Showing posts with label whistleblower protection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label whistleblower protection. Show all posts

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Papal Law on Reporting of Abuse Underscores Problems in The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia

Earlier today, the pope issued a decree mandating various changes to abuse reporting in the Catholic Church. Among the changes:
  • Anyone in the church, lay or clergy, who believes or suspects that abuse has occurred is required to report it to church officials.
  • Required reporting of coverup, defined as “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid” civil or canonical investigations.
  • Whistleblower protection, albeit limited in scope.
  • An increase in the age of consent from 16 to 18.
  • The inclusion of possession of child pornography in the list of offenses.
  • Reporting to civil authorities per local law.
  • The ability to report to regional metropolitans in situations that may implicate a bishop.
  • The ability to report coverup and other abuse of power directly to Rome.
  • The requirement that victims be treated with respect.
These measures, while well-intended, are likely to be ineffective, and every bit as useless as Title IV as implemented in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

As it stands, the Episcopal Church’s Title IV does not prevent retaliation against whistleblowers. Instead, it provides for anonymity in the complaint process, and ostensibly protects opposition to practices prohibited by Title IV. This protection is almost entirely illusory, however, as it provides no definition of prohibited conduct. Thus, shunning and other retaliation such as Bob Malm’s conduct towards me and my family almost certainly would be ignored. Moreover, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia refuses to see retaliation as within the penumbra of “conduct unbecoming,” so it refuses to address retaliation occurring before the effective date (January 1, 2019) of the recent changes to Title IV. Further, thus far the diocese is ignoring the whistleblower provisions, as evinced by its identifying me to Bob Malm in its most recent correspondence. (In fairness, my opposition to Bob’s conduct is hardly a secret, but some effort to adhere to the requirements of Title IV would have been appreciated. Moreover, it’s laughable that the diocese tried, in its correspondence with me, to insist on confidentiality, even though the letter itself violated confidentiality.)

Another issue with Title IV is that there is no meaningful appeal beyond the diocesan level. As it stands, +Todd Ousley and the rest of the crowd at 815 (church headquarters) may, if pushed, go through the motions of a Title IV case against a bishop, but unless he or she intentionally runs you over in a church parking lot (witnesses required), you can bet your bottom dollar that nothing will come of it.

As to treating victims with respect, that falls within the purview of Title IV’s entirely illusory “pastoral response,” which is required any time a complaint is made to a Title IV intake officer. Thus far, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia consistently refuses to implement that provision, even in cases where a parish is traumatized by a successful Title IV removal of clergy. (Yes, I am thinking of St. Thomas’ McLean. In that case, the diocese did next to nothing to care for the parish. While +Shannon later apologized and said that its refusal to get involved was based on the advice of legal counsel, the damage is done. And this effort at protecting the organization at the expense of laity who support it is damning in the message it sends to those of us in the pews.)

Similarly, reporting to Rome sounds good on paper, right up until you consider that George Pell, the former number 3 at the Vatican, also was an abuser. Does anyone really think that some fat cat in Rome, immersed in the system, is really going to do anything about abuse in some remote corner of the world?

Equally problematic is the requirement that coverups be reported. Great idea, but with no sanctions or penalties set forth in the statute, including for dioceses that fail to implement the new provisions, this one is every bit as toothless at Title IV.

The heart of the problem, both in The Episcopal and Catholic Churches, is neatly summarized in the comments of Cardinal Cupich, who said of the new law, “this past year has taught us that the systematic failures in holding clerics of all rank responsible are due in large measure to flaws in the way we interact and communicate with each other in the college of bishops.” This tendency in all hierarchies to minimize problems and to see criticism of individual conduct as criticism of the organization is alive and well in both churches, and I see no signs that either organization is doing anything to change this phenomena. Indeed, it will only be when churches recognize that this tendency is destroying organized religion from within that they will again find secure footing.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the creaking, shuddering constructs that make up the Episcopal and Catholic churches continue their rapid unraveling.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

