Episcopal Church caucus wants denomination to reform how it handles clergy misconduct claims

Washington National Cathedral of Washington, DC. A congregation of The Episcopal Church, it is one of the largest church buildings in the world.
Washington National Cathedral of Washington, DC. A congregation of The Episcopal Church, it is one of the largest church buildings in the world. | Courtesy Washington National Cathedral

The young adult caucus for the Episcopal Church has demanded that the denomination reform its process for disciplinary action against bishops and other clergy accused of misconduct.

The Episcopal Church House of Deputies' Young Adult Caucus submitted a letter to the 81st General Convention officials regarding efforts to reform the denomination's Title IV disciplinary canons.

The letter, submitted as a resolution, expressed "grave concerns" about the disciplinary process, arguing that there was an "inconsistent application of the Canons that has been observed throughout the Church over many years."

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"We urge the Church to take a two-pronged approach towards improving Title IV, calling for action both on the part of the Bishops of the Church and on the part of the General Convention and its subsidiary bodies," stated the Young Adult Caucus.

"We urge Bishops throughout the Church to prioritize the safety and security of our Church first and foremost, and to use the powers given to them in the Canons in a protective manner whenever there is cause to believe a Member of the Clergy has committed an offense where they may reasonably assume that the welfare of the Church, person, or any community may be threatened by the Respondent."

The caucus called on the bishops to "provide greater pastoral care to Complainants" and "realize that justice, accountability, and grace are not mutually exclusive, but are rather all-important elements in healing and reconciliation."

Additionally, the letter called on the 81st General Convention to give "specific guidance" on any "changes it wishes to see from the Standing Commission" and to "prayerfully discern potential proposals to strengthen the weak areas within Title IV in the role of the Intake Officer."

"We have observed, too often, that Intake Officers fail to follow Canon IV.6.7 by failing to limit their determination to the question: 'if the complaint is true, would it constitute an Offense?'" continued the letter.

"Rather, we observe they often conduct their own investigations and other actions outside their Canonical Scope. We should discern how to address this weakness, and consider the possibility of a Church-wide intake office for all complaints, rather than simply for those filed against Bishops."

Eva Warren, an Episcopal Diocese of Ohio deputy and chair of the Young Adult Caucus, addressed the letter during an online hearing Tuesday.

"We are heartened that many of our suggestions dovetail neatly with resolutions already under consideration before this committee, and we hope that our memorial statement underscores our support for these broader reforms," said Warren, quoted by Episcopal News Service.

In recent months, the Episcopal Church has garnered internal criticism over its Title IV disciplinary process, which some believe does not properly handle credible allegations of abuse by clergy.

Last year, House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris made public an allegation that a retired bishop had "physically overpowered" her and made "inappropriate verbal statements."

"Going through the Title IV process this past year was not something I would want anyone to have to endure," wrote Ayala Harris, as quoted by ENS.

"Yet, living through that experience has given me an important perspective that I can apply in my leadership role, and it has renewed my long-lasting commitment to increased safety in our communities."

In December, the ex-wife and two adult sons of former Bishop Prince Singh filed a complaint against Curry and Episcopal Bishop Todd Ousley over their alleged mishandling of abuse accusations against Singh.

The family members argued that Curry and Ousley, the latter of whom served as an intake officer for complaints against bishops, failed to follow the Title IV process properly.  

In February, the denomination's Office of Public Affairs announced the creation of a new "three-part protocol" to better promote and explain the disciplinary process for Episcopal bishops accused of wrongdoing.

The three aspects included a new webpage for reporting alleged misconduct, another webpage that provides updates for ongoing disciplinary cases and "an annual statistical report on complaints involving bishops and their outcomes."  

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