Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reflections on Abuse, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and the Failure of Leadership

Lately I’ve had several fascinating discussions with experts on abuse about the topic of why organizations like the Episcopal church tolerate and conceal abuse. While many of the conversations have, predictably enough, centered on sexual abuse, the underlying issues remain relevant.

To be clear, Bob Malm is not accused of sexual misconduct. Nor is anyone within the diocese. But at the same time, as far as I can tell the diocese has steadfastly refused to address Bob Malm’s perjury, or even to follow its own canons when it comes to clergy discipline.

One consistent theme in the discussions I’ve had has been that organizations tend to try to protect their reputation, even at the expense of doing something so basic as protecting children. As a result, a culture of silence grows, and group think sets in.

Another person reminded me that narcissistic personalities are often incredibly gifted manipulators, with emotional predators typically able to portray an image of kindness and compassion that is able to fool even a skilled tribunal. And so it would seem in the case of Bob Malm, who is able to portray a friendly, congenial, supportive personality, while masking a lack of genuine empathy for those entrusted to his pastoral care. Certainly, his willingness to go after Mike in his vendetta, his multiple lies to parishioners and others, his inflammatory courtroom rhetoric, and his willingness to pursue a terminally ill woman suggest that he is not someone who should have ever been ordained in the first place. 





But the most important thing I have heard and read suggests that a failure in leadership goes right to the top. In that regard, +Shannon and +Susan have both repeatedly shown that they do not understand the dynamics of abuse. nor do they have any real desire to address it, beyond those situations in which doing so is absolutely unavoidable. And given that the bishops have taken a pass on misuse of funds and perjury, it is difficult to imagine that much other than sexual misconduct would ever get their attention. Indeed, it was laughably ironic when Caroline Parkinson said, in response to my concerns about the alleged child molester in the parish. “Now you’re talking about something that actually matters.”

In fairness to diocesan officials, that also illustrates the very limited training clergy actually have in mental health and abuse prevention. But then, given the number of toxic clergy I have encountered, perhaps it is best that they not get further access to this sort of information. Indeed, some authors suggest that narcissists often treat counseling as nothing more than training sessions in which they learn how to become more adept at getting away with misconduct.

But no matter how you parse it, it is clear to me that the failure of leadership in the diocese extends all the way to the top. And it is that very failure that leads to communication like the one that follows, from a young adult member of Grace Church. Tellingly, Bob Malm tried to claim in court that this was a threat against him. The sad reality, though, is it’s an indictment of him, the parish and the diocese.