Showing posts with label The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

Worthy Read: When Narcissism Comes to Church

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and there’s a good book that sums up perfectly my experiences with perjuring priest Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal church. Titled, When Narcissism Comes to Church the book is written by David Orrison.

Following is an excerpt from his blog that well describes the organizational narcissism at Grace
Too many people have found the church, the institutional local church, to be uncaring and so wrapped up in preserving its image that it will support the abuser in hopes that the victim will just go away and be quiet. We saw another example of this in the news this past week. Another church worker abused a young girl, and the church leaders just moved him to another place. Why does this happen? How can this happen in the church?
The answer is this overwhelming concern for image. In their drive to be seen as superior, some churches would rather ignore the victims than deal with the scandal. When hurting people can be ignored for the sake of the superior image, that’s narcissism. 
Christians expect to be able to go to church leadership when they are hurting. When they are pushed away, or sin is covered up, something is very wrong. Narcissism creeps in to depersonalize and victimize.
 Of course, this paradigm is problematic in the near-term for multiple reasons, including:

  • The fact that Bob Malm, who seems to me to have been the narcissist-in-chief for the past 30 years, is now gone.
  • No healthy priest with a good handle on organizational dynamics is likely to want to serve as rector; only another narcissist could or would fit the bill. 
  • Like any narcissist, the organizational narcissist that is Grace Church sees nothing wrong with its current conduct or attitudes, in which people are drawn to Bob Malm, versus God, and any behavior is justified as long as it meets Bob Malm’s perceived needs, and by extension those of the organization.
  • The diocese is every bit as clueless and organizationally narcissistic as are Bob Malm and Grace Church. Thus, with the diocese fully supporting the current situation at Grace Church, there is zero chance of meaningful change.
Thus, Grace needs to transform from a religion club to a church—a sea change that goes to the very heart of its existence. Unless it does so, it will eventually cease to exist, and yet it remains wedded to its current modus operandi.

By the way, there’s a good post on Dave’s blog about branding, differentiation, and religion, located here. If you read the post, keep in the back of your mind Grace’s role as the only full-time Anglo-Catholic parish in Northern VA. Think too, of Bob Malm’s claim that, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much, when I suggest that at Grace Church we know, we practice “true religion”. (Sept. 3, 2017 sermon)

This, from a church where the rector commits perjury, deliberately misuses funds, instructs staff to shun members, and tries to drag the dying into court.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Grace Episcopal Lawsuit: Update

Updated information on the Grace Episcopal Alexandria lawsuit

As I’m working on the lengthy process of analyzing and organizing the information needed for my bill of particulars — a court document that lays out the plaintiff’s specific allegations in a lawsuit — there’s also a minor change in scheduling. Specifically, attorneys for the diocese, Susan Goff and the parish are not available on the initially selected date for the hearing on my motion to compel. So I’m looking to see if there is a date that will work for them.

Meanwhile, the defendants have declined at this time to stipulate that neither the diocese nor other defendants have documentation to support Bob Malm’s claim that my mother contacted him repeatedly. That said, it’s a given that they don’t, as Bob Malm lied under oath on this topic, which he cited as one of the foundational reasons for his assertion that I threatened him.

I’d also add one observation about defense counsel, which is that the attorneys involved are infinitely more professional than Sugarland Chiow with his ad hominem attacks, repeated false statements of law and fact to the courts, and his inflammatory rhetoric. In short, while we sit on opposite sides of this issue, it is good to see that some measure of civility, professionalism, and decorum remains in the practice of law, especially since licensed attorneys are officers of the court. Moreover, Chiow’s conduct only further erodes the parish’s reputation, as does the diocese’s statement that it supports Bob Malm and, by extension, his conduct. 

Lastly, I’ve let defense counsel know that I intend to subpoena Dee Parsons, editor of The Wartburg Watch, when we go to trial. Dee already knows and is fully supportive,

So, nothing too exciting yet. I will continue to provide updates as we move forward.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reflections on Abuse, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and the Failure of Leadership

Lately I’ve had several fascinating discussions with experts on abuse about the topic of why organizations like the Episcopal church tolerate and conceal abuse. While many of the conversations have, predictably enough, centered on sexual abuse, the underlying issues remain relevant.

