Showing posts with label church misconduct. Show all posts
Showing posts with label church misconduct. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Theft: Another Reason to Steer Clear of Grace Episcopal Alexandria

As if there weren’t plenty of other reasons to avoid Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, there’s one specific matter that gives cause for concern and that is theft within the church. While not an every day thing, there are enough issues to warrant asking the question, “What does this tell me about the parish?”

Several years ago, Bob Malm discovered that a young parishioner with access to his sister’s keys had entered locked rooms within the school and stolen a number of laptops. Nothing really came of the matter, except that the laptops were locked in a closet keyed differently than other doors in the building. No felony charges, no being told to find a new church—the latter only happened under perjuring priest Bob Malm for the crime of lèse-majesté, or giving offense to His Malmness. Yup, offend Bob, and you will get voted off Planet Malm. And don’t think we’re talking about a vote of the vestry or something similar — we’re talking imperial fiat involving only Bob Malm.

Nor is that the only time theft has occurred at the church.

As a confirmed foodie, on several occasions I donated high-end kitchen linens, cookware, and food items for use in the second- and third-floor kitchens, only to discover that the items disappeared in short order, never to return. 

None of the items cost thousands of dollars, so it’s not like I lost sleep over these thefts. But stealing is stealing, and the fact that this sort of thing happened multiple times in the parish is disconcerting and disappointing.

In short, this conduct speaks volumes to the real values and mores of the parish. What it says is not good.

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.

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.