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.