To be clear, Bob Malm is not accused of sexual misconduct. Nor is anyone within the diocese. But at the same time, as far as I can tell the diocese has steadfastly refused to address Bob Malm’s perjury, or even to follow its own canons when it comes to clergy discipline.

One consistent theme in the discussions I’ve had has been that organizations tend to try to protect their reputation, even at the expense of doing something so basic as protecting children. As a result, a culture of silence grows, and group think sets in.

Another person reminded me that narcissistic personalities are often incredibly gifted manipulators, with emotional predators typically able to portray an image of kindness and compassion that is able to fool even a skilled tribunal. And so it would seem in the case of Bob Malm, who is able to portray a friendly, congenial, supportive personality, while masking a lack of genuine empathy for those entrusted to his pastoral care. Certainly, his willingness to go after Mike in his vendetta, his multiple lies to parishioners and others, his inflammatory courtroom rhetoric, and his willingness to pursue a terminally ill woman suggest that he is not someone who should have ever been ordained in the first place. 

But the most important thing I have heard and read suggests that a failure in leadership goes right to the top. In that regard, +Shannon and +Susan have both repeatedly shown that they do not understand the dynamics of abuse. nor do they have any real desire to address it, beyond those situations in which doing so is absolutely unavoidable. And given that the bishops have taken a pass on misuse of funds and perjury, it is difficult to imagine that much other than sexual misconduct would ever get their attention. Indeed, it was laughably ironic when Caroline Parkinson said, in response to my concerns about the alleged child molester in the parish. “Now you’re talking about something that actually matters.”

In fairness to diocesan officials, that also illustrates the very limited training clergy actually have in mental health and abuse prevention. But then, given the number of toxic clergy I have encountered, perhaps it is best that they not get further access to this sort of information. Indeed, some authors suggest that narcissists often treat counseling as nothing more than training sessions in which they learn how to become more adept at getting away with misconduct.

But no matter how you parse it, it is clear to me that the failure of leadership in the diocese extends all the way to the top. And it is that very failure that leads to communication like the one that follows, from a young adult member of Grace Church. Tellingly, Bob Malm tried to claim in court that this was a threat against him. The sad reality, though, is it’s an indictment of him, the parish and the diocese.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Breaking News: Lawsuit Filed

Earlier today, I filed a lawsuit against Grace Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, and Bishop Susan Goff. All parties have been alerted to the importance of maintaining relevant records. In addition, per the existing court orders, I have reminded the defendants that they may not use any material I send them to contact Bob Malm or his family.

Additional defendants likely will be added in the coming days, and subpoenas will go out shortly as well as other discovery requests, etc. 

The initial hearing date is set for January 30, 2020.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Caroline Parkinson: Title IV Intake Officer Lies in Official Proceedings

One of the troubling things about the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is the lack of personal and organizational integrity at every level. Were these isolated cases, one might write these instances off as honest mistakes. But they have happened repeatedly, and over serious issues.

In the case of the Rev. Caroline Parkinson, she at one point stated, in writing, that my complaint about the removal of our names from the church directory had been considered by the reference panel in July 2015. That’s a lie, pure and simple.

First off, it is unlikely that there was a reference panel, which is the panel under Title IV that refers a case out for resolution. When one is set up, there must be an advisor to the complainant and the respondent, and the reference panel is required to notify participants of the outcome. Neither occurred, so there either was no such panel, or it failed to follow church canons.

Second, even if there was such a panel, a dismissal, which occurred in my case, has no preclusive effect. In other words, Caroline’s contention is a red herring and irrelevant to the larger issues.

Third, the matter of the directory did not arise until October 2015. It thus is impossible for the reference panel to have considered the matter the previous summer.

Lastly, under other circumstances, one might argue that Caroline simply was misinformed. But when dealing with the lives of others, their careers, their spiritual and temporal well-being, and the reputation/integrity of the church, one simply cannot be cavalier about such issues. So even if Caroline’s mistake is an honest one, it is unacceptable. Moreover, I pointed the matter out to her and the diocese promptly, only to be ignored, so it is not like Caroline or others are unaware. They have actual notice of the falsity of their written statements, but have failed to correct the matter.

