Recently I received additional emails and correspondence relating to the debacle at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. The debacle includes multiple allegations of sexual misconduct; a seeming lack of accountability by the pastor, Liam Goligher; and possible efforts by the church and its law firm to suppress criticism by former member Phil Snyder. Most importantly, I believe that the church evinces an appalling lack of concern for those hurt by these actions.
In the first email, posted below, Frank Pulcini, who appears to be a member of Tenth Presbytrerian, discusses the allegations of sexual misconduct in the church’s basement, which it refers to as “the catacombs.” To Frank’s credit, he urges a engaged approach to the issue, including stepping up security and notifying others about the issue, as well as providing care for the alleged victim and pulling in the police. I also am grateful that Frank contemplated the safety of children—an issue too often overlooked.
At the same time, there are some disconcerting aspects to Frank’s message. For example, he urges church leadership not “to keep this hushed,” further noting that no one called 911 at the time of the alleged incident. Moreover, it appears that no one had notified the police. The notion that the church can handle this incident — which sounds like a case of sexual assault — is shocking and appalling, and sounds very much like the Catholic Church and its efforts to handle its own sexual abuse issues internally. The results of the latter are well-known, and should have been enough to make any reasonable clergyperson think twice before trying to handle things personally.
Here is the content of Frank’s email:
The second email, while brief, is equally troubling. An exchange between Phil and Liam Goligher, it shows that Goligher was personally aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct. But what is truly telling is the suggestion that they catch up after Sunday services.
I don’t know about you, but the time after services at every church I’ve ever attended has been a whirlwind of little kids, coffee, small talk, and people coming and going. It’s a great place to find out how elderly friends are doing, or if those who are sick and shut in need anything. But as a place to address allegations of sexual misconduct, it is about the worst possible place and time imaginable. Thus, unless I am mischaracterizing life at Tenth Presbyterian, Goligher’s follow-up suggests a shockingly cavalier approach to a potentially devastating issue, particularly for the woman who allegedly was assaulted. In other words, yikes. Just yikes.
Here’s the email:
That said, I believe Phil. Issues involving sexual misconduct and the safety of church members should have been handled with dispatch. There’s no reason this should have been acrimonious, difficult, or divisive. Yet even in these cursory emails, it looks very much like church officials are trying to sidestep and downplay the matter.
Of course, that raises the question why. Why would the church not want the police involved? Why would it not want transparency? I don’t know the answer, but my gut instinct is that it has something to hide, and that there’s more to this than meets the eye.
I’d also like to add that I admire Phil’s tenacity. In my dispute with Bob Malm, I know what he’s experiencing, and I am willing to bet he’s been called everything from insane to a stalker and more. Been there, done that. Churches know no bounds when it comes to ad hominem attacks on those who challenge the status quo, in my case even urging me to commit suicide. I hope that true Christians will offer support, encouragement and prayer on Phil’s behalf.
Apropos the issue of defamation, I no longer practice law, having happily retired, and no longer am licensed to practice law. That said, it’s a basic notion of defamation law that substantial truth is a defense. Thus, while Phil may have used inaccurate legal terminology, it appears that some sort of involuntary sexual misconduct did occur. I therefore believe Phil to be correct when he says that it is not slander, horrible or otherwise. I express no opinion as to whether Goligher indeed has engaged in criminal activity.
Of course, as a practical matter, if you are a church official, is it in your best interest to discourage reporting of misconduct? Of course not. If you do, you run the risk of potential personal and organizational liability, as well as devastating reputational damage. The fact that Tenth Presbyterian appears to be rabidly doing so again suggests to me that something is seriously wrong at the church. Moreover, if Phil’s conclusion that the church is blaming the victim is accurate, then things really are ugly at Tenth Presbyterian.
Lastly, we see the most recent correspondence from Gary Samms, the attorney for Tenth Presbyterian, in which he attempts to persuade Phil to quit communicating about this situation. While I appreciate its professional tone and demeanor (versus that of a certain government contracts attorney in Washington, DC), as a former attorney I find it noteworthy that it doesn’t claim that Phil is engaging in defamation. My guess is that Gary knows that Phil’s assertions are accurate, and far from defamatory. This, combined with the fact that an inflammatory letter would simply result in further criticism, suggests to me that the church knows that there’s not much it can do to shut down criticism.
Of course, that begs the issue: If people at Tenth Christian really are Christians, why did they try to get an injunction against Phil in the first place? It seems clear that he was neither violent, nor threatening. As such, the church appears to have borne false witness. The fact that the church pursued such a course of action yet again leads me to conclude that it is hiding something—possibly something quite serious. Otherwise, why would the church engage in what appears to be profoundly unethical behavior? And behavior that is so very damaging to its reputation? Moreover, its actions suggest this is not an emotionally or spiritually safe church, nor one that is safe against sexual abuse. If nothing else, it’s profoundly stupid for Liam to announce his decision that the incident at a pastor’s home was a “cultural misunderstanding.” The appropriate response was to notify the police immediately, and possibly to hire independent counsel to investigate the matter and notify the deacons, staff and congregation of its findings. Beyond that, a visit from a law enforcement crime prevention expert or a consultant in church security would have been a wise move. There is simply no reason for Liam Goligher to play junior police officer.
That said, Gary talks about facts not at Phil’s disposal. If the former can prove that the church handled allegations of sexual misconduct appropriately, I am, of course, more than happy to publish that information. Same goes for evidence that Phil indeed was violent and threatening. Or if Gary or the church wish to refute my belief that there’s more to this sordid tale than meets the eye, I am happy to hear them out. Somehow, I have the feeling the phone’s not going to be ringing off the hook any time soon.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to receiving more information on this case, and am committed to publishing this information as I receive it.
Until then, my advice to Tenth Presbyterian is this: Don’t pull a Bob Malm aka be stupid. Act like Christians and make things right. Just as Bob’s efforts have done nothing to shut down criticism of him (indeed, Bob’s conduct has exacerbated his reputational woes) so too will Tenth Presbyterian only compund its problems if it continues down its current path.