Showing posts with label abuse of power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abuse of power. Show all posts

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Additional Allegations Emerge About Bishop Shannon Johnston Covering up Sexual Harassment of Women



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:
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?”
  5. 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.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Church Times Article on Abuse and the Church Sounds Painfully Familiar

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:

Andrew Graystone, an advocate for the survivors, said that he was aware of 26 victims in the UK, of whom two are deceased, bringing the estimated number of alleged victims to 116.

He said: “I have spent the last three years researching Smyth’s life and his abuse. One of the most alarming and difficult facts of the case is that so many people in the Church have deliberately chosen to look away. . .

“Archbishop Welby is aware that I have this information, too, but for the last two and a half years he has chosen not to ask for it.”

A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said: “We would urge anyone who has information pertaining to victims of abuse to give it to the police or relevant statutory authorities immediately.”

The Archbishop has always maintained that at no time was he aware of the abuse taking place. It is understood that he has offered to meet survivors, and that he is committed to a review taking place with or without other parties involved.

Last month, a group of survivors wrote to Lambeth Palace to correct the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assertion that Smyth was “not actually an Anglican” — a comment made during an interview on Channel 4 News (News, 18 April). The letter lists 14 points of dispute about the Archbishop’s comments, including that Smyth had been a licensed Reader in the diocese of Winchester.

These comments appear very similar to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s comments about Bob Malm’s conduct. Pretty words, but no substance, and an absolute unwillingness to actually do anything to address Malm’s perjury and other abuse/abuse of power.

Read the full Church Times article here.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Catholic Church Gets It; Episcopal Church Remains Clueless

In the midst of the burgeoning Catholic sexual abuse scandal, there is a sad truth that is emerging. Specifically, the Catholics, at least on paper, get that abuse includes many things beyond sexual abuse. The Episcopal Church, and particularly the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, don’t get that.

In its recent communique, the Catholic synod noted that abuse takes many forms; that there often is no way to repair the harm caused by abuse; and that clericalism often comes from a feeling of privilege, versus a notion of being called to service.

Contrast that with Bishop Shannon’s notion that Bob Malm’s misconduct is suddenly, miraculously “behind us,” despite the distress many family members of mine have experienced and lack of any meaningful sign that the diocese, or Bob Malm, understand why his conduct was and is wrong. 

Or Johnston’s claim that matters were “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statements of support for knuckleheads Bob Malm and Leslie Steffensen. 

Or Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s desire to paper over things with a settlement agreement that basically says, “Give Bob everything he wants, and we’re good.” 

Or the abusive, inflammatory language in Bob Malm and Sugarland’s pleadings.

The Catholic Church is a hot mess. But it’s still several steps ahead of the sordid, putrid crock of goo that is The Episcopal Church.





Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Rumors About Bishop Shannon

Someone recently asked me about +Shannon, and rumors swirling about the abrupt news of his departure, as well as the recent departure of other key personnel in the diocese. Specifically, I was asked if the allegations about +Shannon potentially covering up a case of sexual harassment have anything to do with another recent departure, presumably that of Pat Wingo.

By way of clarification, the allegations to which I am referring do not in any way suggest that Pat Wingo engaged in sexual harassment. 

More than that I cannot say, except that +Shannon has a dubious track record when it comes to dealing with clergy misconduct. That includes his whole approach of, “tell the wardens about it.” But as anyone who ever worked in HR knows, there are times when, for a variety of reasons, those experiencing abuse or harassment simply cannot deal with the issue locally, or with these directly involved. In those situations, it is highly inappropriate to insist that they do.

In my case, I can also say that +Shannon has turned an appallingly blind eye to Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow’s actions, and the damage they are doing to The Episcopal Church. As a result, it is fair to ask, “Why even have a bishop if he or she won’t deal with clergy misconduct? In what sort of sick religion is it okay to bully the dying? In what sort of church is it okay for clergy to refer to their own parishioners as “sick,” “twisted,” and “dysfunctional,” as Bob Malm has done?”

Indeed, per the diocese, bullying, workplace harassment, and deliberate misuse of church funds are not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church. I have it in writing, reviewed and approved by Bishop Shannon personally.

My opinion is that all of this points up a larger truth, which is that we are really seeing just how troubled the Diocese of Virginia and Grace Episcopal church have really become. And no wonder Bob Malm doesn’t want to tell parishioners that this sort of thing is inappropriate—it’s his modus operandi, even if done behind the scenes. Something about a house divided....


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

See for Yourself: Bob Malm’s Subpoena to My Mother

For those interested, here is an early copy of the subpoena Bob Malm sent via Jeff Chiow to my mom. 

It’s amusing, too—Jeff Chiow on more than one occasion has noisily complained about publication of materials related to the case, yet in 2015, when my attorney asked to discuss the matter in confidence with a view towards possible settlement, Bob, through Jeff, said no to both. So one must assume that, having previously rejected confidentiality, Jeff has no objection to publication of documents in the public domain, such as this subpoena.

I wonder how Bob would have felt had someone subpoenaed his mother while she was terminally ill?