Joyful News for Diocese of LA and St. James the Great

At long last, there is some joyful news to share in the matter of St. James the Great. The parish, a mission of the Diocese of LA, has been embroiled in controversy since Bishop Bruno allegedly attempted to sell the building out from under the parish.

In a recent joint announcement, the Bishop Tayler and canon Cindy Vorhees, the vicar of the church, announced that the church will soon move into the building. Shortly afterwards, a formal process of truth telling and reconciliation will occur.

A few observations:

  • Bishop Taylor correctly noted that all involved have gotten a black eye due to the conflict. This is a normal outcome of spiritual abuse by clergy, as appears to have occurred with Bishop Bruno.
  • The diocese itself has frequently operated outside denominational norms, and the disciplinary panel, despite a confusing and sometimes illogical decision, documented numerous examples of this occurring.
  • In any church relationship, the person in the position of power always is responsible for maintaining healthy boundaries. Bishop Bruno clearly failed to do so, himself grossly violating appropriate standards of conduct in his own relationship with the church.
  • +Taylor indirectly raises an important truth behind this entire conflict, which is that it is at its core largely about communication. Bishop Bruno for too long operated behind the scenes, with scant concern for open lines of communication and healthy relationships.
  • As I have said repeatedly, victims of clergy abuse will often proceed out of pain and act in ways that others may views as deceitful or duplicitous. Behavior may even be counterproductive; one need look only at victims of clergy abuse who commit suicide to understand this, and the depth of pain behind these actions. Behaving badly when abused does not reflect badly on the victim. Instead, it reflects badly on the perpetrator. Bishop Taylor’s comments give me hope that he now better understands this phenomena, and will see it not as a misconduct, but as an opening to provide care and healing.
  • My own experience with abusive clergy suggests that diocesan officials far too often try to avoid dealing with abusive clergy conduct unless it involves sex, drugs, money or violence. My hope is that, as a Christian community, the Episcopal church will take a long, hard look at how it responds to clergy abuse.
  • Particularly relevant are the “weighty and material” threshold requirements in the Title IV disciplinary canons. These often are misused, particularly in cases of spiritual abuse. “He took my parking spot,” does not meet the threshold. “She is engaging in abuse,” should, by definition, always be considered subject to Title IV. As we move towards another general convention, delegates should give careful consideration to these matters and ways we might clarify Title IV.
  • I offer this caution to all sides in this matter, which is to remember that continued criticism, blogging, etc., should not be assumed to be coming from the other side. Many times, in complex cases such as this, there are third parties, often not included in reconciliation efforts, who will continue to feel great pain and hurt, and may resume or even step up criticism in response to efforts at reconciliation. I have seen this in my own fiery conflict with an abusive member of the clergy, for when he and I reached a ceasefire, parties on both sides actually stepped up their role in the conflict, despite being encouraged to let matters go. At the end of the day, those hurt by misconduct will do as they will, and we can only hope that when the dust settles they have found peace.
  • It is damaging to try to force people to move past conflict if they are not ready to do so.  I encourage +Bishop Taylor and the diocese to take the approach, even for those who cling to their hurt and pain, of letting those affected know that they are still loved and cared for, and welcome to engage more fully in the life of the church if and when they feel inclined to do so. Again, those who find themselves in this place should not be regarded as malevolent or vindictive, just as being in pain.
  • There have been many hurt by these events who are now no longer directly involved in the conflict, including Bishop Glasspool. My hope is that the diocese will not ignore these persons, but instead reach out to them to offer love, healing and compassion.
  • The text of the joint statement, and +Taylor’s excellent letter, can be found here.

Lastly, today’s news is a matter of great joy to me. My fond hope is that we all can learn from this experience and deal more effectively with conflict and abuse in the church going forward.

About Eric Bonetti

I'm a cradle Episcopalian, living in Northern Virginia. My interests include writing, policy, sports, cooking, volunteer work, good food and wine, and teaching kids' cooking classes. I retired in 2017 and now just work for fun. I'm also a regular contributor to Episcopal Cafe, and have been published at HuffPo and other major sites and publications.
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