Yesterday, I sent an email to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Below is what I sent, together with the attachments.
This week, something extraordinary happened in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Specifically, the messengers, who are that denomination’s equivalent to delegates to General Convention, stood up and demanded that the church take abuse seriously. As a result, a handful of lawyers and staffers are no longer able to dismiss, deny, disparage and otherwise prevent the church from being held responsible. In fact, they demanded — and obtained — a waiver of attorney-client privilege.
It is time for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to do the same. It is time for the bishops, the standing committee, the executive committee, and each and every one of you to stop paying lip service to the baptismal covenant, and to start living it. It is time to take abuse seriously, of every sort. As things stand, the diocese is profoundly dysfunctional. Like the SBC until now, it prefers to protect the organization, rather than the people who make up the organization.
For far too long, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has refused to follow church canons and basic notions of Christian ethics. For example, based on the advice of legal counsel, it has repeatedly refused to follow Title IV, which requires that a “pastoral response,” (not the same as pastoral care), be offered EVERY time a complaint is made to an intake officer.
According to Shannon Johnston, it’s because attorneys have told the bishops “not to get too involved.” This happened in the Title IV case at St. Thomas’ McLean. It happened to a friend, a female church worker, who faced egregious sexual harassment from a member of the clergy. She now suffers from PTSD; the priest continues to serve a parish in another state. And it has happened repeatedly to me.
In my case, Title IV intake officer Sven vanBaars knowingly and deliberately ignored the clear provisions of my Title IV complaint against Bob Malm, former rector of Grace Church in Alexandria.
Title IV tasks intake officers with just two determinations at the time of intake:
1) Assessing whether the matter complained of, if true, would constitute a violation of the canons.
2) Assessing whether, if the matter complained was a violation of the canons, it would be “of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.”
It authorizes nothing else.
Title IV does NOT, as vanBaars claims he did, ask him to investigate, to determine whether Malm indeed engaged in criminal behavior, or anything else.
Thus, vanBaars dismissed my complaint, which involved perjury and false police reports by Malm, on a purely pretextual basis. Moreover, this dismissal was approved by Susan Goff, and upheld by Melissa Hollerith. And all involved refused to provide the pastoral response required by canon — and by simple Christian integrity.
As to the substance of my complaint, let me be absolutely clear with you: Bob Malm repeatedly perjured himself, in writing, while advised by church attorney Jeffery Chiow.
I have attached in PDF just a few of Malm’s lies.
In the first, he claims in writing that my mother, then dying of COPD, incontinent, dependent on morphine and oxygen, and suffering from a severe anxiety disorder, contacted him repeatedly to set up appointments, only to no-show. This neither happened, nor was possible. (Malm later tried to drag her into court via a subpoena. I alerted Goff and Johnston to this misconduct and didn’t even get the courtesy of a response.)
In the second, he tries to walk his perjury back, saying he doesn’t recall speaking to her, thus leaving Malm wiggle room.
In the third, he lies to a judge, saying he didn’t commit perjury, and that he didn’t even know Mom’s name. Yet she had emailed him once — only once — when the diocese refused to take seriously her complaint about his conduct. And he referenced her by name in the original perjury.
Nor is this a case of there being “two sides to every story.” There are no good racists. There are no good perjurers. There are no good homophobes.
Moreover, Title IV expressly forbids “conduct unbecoming,” as well as “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Yet vanBaars, Goff, and Hollerith all decided to ignore the plain language of the canons. And I suspect they did so based on guidance from diocesan chancellor J.P. Causey.
As Christians, you cannot say, “I don’t want to get involved.” Nor can you validly brush this off because you may like Bob Malm, or not like me. You cannot talk about “striving for justice and peace” and “respecting the dignity of every human being,” and ignore corruption within the diocese.
As for Mom, the diocese and its conduct caused her dire distress in her final days.
I also categorically reject Malm’s comments to the police, the courts, and the bishops, in which he told them that I am mentally ill, and suggested that, as a result, I am dangerous. Not only is his claim a lie, but no rational actor believes the stereotype that mental illness correlates with a propensity for violence. As someone with family members who struggle with mental illness, this is profoundly offensive and disrespectful, and damaging to the church as well. I also reject as outrageous and inappropriate the church’s claim, made via attorney Jeffery Chiow to the courts that I am a “domestic terrorist.” Anyone willing to say that to try to get an upper hand in a conflict does so with utter disrespect for the victims in Texas and other victims of gun violence and genuine acts of domestic terrorism.
I can also tell you that, thanks to Malm’s conduct and that of the diocese, I now do have a clinical diagnosis of PTSD and depression. As a result, I have major expenses, not the least of which are the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees resulting from Malm’s frivolous and perjurious legal filings against me. And I am not embarrassed to share those details with you. Abuse hides in the shadows, but Christians are called to bring light to the darkness.
So, what does all this mean to you?
For those of you electing a new bishop, I encourage you to choose the candidate you conclude will be most likely to bring ethical conduct to Mayo House and the diocese. As things stand, the diocese is ethically utterly broken, caught up in its little stained glass paradise of drinking at Shrine Mont, meetings, paperwork, worship, study groups, and other largely irrelevant transactional solutions.
Of course, more is needed. The election of a new bishop is a chance for new beginnings. But each of you — whether or not you will be part of the elections process — needs to insist on change. The baptismal covenant needs to be a way of life, not just empty words on Sunday. And the changes that need to happen if the diocese is to survive are not just superficial. They are structural. And if the SBC has the courage to take issues of abuse seriously, the supposedly inclusive and progressive Episcopal church needs to have the courage to do the same.
I therefore am asking each and every one of you to live into your baptismal vows by insisting that the diocese, its attorneys, and the inner circle at Mayo House stop protecting the organization first, while ignoring and demonizing victims of abuse. And folks like Sven vanBaars, Melissa Hollerith, Susan Goff, JP Causey, and others need to be held accountable for placing human beings second, and the organization first. There is no fact pattern under which it is okay to ignore abuse on the basis that the diocese “shouldn’t get too involved.”
Nor does it cut it for people to say, “Well, that happened before I got there,” or “Well, I’m not Bob Malm.” We are talking about real people, real human lives, and real human suffering caused by the diocese, Bob Malm, Jeffery Chiow, Svan vanBaars, Melissa Hollerith, Shannon Johnston, Susan Goff, and others.
In closing, I am attaching a screen cap of a message from a young adult at Grace Church to me. In it, she uses profanity, homophobia, and urges me to commit suicide. Yet this person grew up at Grace Church. I therefore ask each of you: What does it say about the diocese when someone can grow up in the church and think that it is okay to urge another human being to commit suicide?
I also am attaching a photo of Mom dying, taken with her permission, so you can put a face with the name and see firsthand someone who suffered profoundly as a result of the behavior of the diocese. While I don’t believe in a literal hell, if I did, there would be a special place in it for hypocrites like Susan Goff, Sven vanBaars, and others who say they proclaim Christ, but whose actions tell a very different story.
As things stand, each and every one of you shares responsibility for the current dysfunction of the diocese. It remains to be seen if you will have the integrity to address it.
Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria