Showing posts with label Robin Hammeal-Urban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robin Hammeal-Urban. Show all posts

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.


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.


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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

“If It’s Inconceivable, It’s Unperceivable”

Someone recently asked me if folks like David Crosby will ever recognize that Bob Malm committed perjury and otherwise abused his office. The answer to that question is no.

As Robin Hammeal-Urban says in her book on clergy misconduct, there’s an old saying among church judicatories, “If it’s inconceivable, it’s unperceivable.”

That means that this who cannot accept the notion that Bob Malm is a perjurer and bully will simply never be able to accept the fact that he is, no matter how clear the evidence. David’s faith has its roots in his friendship with Bob, and it’s simply not possible for him to admit to himself that Bob is a fake, a fraud.

As Robin notes, that are others who will vacillate between believing that Bob engaged in misconduct, and believing such conduct to be impossible on his part.

Her conclusion:
It is essential that congregations find ways to embrace all members regardless of differences in their experiences of misconduct. To help a faith community come to terms with congregational misconduct, members need accurate, timely information about the transgression(s) and opportunities to process that information as a community.
Of course, we all know that won’t happen. 

Susan Goff, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and parish leaders are all committed to a policy of denial and evasion. No evidence to the contrary will ever be sufficient to engender a meaningful response from these so-called leaders.

As a result, I now fully believe that the parish and the diocese ultimately will collapse from their own internal rot and ethical decay,

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

If the Diocese and Susan Goff Were Smart....

Let’s face it. No one’s ever accused the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia at being good at peacemaking, or for that matter, of having much common sense. Between property disputes, the recent ruckus with the Trustees of the Funds, the Title IV debacle at St. Thomas’ in McLean (one of the great examples of how not to handle clergy discipline of all time), and its never-ending dispute with me, about all you can say is that the diocese hires good law firms.

But if the diocese were smart, it would bring in an outside expert, particularly apropos the toxic quagmire that is Grace Episcopal. Specifically, I would recommend that it bring in the Rev. Robin Hammeal-Urban, expert on Title IV, for a stem-to-stern look, both at Grace Church and at Title IV as implemented in the diocese.

Right about now, I can hear you saying, “But you’re the only person who thinks that Grace is toxic.” But the reality is that John Cunningham left for that very reason, as have a great many others. And no matter how you parse it, the plummeting number of pledging units and declining Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) contradict the notion that Grace is a slice of paradise, just waiting to be discovered. 

Part of the problem is that the Diocese has no concept that it must radically change to survive. The good old days of laissez-faire supervision of clergy are over. Moreover, having spent many years in litigation, the diocese is far too beholden to JP Causey and his legal advice. While the latter may be sound from a purely legal perspective, JP has no concept of restorative justice, or what non-sexual abuse is. As far as I can tell, his motto is, “Protect the organization at all costs, and damn the members.” I have seen that play out repeatedly, beginning with the mishandling of my case, continuing through the St. Thomas debacle, and more. After all, any diocese that can say perjury by clergy is not actionable under Title IV absent a criminal conviction is a hot mess and morally bankrupt.

So what would Robin bring? The answer is a fresh perspective, a knowledge of how things are supposed to work, an understanding of restorative justice, and the need to care for the people who make up the church.

As things stand, the diocese is utterly broken, from the hot mess that is Mayo House, to Susan Goff, to the ethical mores held by its clergy. Absent a sea change, the diocese will collapse of its own rot, and that will happen sooner rather than later. And the more tightly the diocese holds onto the past and refuses to confront reality, the faster it moves towards collapse.

As for the diocese’s slow-moving, cumbersome, iterative visioning process and racial reconciliation, we had the racial reconciliation listening sessions in 2015. The fact that five years later the diocese finally is doing something with the results is just embarrassing. In fact, at this pace, this may well be one of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s final initiatives before it collapses within the next 30 years.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Ethical Perils of Representing Multiple Parties

Attorneys for the church, the parish, the bishopric and the Malms face multiple ethical challenges. Not only are they in the distinctively unenviable place of having to defend questionable behavior on the part of Bob Malm, Sugarland Chiow and the parish, but they are representing multiple parties in this matter. Not surprisingly, the latter carries with it certain ethical challenges.

Foremost among these problems is that of divergent interests among clients. This means that legal strategies and outcomes that may be beneficial to one client may run counter to the interests of other clients.

In the case of the Baltimore-based law firm representing the parish and diocese, we’re already seeing that issue at play. Specifically, at the last hearing, defense counsel motioned the court for dismissal on two bases: That the protective order was something Bob Malm pursued in his individual capacity, or that the issue before the court is one precluded by the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church.

Apropos the claim that Bob acted in his individual capacity, Bob Malm represented both to the vestry and to third parties that he was acting on behalf of the parish. Not only did he discuss the matter in advance with diocesan staff and members of the vestry, but in an email he claimed that his decision to pursue protective order was a form of “church discipline” he and the vestry had decided upon. How Bob Malm believes one can impose “church discipline” via the courts is beyond me, let along for someone no longer a member of the denomination, but then anything is possible in Sugarland. In fact, Bob Malm updated the vestry on the matter on multiple occasions, thus making it clear that he was acting as an agent of the parish.

That said, were defense counsel to prevail on that claim, the result would be to throw Bob Malm under the bus. Given the broken ethical reference point of the diocese and parish, this outcome would not surprise me. But it’s hardly the outcome one expects from a church, particularly when, as here, the diocese’s laissez-faire approach to clergy discipline allowed Malm to stupidly bully his way into the current hot mess.

Apropos defense counsel’s claim that judicial review of the matter is precluded by the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, there’s the simple reality that the parish went to court in the first place. Having initiated legal action, it is difficult to assert with a straight face that the courts are now precluded from reviewing the matter. Nor would one wish to get too far out on that limb—next thing you know, you’re arguing that clergy perjury is protected by the canons. Hardly in the clients’ long-term best interest.

Where things really get dicey, however, is when one folds Bob Malm into the client mix.

In his individual capacity, Bob’s best interests are served by remaining under the umbrella of the parish’s D&O liability policy. If that is removed, he becomes personally liable for his actions—a situation that could leave him personally on the hook for massive punitive damages.

At the same time, admitting that Bob committed perjury and engaged in witness tampering (as he did by contacting Dee Parsons multiple times in an apparent effort to change her testimony) is highly problematic, for it exposes the parish and the diocese to the possibility of serious legal consequences, as well as possible criminal liability for Bob Malm.

This paradigm, already fraught with ethical and legal risks, is complicated by the fact that churches are called, by their nature, to bring light to darkness. Or, as Canon to the Ordinary Robin Hammeal-Urban says in her excellent book on healing from clergy misconduct:

By failing to disclose truths, we are in essence lying by omission....for our relationships to be trustworthy and authentic, we need to know the truth about ourselves and others. This is particularly true for all members of congregations who have been betrayed by a trusted leader, lay or ordained. Misconduct erodes trust, not only between the offender and the primary victim, but also among other members of a congregation. To begin to rebuild or establish trust, it is essential that misconduct, which typically involves secrets and secretive behavior, be brought to light.

In other words, failing to disclose the parish’s previous misconduct via Bob Malm, Sugarland Chiow and others, or trying to sweep it under the rug via a non disclosure agreement (NDA), simply makes things worse and all but guarantees that Grace Church will collapse under the weight of its toxic culture.

Of course, folks at Grace Church will respond, “But it’s a friendly and welcoming place.” The reality,  however, is that while people at the church are cordial, the welcome mat is predicated on doing what they want. Those who criticize Bob Malm (or who are thought to have done so), will discover very quickly that they are persona non grata. And heaven help the person who runs afoul of the altar guild or the choir. That person will discover quickly just how thin Grace Church’s welcome is.

This also is a place where it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide, and that is shedding pledging units like a long-haired dog during the first hot days of spring.

That begs the issue: If Grace is such a slice of paradise, why is it in such a state of rapid decline?

And it begs my question: When will Grace Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and church leaders tell the truth about Bob Malm’s misconduct?