Tellingly, even after bearing false witness in this matter, Caroline remains a priest in good standing. Yet to this day Caroline has taken no action to correct her lies.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mom’s Response to the Diocese’s Announcement that Perjury is Okay

Here’s mom’s response after struggling through my response to Melissa Hollerith’s decision that perjury is acceptable conduct for Episcopal clergy.

It’s pretty bad when even hospice patients tell the diocese that it’s ethical trailer park trash.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Termination of DioVA Search for Bishop Provisional Underscores Problems in Diocese

As members of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia know, the diocese recently announced that it has ended its search for a bishop transitional, or interim bishop to serve for a three-year period following Bishop Shannon Johnston’s retirement. For those of us who have been following events, the announcement is far from unexpected.

As I have said many times, there have been signs for many years that, while Bishop Johnston may have been the right bishop for the years of litigation against the CANA crowd, he was a hot mess when it came to leadership and organizational dynamics. This conclusion is evinced by:
  • The allegations that Bishop Shannon covered up the sexual harassment of a female church employee who had filed a Title IV case against her alleged clergy harasser, including his failure to provide any effective pastoral response to the complainant.
  • His repeated violation of church canons and failure to address my complaints about Bob Malm’s misconduct, including his false statement that the matters complained of had been “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statement of support for Bob’s misconduct.
  • His utter screw-up of the sad situation at St. Thomas’ McLean, which involved a Title IV case against a much-loved parish priest. Included in this situation is the diocese’s utter failure to adequately address the pain and pastoral needs of affected parishioners. (Highlighted by the spectacularly inept decision to announce the suspension of the parish priest at Sunday Mass without prior warning. The fact that diocesan officials can’t figure out why this is a seriously bad move speaks volumes to the capabilities of diocesan officials.)
  • The abrupt resignation of Canon Pat Wingo.
  • The prior collapse of the Bishop Interim search process, when plans fell through with both final candidates. It’s called “Plan B,” kids.
  • The ongoing spat with the trustees of the funds, which is now permeating every level of the diocese.
  • The shutdown, over the past year, of thing like The Episcopalian magazine, which hasn’t been published in more than a year.
  • The utter lack of diocesan services to churches, including lack of templated resources for pledge campaigns. The diocese yammers on about parishes honoring their funding commitments, yet supplies no resources to help make this happen. Go figure.
  • Spectacularly unresponsive staff at the bloated Mayo House bureaucracy. 
  • The announcement by Susan Goff of listening sessions across the diocese — but no promise of action.
  • The decision by the diocese, which still stands under Susan Goff’s tenure, to permit Bob Malm to perjure himself in court, to try to subpoena a dying woman, and to retaliate for complaining to the diocese about his conduct.
Of course, there’s also the amusing observation by a now deceased clergy friend of mine, who famously used to say, “You know you’re in trouble when the bishop says nice things about you in public.” And so it is with Bishop Johnston, upon whom the presiding bishop heaped fulsome praise as the latter announced his retirement.

What does all this mean for Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction? Primarily that what would have been a relatively minor dispute has now mushroomed into an existential crisis for the parish, which increasingly appears to be lurching towards disaster. Indeed, had the diocese taken seriously its obligation to supervise clergy from the onset, Bob never would have gotten himself into the mess he’s now in.

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Of course, a cure for Grace Episcopal’s woes at this point would involved something closer to a ton of cure, versus a pound.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

See for Yourself: My Critique of Title IV

In July of 2017, I wrote a piece for Episcopal Cafe about challenges in the current implementation of Title IV. Below is the text of the original article; it and related comments can be found online at

Remember the Maginot Line? History buffs may recall that it was a massive series of fortifications along the French border, put in place after WWI, intended to repel potential future German attacks.

Unfortunately, the Maginot line had several fatal flaws. First, it did not extend to the Low Countries, allowing German troops to bypass French defenses. Second, the Maginot Line’s weaponry only pointed towards Germany, meaning that military forces that attacked from the rear could easily overwhelm these massive but now defenseless fortifications.

And so it is with Title IV. At first glance, Title IV appears to be a tightly crafted piece of canon law that provides an effective framework to address clergy misconduct. In reality, however, there are several fatal flaws that can, in certain circumstances, render Title IV’s protections largely illusory.

