Trouble Hits Christ Church Georgetown for A Second Time

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Melissa Hollerith, ethically bankrupt priest

Christ Church Georgetown, whose rector, Tim Cole, was patient zero in DC for the pandemic, has suffered a second stroke of bad luck, albeit few if any at the church recognize it.

Specifically, Melissa Hollerith, the ethically bankrupt priest who is president of the DioVA Disciplinary Committee, recently was named interim assistant rector of the parish.

Followers of this blog may recall that Hollerith is the wife of the Dean of the National Cathedral, Randy Hollerith.

Melissa also upheld the diocese’s decision that Bob Malm’s perjury isn’t actionable on the grounds that he hasn’t actually faced criminal charges for his lies told under oath.

Ironically, Melissa previously taught ethics at St. Alban’s school, in addition to serving on the board of the Bishop Walker School.

The announcement also is interesting from another perspective, which is that it illustrates how the apparatchiks of the Episcopal Church look out for each other, despite the fact that her track record would be a serious impediment at a for-profit organization.

Indeed, what would have happened during my time at AT&T if I had committed perjury in a court case involving the company, then said, “Well, but I wasn’t convicted?”

Predictably enough, I would have been out on my ear, and with good reason.

But according to Melissa, clergy misconduct in the Episcopal Church is okay, even when it is illegal, as long as it doesn’t result in criminal charges

That in turn underscores the findings of the report on the debacle involving former bishop Heather Cook, whose repeated issues with impairment resulted in the death of cyclist Tom Palermo due to DUI. In the report, the church found that lack of accountability and a flawed theology of forgiveness have led to ongoing issues within the denomination. Indeed, the report noted that impairment need not involve substance abuse, but covers a range of conduct and situations that impede the ability of clergy to fill the requirements of their calling, adding:

The case studies have repeatedly revealed that an inadequate theological understanding of forgiveness has often inhibited or prevented appropriate and effective intervention. The desire to forgive — to offer a second chance and to retain a leader in public ministry — has often conflicted with the responsibility given to committees, commissions, other leaders, and individuals to hold impaired leaders accountable. In many instances, devoid of expectations for substantive recovery and amendment of life, the desire to forgive has undermined the church’s collective responsibility to due diligence in the work of screening, recognizing, and diagnosing impairment in church leaders, as well as intervening and treating when appropriate. We have observed that a popular and hopeful narrative — that “great leaders have overcome great problems” — has often inhibited both individuals and committees in making critical decisions.

The case studies highlighted a need to make a distinction between loyalty — i.e., support for colleagues in need of care — and a responsibility to guard the health and well-being of the wider church community. We heard of repeated instances in which friendships between individuals undermined the ability to make objective assessments, and instances when concerns for confidentiality and privacy prevented the appropriate sharing of information with other church entities. There have been occasions when time constraints pushed committees or individuals to make premature decisions in order to meet published schedules or deadlines, making it difficult to exercise due diligence.

Every case revealed the critical importance of mutual and systemic accountability while several critical issues contributed to negative outcomes in election processes, vocational discernment, parochial division and failures, and the handling of disciplinary problems:

  • How compliance is monitored.
  • How those lower in the chain of command are (or are not) empowered to speak up and be heard, especially when they have concerns about systemic practices or the behavior of others.
  • How authority is defined and exercised vis-à-vis the responsibility for reviewing a leader’s quality of work or fitness for service.
  • How an individual or system is held accountable, and to whom each is accountable.

In short, diocesan officials, including Melissa Hollerith, have utterly lost sight of any meaningful ethical worldview. As a result, they lack the ability to respond appropriately to clergy misconduct within the church.

It is hard to conclude that parishioners at Christ Church Georgetown, particularly in this time of pandemic isolation, will obtain any benefit from a priest like Melissa who, even at a casual glance, lacks the personal and professional integrity to make it in the business world, let alone the Episcopal Church.