Sunday, March 15, 2020

Safe Church and DioVA: One of the Diocese’s Major Governance Failures

One of the many downsides of the years of property recovery litigation here in DioVA is that it diverted massive amounts of time and attention from ordinary governance issues. This power vacuum  extended even to day-to-day accountability among Mayo House staff, and it was exacerbated by +Shannon’s indifference to getting involved in the details and his adversarial management style.

But one of the diocese’s biggest failings, and one still ignored by Susan Goff, was the need to update and expand on existing sexual misconduct prevention policies, to include Safe Church training.

As things stand, diocesan policies cover sexual misconduct involving children and vulnerable adults. But there is no next to no training on boundary issues, bullying, and the many other ways in which church power differentials can prove harmful. This is particularly the case with clergy like Bob Malm, who had virtually no meaningful supervision during his tenure with Grace Church, either from the diocese or the vestry.

This is at variance with the work done by the Rev. Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban, the Rev. Canon Carol Cole Flanagan, and others in drafting the current Safe Church Model Policies, available here in PDF. The new policies establish standards for LGBTQ+ members, define “vulnerable adults,” and more. Additionally, they establish standards for auditing every three years, much as is done in the Catholic Church.

Work in Other Dioceses


Many dioceses, including Connecticut, where Robin Hammeal-Urban serves, have adopted professional guidelines for clergy and policies for the inclusion of registered sex offenders in parish life. Copies of relevant Connecticut documents are available here.

Meanwhile, Bishop Goff has her visioning initiative under way, in which she seeks to map out a vision for the future. But without an effective governance framework in place, any such effort is likely to flounder. And while Goff talks about her vision for an inclusive church, the church is not effectively inclusive if it permits bullying and other non-sexual misconduct.

In my case, look at the Model Policy’s definition of violence:


See the reference to “isolation from others?” That is exactly what Bob Malm did when he instructed parish staff to isolate Mike and me. Oh, and BTW, Mike’s age at the time placed him within the definition of “vulnerable adult.” Yet per the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s written statement, Bob’s conduct is not of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” And Mom, who was dying of COPD, certainly met the definition.

Bullying


The seriousness of this situation is underscored by the Diocese of Connecticut’s Safe Church training materials, here in PDF.

Below is the definition of bullying:



Note the part about lack of empathy; which certainly would describe Bob Malm’s conduct towards my Mom.

Role of Grace Church Parishioners and Diocesan Staff

Now, look at the information from the Diocese of CT on bystanders to bullying. As you can see, those who stand silently by when witnessing bullying are considered validators. 



Given that most people at Grace Church are well aware of Bob Malm’s efforts to bully me and Mike, yet remain silent, they qualify as validators. And diocesan staff occupy roles from that of assistants to validators; none are defenders.

Conclusion

Not only is the Diocese of Virginia woefully behind the times when it comes to ensuring that its churches are welcoming and inclusive, but it is has absolutely no concept that this is the case. Indeed, it is so caught up in its own little world that it recently voted Sven vanBaars as a delegate to General Convention—the very same priest who says in writing that perjury is only a problem form clergy if they face criminal charges.