To be sure, the 2011 changes to Title IV were largely positive. By providing for multiple levels of conversation and discernment, the current version of Title IV affords greater opportunity for healing, justice, restitution and reconciliation. This, I believe, is consistent with our call as Christians.

Moreover, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC) appears well informed and responsive to the issues with the current Title IV. Prefacing its recent report with the accurate observation that a poorly handled Title IV case often cases irreparable harm to the reputation of all parties involved, the SCCC went on to note that there is a church-wide lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities in the Title IV process. This in turn causes delay, uncertainty, and unnecessary expense.

In response, the most recent General Convention funded the development of Title IV training materials, eventually to be translated into multiple languages. The status of this project is unclear to me, but with the next General Convention now roughly a year away, one hopes that these materials will soon be in widespread circulation.

Meanwhile, there are a number of serious challenges that remain unaddressed. These include:
  • Lack of clarity over what constitutes “conduct unbecoming.” Of course, that’s hardly surprising when dealing with a “catch-all” phrase such as this. But some dioceses basically treat “conduct unbecoming” as comprising only major illicit activities, such as rape, murder, and mayhem, while ignoring issues like workplace harassment, bullying, misuse of funds, abuse of office, and other serious matters. In dioceses where the “no blood, no foul” rule seemingly pertains, clergy misconduct is ignored that, were it to occur in most other employment settings, would result in immediate disciplinary action, including termination of employment. Thus, in these cases, clergy are held to an embarrassingly low standard of behavior—one that hasn’t been acceptable in much of the corporate world for decades. 
Meanwhile, an adjudicatory who simply doesn’t wish to be bothered leaves complainants with little recourse other than filing a complaint against the bishop diocesan—hardly an appetizing option for most complainants.

Of particular note is that Title IV never defines or references bullying. While one would assume that clergy who bully fall within the purview of the “conduct unbecoming,” clause, my experience is that intake officers either don’t recognize bullying when they see it, or are unwilling to address it. This ignores the excellent work done by the Diocese of Newark, and specifically addressing these gaps in the upcoming revisions to Title IV would be useful.
  • Lack of clarity about what constitutes conduct that is “weighty and material” to the ministry of the church. Often, intake officers who don’t wish to deal with a complaint will cite the “weighty and material” clause of Title IV. But how do you define “weighty and material?” In my experience, intake officers typically don’t recognize spiritual, financial or emotional abuse as meeting this threshold. Yet any mental health professional will tell you that these forms of abuse can be every bit as damaging as physical abuse. Or, as one complainant told me, “My intake officer was stuck in a 1950’s definition of misconduct. If it didn’t involve rape or physical violence, it just didn’t count.” 
  • Lack of a mechanism to address substantive or procedural errors during a Title IV proceeding. For example, if an intake officer interviews respondent clergy without the latter having access to an advisor, this is a violation of Title IV. Yet there is no meaningful mechanism to address issues such as this. Granted, the most recent revisions provide for a Title IV procedural officer, but with a poorly defined role and no real enforcement powers, this does not go nearly far enough. Similarly, if the reference or hearing panels violate the canons in their handling of a case, there often is no way to address the matter other than an appeal to the good graces of the bishop diocesan. 
  • Lack of recourse in cases of improper dismissal. In cases in which an intake officer improperly dismisses a complaint, the president of the diocesan disciplinary board may overturn the dismissal. But since the reference panel comprises the intake officer, the bishop diocesan, and the president of the disciplinary board, a bishop diocesan may be all too easily swayed by an intake officer with whom she or he already has a close professional relationship. Since there is no right of appeal from a dismissal that is upheld at this level, an intake officer has an almost unchecked ability to impede a complaint if they so choose. True, a dismissal has no preemptive effect against a future complaint, but as long as the complainant must deal with the same intake officer and same adjudicatory, chances of a successful outcome are slim. 
  • Lack of clarity over what constitutes a “pastoral response.” Title IV mandates a pastoral response whenever a complaint is made to an intake officer; that is the case even if the complaint is dismissed. But I have learned of numerous cases in which adjudicatories have used a pastoral response as an excuse to avoid dealing with serious clergy misconduct, including sexual relations with parishioners. Yes, there should always be pastoral care and concern for those affected by clergy misconduct, but when this provision is used to allow clergy to avoid accountability, a serious injustice is done. Additionally, I have heard anecdotes that suggest some adjudicatories define a pastoral response so loosely as to render it meaningless. For example, one bishop allegedly wrote to a sexual abuse survivor to say that he deeply regretted the situation and would pray for her and her family. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer, but not as a be-all-and-end-all solution for serious issues like sexual misconduct.
In short, the pastoral response provision is too often the exception that swallows the rule.
  • Lack of recourse against respondents who engage in misconduct during the early phases of a Title IV proceeding. To its credit, the most recent General Convention amended Title IV to include the possibility of sanctions against parties who engage in misconduct. But this really only applies at the hearing panel stage of proceedings. Thus, clergy who, for example, lie during the intake process or during conciliation may well face no penalty for their actions. Yes, the church attorney can, if she or he chooses to do so, amend the complaint, but this appears to happen rarely. Thus, Title IV cases that don’t reach the hearing panel stage of proceedings may have few disincentives for respondent clergy to engage in misconduct that undercuts the Title IV process. 
  • Lack of protection for complainants. As things stand, there is no specific protection against clergy respondents retaliating against complainants. For instance, in one case with which I am familiar, the respondent clergyperson retaliated for the filing of a Title IV complaint by organizing a multi-year campaign of shunning and harassment against the complainants, and did so using church resources. The diocese and intake officer received multiple complaints about this behavior, but ignored it. While the matter was eventually resolved, the relational, reputational, and other damage caused by the clergyperson’s retaliation is largely irreparable.
In fairness, the SCCC appears poised to recommend the addition of whistleblower protection to Title IV at the 2018 General Convention. In the meantime, though, Title IV complainants and witnesses participate in the process at their own risk—hardly conducive to the healing and reconciliation envisioned in the 2011 changes to Title IV. Yes, one would assume that retaliation, which is illegal in publicly traded companies would constitute conduct unbecoming under Title IV, but the uncertainty over individual roles and responsibilities in this context makes this an uncertain proposition, at best.

