciliation may well face no penalty for their actions. Yes, the church attorney can, if she or he chooses to do so, amend the complaint, but this appears to happen rarely. Thus, Title IV cases that don’t reach the hearing panel stage of proceedings may have few disincentives for respondent clergy to engage in misconduct that undercuts the Title IV process. 
  • Lack of protection for complainants. As things stand, there is no specific protection against clergy respondents retaliating against complainants. For instance, in one case with which I am familiar, the respondent clergyperson retaliated for the filing of a Title IV complaint by organizing a multi-year campaign of shunning and harassment against the complainants, and did so using church resources. The diocese and intake officer received multiple complaints about this behavior, but ignored it. While the matter was eventually resolved, the relational, reputational, and other damage caused by the clergyperson’s retaliation is largely irreparable.
In fairness, the SCCC appears poised to recommend the addition of whistleblower protection to Title IV at the 2018 General Convention. In the meantime, though, Title IV complainants and witnesses participate in the process at their own risk—hardly conducive to the healing and reconciliation envisioned in the 2011 changes to Title IV. Yes, one would assume that retaliation, which is illegal in publicly traded companies would constitute conduct unbecoming under Title IV, but the uncertainty over individual roles and responsibilities in this context makes this an uncertain proposition, at best.

Speaking of whistleblower protection, we have learned in cases of sexual misconduct of the importance of having one person who is ultimately responsible for follow-through. This prevents cases from falling through the cracks, or being dismissed out of hand. In most cases, the bishop diocesan is the person responsible for ensuring an appropriate response and follow-through. Yet the national church’s whistleblower hotline only covers church headquarters employees, and we have no single point of contact as a denomination to deal with misconduct. We therefore should give consideration to a churchwide ethics hotline that can be used at all levels to bring potential misconduct to light, as minors, third-party advocates and others otherwise may have difficulty knowing whom to contact in case of a problem. At the same time, there must be assurances that complaints will be listened to, treated with respect, addressed appropriately, and that retaliation will not be tolerated.
  • Lack of implementing regulations. In the case of most civil statutes, the details are implemented via administrative regulation. There is some precedent in church canon law for this, including the “Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs,” and the sexual misconduct prevention manuals developed by most dioceses. Yet the lack of definitive policies on the day-to-day handling of Title IV matters leads to lack of clarity and some very poor outcomes. Even guidance such as recommending that intake officers meet face to face with a complainant whenever possible would be most helpful, yet there is too little effort in this space. Similarly, a formal certification process for Title IV officials, such as that often required for diocesan sexual misconduct prevention trainers, might be useful. 
We also should do a better job of defining what is within the purview of Title IV. All too often, Title IV is postured as a means of addressing sexual misconduct, since references to Title IV are incorporated into diocesan sexual misconduct prevention materials. This creates the impression – often even among diocesan staff – that Title IV’s main purpose is to address sexual misconduct. As a result, adjudicatories often will jump all over claims that a clergyperson had an affair, all the while ignoring the clergyperson who engages in other, equally troubling behavior, including workplace harassment, bullying, emotional abuse or relational abuse. It is also worth noting that at least one diocese has no reference to Title IV at all on its website—hardly helpful for someone struggling to deal with clergy misconduct.

In conclusion, my belief is that the analogy to the Maginot Line is valuable. At first glance, Title IV appears to be a formidable defense against clergy misconduct, but the reality is that clergy and adjudicatories alike can, with great ease, sidestep Title IV when it so suits them. Thus, like the Maginot Line, Title IV all too often is illusory in the protections it offers.