Reflections on the Second Inhibition of +Bruno

The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, recently issued a second restriction against +Bruno, in which he eliminates all pastoral and property oversight that +Bruno might otherwise exercise over the parish of St. James the Great, and assigns it to newly elected Bishop Coadjutor John Taylor. Taylor is slated to succeed +Bruno upon his retirement.

The move is somewhat puzzling. While the Hearing Panel’s decision is in draft form for the next few months, it seems clear that +Bruno will be suspended. In the meantime, he is barred from selling the property.

Given how clearly impaired the relationship between +Bruno and the parish has been, this should have been done at the start of the Title IV proceeding. Assign oversight to another bishop, have ++Curry do it himself–who cares? But by allowing +Bruno to engage with the parish in a manner that inherently involved conflicts of interest, the national church allowed harm to come to all parties involved. And why wasn’t there a gag order prohibiting contact with the parish in the first place?

Perhaps the recent move is intended to bridge the gap until the hearing panel decision becomes final. Or perhaps it’s a signal to +Bruno to make himself scarce. Or maybe just an effort to move the process of healing and reconciliation forward.

In any case, a little more communication from ++Curry wouldn’t hurt. The whole thing is a tad bit weird.

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Churches and Organizational Ethics: The Need for Whistleblower Protections

Church should be a place where we can grow. Grow in faith. Grow in love. Grow in knowledge. And grow in ethics.
But in the category of ethics, churches increasingly have abrogated their role as role models for ethical behavior. At a time when government agencies and publicly traded for-profit organizations operate under multiple layers of whistleblower protection, the one place where you can still face unbridled retaliation and harassment for exposing corruption and abuse is the faith community. Given the prevalence of misconduct in churches, including sexual abuse and embezzlement, churches that fail to adopt whistleblower protections place themselves needlessly at risk, and thus abuse the trust of their members.

To understand the importance of whistleblowers, consider the federal government. There, most federal employees are covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, which offers protection to federal employees and applicants who complain of possible fraud, waste, mismanagement, violations of policy or law, or imminent threats to health and safety.

Moreover, whistleblowers help ensure the integrity of the federal procurement system. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens who learn of fraud involving the federal government have standing to file a qui tam suit against persons or organizations involved in the fraud. There’s a powerful incentive for them to do so, too, for private plaintiffs in qui tam actions share in the government’s recovery, with one plaintiff receiving $104 million dollars.

In addition, myriad protections exist for whistleblowers under other federal statutes, most notably under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Penalties for violating these provisions can be draconian, and include the possibility of administrative sanctions, criminal and civil penalties, and the possibility of punitive damages, which is sometimes referred to as the “nuclear option.” Indeed, one large pharmaceutical company was slapped with a $2 billion civil fine under the Federal False Claims Act.

In the case of publicly traded companies, the MCI and Enron scandals, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, led to the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and Gramm-Rudman. These federal measures establish whistleblower protections at all publicly traded companies. Further, they prohibit all employers from retaliating against whistleblowers. And in a sweeping but still not widely implemented provision, they treat any effort to retaliate against someone who files a claim with a federal official as the criminal offense of obstruction of justice, even if the complaint does not involve potential corporate wrongdoing, and even if the persons involved are not in an employer/employee relationship. Thus, if person A files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and person B, a neighbor, harasses person A for doing so, the federal government may bring criminal charges against person B. Those provisions may ultimately become akin to the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). There, the broad definition of RICO entities, combined with the act’s civil forfeiture provisions, have proven to afford powerful protections not entirely recognized at the time the measure was enacted.

Despite these provisions, there is in most cases no requirement that churches and other housedIn the case of churches and other nonprofits, there is no provision that requires adoption of whistleblower protections. The IRS incentivizes nonprofits to do so by including a question about this on the 990 filing, which is an annual requirement for most nonprofits. Unfortunately, churches are exempt from filing 990’s, and thus are largely immune to the IRS’ gentle pressure in this space.

Other groups, including numerous watchdog groups, recognize the value of whistleblowers in nonprofit governance. For instance, the DC Bar Association recommends adoption of whistleblower protections for “at least three reasons,” including:

1. Establishing a whistleblower policy is a proactive response to the IRS’s increased interest governance policies.

2. Protecting whistleblowers is an essential component of an ethical and open work environment.

3. A written whistleblower policy that is vigorously enforced sends a message to the organization’s board members, managers, employees and volunteers as well as to the IRS and the public that the organization will not tolerate misconduct.