Speaking of whistleblower protection, we have learned in cases of sexual misconduct of the importance of having one person who is ultimately responsible for follow-through. This prevents cases from falling through the cracks, or being dismissed out of hand. In most cases, the bishop diocesan is the person responsible for ensuring an appropriate response and follow-through. Yet the national church’s whistleblower hotline only covers church headquarters employees, and we have no single point of contact as a denomination to deal with misconduct. We therefore should give consideration to a churchwide ethics hotline that can be used at all levels to bring potential misconduct to light, as minors, third-party advocates and others otherwise may have difficulty knowing whom to contact in case of a problem. At the same time, there must be assurances that complaints will be listened to, treated with respect, addressed appropriately, and that retaliation will not be tolerated.
  • Lack of implementing regulations. In the case of most civil statutes, the details are implemented via administrative regulation. There is some precedent in church canon law for this, including the “Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs,” and the sexual misconduct prevention manuals developed by most dioceses. Yet the lack of definitive policies on the day-to-day handling of Title IV matters leads to lack of clarity and some very poor outcomes. Even guidance such as recommending that intake officers meet face to face with a complainant whenever possible would be most helpful, yet there is too little effort in this space. Similarly, a formal certification process for Title IV officials, such as that often required for diocesan sexual misconduct prevention trainers, might be useful. 
We also should do a better job of defining what is within the purview of Title IV. All too often, Title IV is postured as a means of addressing sexual misconduct, since references to Title IV are incorporated into diocesan sexual misconduct prevention materials. This creates the impression – often even among diocesan staff – that Title IV’s main purpose is to address sexual misconduct. As a result, adjudicatories often will jump all over claims that a clergyperson had an affair, all the while ignoring the clergyperson who engages in other, equally troubling behavior, including workplace harassment, bullying, emotional abuse or relational abuse. It is also worth noting that at least one diocese has no reference to Title IV at all on its website—hardly helpful for someone struggling to deal with clergy misconduct.

In conclusion, my belief is that the analogy to the Maginot Line is valuable. At first glance, Title IV appears to be a formidable defense against clergy misconduct, but the reality is that clergy and adjudicatories alike can, with great ease, sidestep Title IV when it so suits them. Thus, like the Maginot Line, Title IV all too often is illusory in the protections it offers.