M004 Title IV Reform Memorial

Proposed by

Nathan Brown

Supported by

The Young Adult Caucus of General Convention

To the Deputies and Bishops of The Episcopal Church assembled at the 81st General Convention:

The Young Adult Caucus of General Convention expresses grave concerns about the current state of our Title IV disciplinary Canons and the inconsistent application of the Canons that has been observed throughout the Church over many years. Recently, a number of high profile Title IV issues involving Bishops have raised the notice of the Church to the work still needed to keep our Church safe. We must note, however, that Title IV is not always consistently applied to presbyters and deacons as well, to equally damaging effect. The Caucus notes the Presiding Bishop’s statement on September 5th, 2023 on Church safety and accountability, but respectfully asserts that simply referring these matters to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons without detailed guidance to the Standing Commission from the General Convention is insufficient to restore trust in clerical discipline and Church safety. 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.

First and foremost, we urge the Bishops of the Church, as well as all of those involved in various roles within Title IV, to faithfully execute their Canonical duties outlined in the Canons to the best of their ability. We have observed too often that the provisions of Canon IV.7.3, which give Bishops the power to restrict a cleric’s ministry or place a cleric on administrative leave when there is a reasonable concern about the safety and welfare of the Church, are not followed. When they are followed, these provisions are often executed belatedly. 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. It is incumbent on the Church to promptly take all precautionary measures possible to ensure that the Church and our communities are safe spaces for all people.

We also call upon the Church to consider pastoral response as a part of reconciliation and accountability, rather than the sum total. We particularly urge the Church not to use pastoral responses as the sole disposition for cases where sexual misconduct is alleged and substantiated. We also urge the Church to provide greater pastoral care to Complainants in Title IV, noting that this is outlined under Canon IV.8.1-2, but often not followed. We have observed, too often, that an emphasis is placed on protecting the reputation of the Church and providing grace to the Respondent rather than providing support and justice to Complainant(s). While we recognize the importance of grace and forgiveness in the Gospel and in our Church, we must realize that justice, accountability, and grace are not mutually exclusive, but are rather all-important elements in healing and reconciliation.

Second, we call on the 81st General Convention to provide specific guidance to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons about what changes it wishes to see from the Standing Commission. Any major Canonical Changes to Title IV will take many years, and it is important for the General Convention to direct the Standing Commission on specific reforms it wishes to see. We fear that, without specific guidance from the General Convention, the Standing Commission may not generate the Canonical changes that the Church needs to restore faith in the safety of the Church and the efficacy of Clerical discipline.

Specifically, we urge the General Convention 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?” 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.

Additionally, we urge the Church, through the bodies of General Convention, to discern the value of third-party intake officers, particularly specialized in this area, such as Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), or other similar organizations, to provide greater trust in the integrity of the Title IV process, particularly at initial intake.

We also encourage the General Convention to review Canon IV.19.30.d, related to the Canonical Requirement for a database to track Title IV Complaints–specifically Canon IV.19.30.d.3 that forbids such a database from listing respondents. It is vital that faith communities throughout our Church are made aware of any sustained Title IV determination against a member of the Clergy when considering whether or not to invite them into a pastoral role in their community. It is imperative for the safety of the Church that such a database exist and be made accessible in a responsible way. We encourage the General Convention to discern the best steps forward to recommend to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons.

Finally, given the specific obligations of the Presiding Bishop in Title IV processes as relates to bishops, we have a unique opportunity to prioritize these concerns during the election of our next Presiding Bishop. To that end, we ask General Convention, through the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, to inquire of all prospective nominees their views on Church safeguarding, their past approaches to Title IV, and their plans to wield the powers of the office of the Presiding Bishop to further promote safeguarding and healing in the Church.

This caucus does not profess to have all the answers about Title IV reform, but we are gravely concerned about revelations, past and present, demonstrating instances in which Title IV has failed to protect our Church and the faith of our communities that we love and serve. We acknowledge and decry the negative experiences too many have had to endure, and lament the departures of many from our faith communities because of the same. It is incumbent on us, as leaders in the Church, to ensure that we do better–taking these steps now and ensuring they lead to concrete changes in the future. We urge the Church to do the hard work of soberly reflecting on our Title IV process, identifying how we can better follow the existing Canons, and consider how to improve the Canons to provide greater protection and justice for all. We must have a community of faithful where everyone feels safe and assured that any inappropriate act will be met with an appropriate combination of grace, accountability, and justice. By acting now we have the opportunity to build trust in our Church and demonstrate how we care for each other.

Respectfully Submitted,

Nathan Brown, Lay Deputy, Diocese of Washington (on behalf of The Young Adult Caucus of General Convention)


Endorsed by:

Eva Warren, Lay Deputy, Diocese of Ohio
Kevin Miller, Lay Deputy, Diocese of Massachusetts

Supported by:

The Young Adult Caucus of General Convention