Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sexual Mote in Our Eye

Crusty Old Dean spent the last ten years working in ecumenical relations: first as assistant ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, and later as ecumenical officer. Part of my duties involved relations with the Roman Catholic Church. These got tense in 2002, when the clergy sexual abuse scandal began to break in the American Church. I got some feedback from people in the church, and from other ecumenical partners, along the line of: "How can we remain in dialogue with a church that has been so cavalier about its call to protect young persons from sexual misconduct?"

I usually came up with a couple of excuses why. But I never offered what I felt was the most important reason: Because every church, including the Episcopal Church, has failed repeatedly to discipline those who abuse power and commit sexual misconduct. We need to get the sexual log out of eyes.

Case in point: the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has "restricted" (what would have been "inhibited" under the pre-2009 revision of clergy misconduct canons) the ministry of the retired bishop of Olympia: Nearly ten years after telling his diocesan convention he was divorcing his wife (and remarrying shortly after the divorce was final), and nearly five years after retiring as bishop, this judgment was rendered based on allegations of "recurrent marital infidelity" (whether with his current or former wife, I don't know) passed on to the Presiding Bishop by the current bishop of Olympia.

One of the most shameful secrets in the Episcopal Church the past thirty years is the continued, recurrent, and systematic efforts to sweep sexual misconduct by clergy under the table.

Bishop Ed Browning, almost uniformly lauded as the PB who declared "no outcasts," apparently included sexual predators in that mantra. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Bishop Donald Davis, retired bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania, were brought to the PB in 1994. The authorities were not contacted. Nothing was made public. Bishop Davis was asked to "resign" from the House of Bishops, seek counseling, and refrain from episcopal actions. This sexual abuse apparently involved abuse of minors. Yet the (justifiable) scorn heaped upon Roman Catholic bishops has done nothing to remove most of the luster from Bishop Browning's reputation.

Bishop Richard Grein of New York falsely accused a priest of financial misconduct, removed her from her post, placed the woman he was having an affair with in her place, divorced his wife, and married the woman he had appointed. A settlement later reached with the diocese of New York paid a financial settlement and agreed to remove any paperwork from the priest's file that had to do with financial misconduct, essentially admitting the charges were not valid. Three ecclesial charges were filed against Bishop Grein but no disciplinary action was ever taken.

As part of my work for 815, I met a lot of people and knew a lot of bishops. Bishop Warner's sexual indiscretions were one of the worst kept secrets in the church. Neither are the whispers of indiscretions here and there about others.

The real new story here is what Bishop Warner must have done to warrant breaking the code of silence.

1 comment:

  1. Heh. Heh. You said "sexual log." Heh.
    But a great post, crusty old dean!


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