It is the dearth of legal protections for volunteers that pose particular problems for churches. In most churches, the vast majority of workers are volunteers. Volunteers handle cash offerings, process pledges, and are often the first to hear reports of potential sexual abuse and other misconduct. Moreover, most denominations (this author’s, The Episcopal Church, included) insist that board members and other local leaders adhere to a fiduciary standard of care–the highest under American law. Yet if they act as fiduciaries and address issues of fraud, waste, mismanagement, or clergy misconduct, volunteers run the risk of retaliation by clergy, lay leaders and peers.

That is doubly troubling, since most churches adhere to governance standards that would make the average corporate compliance officer cringe. My belief, based on my own, first-hand experiences, as well as anecdotes from numerous friends and acquaintances, is that churches frequently violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, most clergy have scant knowledge of such issues, and thus must rely on laity to highlight questionable employment or governance practices.

There’s also ample evidence that ethical lapses extend to the very highest echelons in our churches. For instance, the two sexual abuse survivors on the papal task force to address sexual abuse have both been forced out by church officials. This has been widely reported in the media, yet there is no sign that the church is prepared to address the matter. Meanwhile, Cardinal Pell, one of the highest ranking officials in the Vatican, has been described as “almost sociopathic,” in his treatment of those abused by priests, and currently is facing criminal charges due to allegations that he has sexually abused others. And in the Church of England, closely connected with this author’s church, top bishops turned a willfully blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse by Bishop Bell.

Would a whistleblower policy have prevented these situations? We’ll never know. But if we are to live into our call to show care and compassion for all persons, we must do everything possible to both protect and encourage those who bring light to the darkness by exposing wrongdoing and questionable practices in our houses of worship. And it is high time that our churches catch up to the private sector and government when it comes to whistleblowers and organizational ethics.

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Episcopal Title IV: The Maginot Line of Clergy Discipline?

The Episcopal Church, like most mainstream denominations, has a formal clergy disciplinary process, codified as Title IV of the canons. But all too often, the protections it affords are illusory.

Visit my post on Episcopal Cafe to learn more.

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Breaking News: Hearing Panel Prepared to Suspend +Bruno, Recommend Suspension of Efforts to Sell St. James the Great

A draft copy of the disciplinary hearing panel decision in the Title IV case against Bishop Bruno recommends that he be suspended for a period of three years. That would place +Bruno beyond the normal mandatory requirement age of 72.

Affirming that the bishop diocesan has the authority to sell diocesan property, the panel noted the importance of standing committee participation in such matters as an element of Episcopal polity. 

The hearing panel further noted that while it no doubt has the authority to issue an order regarding the property, the best way to move towards healing is via a deliberate process of reconciliation, disclosure, and truth telling. It therefore strongly recommended that the diocese cease efforts to sell the property and begin that process of reconciliation.

The opinion is being circulated to the complainants for comment, and should be finalized once that input is received.

Details on Episcopal Cafe.

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Episcopal Inaction Over Bullying: Time for General Convention to Act

Bullying hurts the entire church

In 2015, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark issued a wonderful report on the scourge of bullying, as well as a framework to address it. While many Episcopal dioceses, parishes, and other entities have lauded the work, far too few have actually done anything to implement its recommendations, including a proposed mechanism to address building when it occurs in churches.

As someone who has been bullied in Episcopal churches by both clergy and laity, I find this tremendously disappointing.

So, before we go further, let’s look at the report, “Fostering Respect in Church Settings: Collaborating to Reduce Bullying within our Church Community,” and its findings and recommendations. 

  • The report rightly calls bullying “abuse,” further noting “[b]ullying also leads to reputational damage for the wider church, the individual congregation and for the clergyperson or layperson that is the subject of bullying.”
  • “A person who is bullied may suffer emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially and spiritually. The impact of bullying can be life long and affect the person, their relationships and their capacity for ministry.”
  • The report notes the importance of parishes establishing normative standards for behavior, adding, “The behavior of clergy, lay leaders and those with pastoral responsibilities is as important as any formal policy.”
  • Importantly, the report notes that there is, at present, no definition of bullying within the Episcopal canons.
  • The report recommends a formal response in cases in which local efforts are not effective in resolving incidents of bullying. In such cases, elected parish officials are encouraged to contact a diocesan intake officer. That is highly problematic, because my experience suggests that intake officers are unwilling to address bullying. Thus, reporting matters to an intake officer only makes things worse, as the victim of bullying gets a “Notice of Dismissal,” and the bully is allowed to ratchet up his or her efforts.