See for Yourself: My Op-Ed on Episcopal Cafe

Below is the text of my op-ed, published on Episcopal Cafe shortly before the General Convention vote approving whistleblower protection as part of Title IV. The original post can be found at:

Letter to the Editor:

General Convention and Church Ethics: The Importance of Whistleblower Protection

In its report to the last General Convention, the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons said that one of its goals for the triennium was adding whistleblower protection to the Title IV disciplinary canons. As someone who has faced retaliation for filing a Title IV complaint, only to be told repeatedly that such retaliation is not of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” I strongly believe enactment of such provisions is vital if The Episcopal Church is to live into its ostensible commitment to being a safe place for all persons.

Consider: In 2016, Human Synergistics, the HR consulting firm brought in to study workforce challenges at church headquarters (aka 815), undertook a survey of church employees. The result? Church workers repeatedly pointed to dynamics in which misconduct and other misbehavior could fester. Staff said, for instance, that when they have concerns, they’re expected to keep those to themselves and not speak up. The also said that they find it difficult to maintain personal integrity while working for the church.

Reports went on the say:

For his part, Curry sought to reassure bishops and deputies that their church’s staff problems do not make it an outlier.

“The Episcopal Church is no different than any other church, all right? — so don’t get depressed,” Curry said. “Christianity is dysfunctional. That’s just the name of the game. I mean, it’s called being human. How do we get from where we are to where Jesus the Christ is actually calling us to be?”

Consultants also reassured church leaders that an organization’s culture can change. Staff, supervisors, and executives will be encouraged to adopt behaviors that show respect and help achieve the culture they say they want.

Source: The Living Church

Similarly, Bishop Shannon’s comments about issues within the Diocese of Virginia sound distressingly familiar:

“Over the past few months, serious questions have been brought forward by members of the diocesan staff having to do with the leadership and the culture among diocesan staff. As Bishop I must take full responsibility for this situation. Utmost in my priorities will be to ensure that all of us function well together. The crucial point as we face this reality is that this is not the time to introduce a new bishop into the diocesan system. Rather, it is much preferable to bring in the help we need to address the difficulties and identify ways that the staff as a culture and system can be become fully functional again.” Source: The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

In short, it is clear that if the Episcopal Church is serious about becoming a safe place for all persons, it needs to start by making it safe to share concerns. Only by implementing whistleblower protections, together with a concerted effort to foster a safe environment at all levels, will it succeed in this effort.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Further Proof The Episcopal Church Needs Whistleblower Protection

I recently asked a fellow blogger — someone very well known in The Episcopal Church and a delegate to General Convention — about the proposal from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons’ proposal to include whistleblower protection. Leaving out personally identifiable information, here’s the response (emphasis added):

Hi Eric, 
I haven't finished reading the whole SCCC report yet, but I haven't seen whistleblower protection so far. A couple of years ago, we were revising our HR manual at _________. 
Our board treasurer mentioned that he'd met resistance his whole life in Episcopal entities about putting in whistleblower protections. He was surprised we were all so eager to provide this. I don't understand why the whole church isn't this way. 
I've had other friends who met retaliation for filing Title IV charges. And I myself didn't report bullying a couple of years ago, because I didn't have confidence the charges would be handled well. So I have some sympathy. 
All of which is to say, I'm very sorry you had that experience. I hope you've found a great church home, and I'm sorry that you were forced out. 
When I get to the end of the report, I'll note if they made this (promised) provision. If not, I'll be sure to raise the issue.
Blessings to you on your journey.
Believe it or not, I admire this person for being able to stick with The Episcopal Church. After a lifetime as a member, I have come to the conclusion that the church is simply too sketch, aka morally bankrupt, for me to remain a member. And I don’t see any reason to give sacrificially so that some fat-cat priest can live life large, come and go as he pleases, and ignore the requirements of his letter of agreement whenever it suits him.