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With the news about Anne Turner now official, there’s some reading she could do over the next few weeks that would be helpful in her new role. Specifically, she might consider  “Wholeness After Betrayal: Restoring Trust in the Wake of Misconduct.” The book is written by Robin Urban-Hammeal, who is the Canon for Mission Integrity in Massachusetts. It’s available here and in various electronic formats.

Robin and I share several friends, and although I don’t know her well, I admire her and respect her. She takes clergy misconduct seriously, and has tremendous empathy, understanding, and knowledge of how abuse happens, its dynamics, and what to do about it. She’s sincere, and she’s kind, unlike the bishops of Virginia.

Indeed, I sent copies to the Virginia bishops as well as intake officer Carolyn Parkinson, all of whom I have seen screw up their responses to clergy misconduct big-time.

For example, when Pat Wingo showed up at St. Thomas’ to announce the departure of rector Stephen Edmondson (I was the parish admin at the time), he screwed things up hugely, appearing unannounced and dealing with misconduct amidst divine worship.

As Robin points out, to do so is a big mistake, for there are some who will not want to hear the news right away, and will need to process it in their own time and manner. Moreover, it is a really bad idea to conflate divine worship with clergy discipline, and having served at St. Thomas’, Anne knows for herself that resentment still lingers. (For the record, it is very clear that the bishops never read the book. Indeed, a canon to the ordinary subsequently pointed out to the diocese that DioVA intake officers and senior church leaders are in dire need of Title IV trading, but was ignored.)

Robin also notes that it’s important to provide a pastoral response for all involved (not the same as pastoral care, although the latter may be part of it) for all members of a parish. As parish admin, I got no pastoral care at all, but instead was left to deal with a senior warden who was not very helpful, to put it mildly. The lack of any sort of pastoral concern by the diocese was all the more disturbing, because I had known about the issue at St. Thomas’ for some time, although I was supremely discreet about the matter. Simply put, one cannot sit outside someone’s door all day, every day, and not know what goes on.

On other fronts, Robin discusses the importance of bringing truth to light, and gives guidance on how to make it happen. She also talks about what happens when disclosure doesn’t occur; namely, that churches remain toxic for generations to come.

Most importantly for Grace, Robin talks about spiritual abuse. While she is quick to point out that judicatories often ignore the first few such reports, the reality is that Bob Malm was spiritually abusive in many ways and over a long period of time. It is Bob’s spiritual abuse and manipulative conduct that gave rise to the comments about how people talk to each other at Grace, the gossip, the defamation, the resignation of long-time members, the bullying, the lying, and even people urging others to commit suicide. As Robin notes, individual issues are one thing, but when one sees a pattern of violating boundaries, then one is looking at abuse, and as one former assistant rector put it, “Bob’s been getting away with murder for years.”

And in many areas Bob’s spiritual abuse is now past redemption:

  • Mom is dead, for example.
  • Mike, whom Bob forced out of the church just 16 months after he was received into it, will never be back. Of that one can be sure.
  • Nor will anyone ever forget the effect that Bob’s behavior had on Mom, as she struggled with her own acute anxiety disorder and fear of death and suffering during her final illness. Indeed, many of her friends and members of her care team are still livid, and while invisible to Grace, the damage Sugarland Chiow and perjuring priest Bob Malm caused to the church through the conduct towards Mom is hugely damaging to the parish and the larger church.

To be clear, neither St. Timothy’s nor St. Thomas’ were easy stints for Anne; of that I am sure. And I know plenty of folks at St. Thomas’ who are still unhappy with the diocese over its handling of Stephen Edmondson’s departure, including the lie about how his training to become a life coach was not a precursor to a career change. It damned well was, and it was done with the full knowledge and support of the bishops. You can quote me on that.

But Grace church, with its myriad lawsuits. people urging others to commit suicide, plunging number of pledging units, and layer upon layer of people unwilling to stand up to Bob Malm and his abusive conduct is going to be a remarkably hard nut to crack, even with Anne’s strong skills at pastoral care. And that will all the more be the case after 30 years with perjuring priest Bob Malm at the helm.