What Can We Do?

Ideally, General Convention would address the matter church wide by specifically including bullying as one of the behaviors within the purview of Title IV when it meets in 2018. Additionally, including the topic of bullying in the Title IV training materials now under development would be helpful.

Meanwhile, dioceses and parishes can adopt the model policies and procedures developed by the Diocese of Newark. Equally importantly, church leaders at every level can make clear, through their words and example, that bullying is an egregious violation of the baptismal covenant.

The Diocese of Newark materials are here.

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Sex Scandal and Embezzlement Again Touch the Church of England

Worship at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge. Persons in the photo should not be construed as involved in this incident


British news media are reporting that Andrew Sloane, former assistant vicar of St. Paul’s Knightsbridge, has been convicted of stealing almost $19,000 USD from the church to pay for male prostitutes. Sloane, 63, is accused of taking money from a church safe, as well as tricking parishioners into making loans to him on the basis of false pretenses.

The news underscores the prevalence of embezzlement in churches, with an estimated 30% of all church employees stealing at some point in their careers.  Moreover, total theft worldwide may dwarf the money spent on outreach, according to some sources

Full disclosure: St. Paul’s is a sister parish to one where this author frequently worships. I have met Fr. Sloane on multiple occasions, and he is the former rector of the parish.

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UPDATE: Fr. Rian Adams Alleged Road Rage Case

News media report that the bishop of Western North Carolina,  José Antonio McLoughlin, has issued the following statement:

“As bishop of Western North Carolina, I want to note that consultation and conversation are underway. Pastoral care is being provided to Father Adams, his family and his congregation. It is best to remember that, as in all situations, there are many facets to consider. We believe in, and will follow, all formal processes. I ask that you continue to keep everyone in your prayers.”

Meanwhile, the Palm Beach Post has obtained police dashcam video footage of the incident, parts of which are now available on the Post website. The video shows Adams and a female passenger complying with police commands. Subsequently, he appears to deny displaying a weapon, stating that the magazine for the weapon has remained in the glove compartment, and stating that he has a Florida concealed weapons permit.

Access the Post article and video here.

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Another Sex and Drug Scandal Rocks the Vatican

Coming soon on the heels of the Cardinal Pell scandal come reports of a late-night Vatican police raid in which Monsignor Luigi Capozzi, 49, was arrested for cocaine possession. It is further alleged that a party was under way at the time of the arrest; the party has been described as a “homosexual orgy.” Capozzi serves as secretary to one of Pope Francis’ closest confidants, Francesco Coccopalmerio.

The arrest allegedly came about after neighbors in the building, which is the residence of many of the Vatican’s top officials, complained about a steady stream of late-night young male visitors to the apartment, as well as loud sounds of partying. It is further alleged that a luxury vehicle, displaying Vatican diplomatic license plates, was used to transport drugs to the apartment, which protected against scrutiny from Italian police.

Capozzi allegedly was arrested two months ago, yet the Vatican said nothing publicly about the scandal. News broke when an inside source apparently tipped off the Italian media.

At the time of the raid, Capozzi allegedly was so intoxicated from his cocaine use that he required hospitalization and detox. He subsequently is reported to have been sent on a “spiritual retreat.”

Meanwhile, Capozzi apparently remains in good standing with the Vatican, as his name remains in its customary place on the Vatican website.

The arrest comes shortly before Capozzi was set to be named a cardinal, allegedly due to Coccopalmeria’s patronage.

Coccopalmeria is known to have hinted at the positive aspects of same-sex relationships, and has favored loosening the Vatican’s restrictions on divorced Roman Catholics, which may prevent them from fully participating in the life of the church.

The story appears to have first broken in American media via Lifesite News and can be found at https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/high-ranking-monsignor-with-link-to-pope-francis-caught-in-cocaine-fueled-g

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Correction on Fr. Rian Adams Story and Related Thoughts

This morning, I received the following kind message, which I wanted to share with you:

From: Tom Purdy <[email protected]>Subject: Fr. Rian AdamsMessage Body:Hello. I am the Rector at Christ Church, Frederica on St. Simons Island, and I’d like to offer a correction to your recent post on Fr.Rian Adams. Despite the error in the Fletcher newspaper, Fr. Adams did not serve as Rector of Christ Church. He served as my associate for eight months before accepting a call to Fletcher. I have no other comment to make, just to offer the correction. I appreciate your article and it’s appeal for a pastoral response. I am keeping Fr. Rian and his parish in my prayers.Tom Purdy(I am currently out of the countey and cannot access my parish email until next Monday.– This e-mail was sent from a contact form on Surviving Church — A Progressive Perspective (http://surviving.church)

Fr. Purdy’s comments underscore an important point in all of this, which is that, to the best of my knowledge, none of us are reporting from the original police report. I am not, and have not yet located a copy, and must rely on secondary sources. Thus, we don’t know what we don’t know, and it’s important not to rush to judgment.

Several readers also have voiced discomfort with Fr. Adams’ red Corvette. While I agree that, at first blush, this is an atypical vehicle for a member of the clergy, here too we don’t know all the facts. If, for example, he inherited it, would we say he’s not entitled to enjoy it in his leisure time? Again, let’s not rush to judgment when a priest, his parish and family are in trouble.

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Ten Things You Need to Know About Churches and Conflict

Ever watch a church in conflict? More often than not, it’s not a pretty sight. Rather than love, joy, and peace, you see sharp elbows, crass comments, and character assassination. And while I have no easy solutions, here are ten things you need to know about conflict and churches.

  1. Conflict is inevitable. Yup, just like birth, death, and taxes. Show me a church that has no conflict and I guarantee — scratch the surface, and you’ll find it right behind the scenes.
  2. Conflict has no moral value. Conflict, of itself, is neither good nor bad. It just is. Yet wander into some churches and you’d think that, if conflict does rear its ugly head, the roof will fall in and the gates of hell open wide. 
  3. Conflict makes many Christians nervous. See above. Christians somehow feel that if they wind up in conflict they’ll have committed some great sin. But again–conflict, of itself, has no moral value, either for good or evil.
  4. Christians don’t know how to deal with conflict. Too often, Christians view conflict through the dualistic lens of fight or flight. But there is a third, more Christian way to deal with conflict, which is by leaning into it. What does that mean? It means being non-anxious, embracing it, and respecting the dignity of every human being. If all sides do these things, it is very likely that the ultimate outcome will be okay.
  5. Some clergy engender conflict. If you encounter a church that’s deeply mired in conflict, look to the clergy or other leaders as a possible source. Particularly if your priest or pastor suffers from narcissistic personality disorder — quite common among clergy — you’ll see that their focus is on meeting their own need for adulation and attention, while displaying no empathy for others. Yes, they’ll often be verbally facile, but there is no substance to it. In those cases, churches will typically be hotbeds of bullying and intrigue.
  6. Conflict ignored is conflict multiplied. Many clergy are conflict-avoidant, and will use the so-called logical fallacy of illicit transference to avoid addressing conflict. Simply put, they argue that because they can’t fix all conflict, they will fix no conflict. This becomes an excuse. But who was the first person to pass by in the tale of the Good Samaritan? A priest. So while it is true that not all the ills of the world can be fixed, we are still called to try.
  7. Clergy are responsible for church culture. If your church has a culture that responds badly to conflict, your priest is largely responsible if she has been there for any length of time. “But I don’t get involved in stuff like that,” some priests will argue. But they’re still responsible, because they either create culture, or they allow its creation.  
  8. Bad behavior never helps. I have seen churches where people, even clergy, try to deal with conflict by attacking the other side, accusing them of misconduct, or ignoring them. These tactics don’t help, but instead ensure that the conflict will continue and expand.
  9. Conflict, handled correctly, may be good. The Holy Spirit does its work every day, breathing life and renewal into the church. But nowhere are we promised that with change won’t come conflict. Once we recognize and embrace that concept, we find that the tension that comes with conflict eases. And consider the possibility that, in cases of injustice and oppression, we may be called to be in conflict with the oppressor.
  10. Conflict is often easily resolved. As humans, we are experts at piling all sorts of baggage on even the smallest conflicts. Yet very often, all the other side wants is an apology. Just ask lawyers how many times they’ve seen cases go to court simply because someone wouldn’t apologize.
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