D095 Call for a Task Force for Review and Support of the Presiding Bishop’s Office of Pastoral Development

Our catechism articulates the church’s purpose: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP p.855). Our liturgical corporate confession of sin and assurance of forgiveness reflects the triumph of life over death and grace over sin revealed most fully in the resurrection of Christ. The Title IV process, building on this theological foundation, intends to “resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected.”

Our recent experience in the Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan raised serious concerns regarding the implementation of Title IV when the Respondent in the case is a bishop. We respect and honor what such a process intends to accomplish. Our experience is that the process nearly entirely missed those marks.

We are left with a sense that Title IV has significant gaps and that its implementation (in this case) does too. Our dioceses have begun to heal, not only from losing a bishop and the violation that led to his leave, but from the experience of the process itself which did its own damage here. We offer this resolution in order to prevent other dioceses (and Respondents) from experiencing Title IV the way we did and to encourage more support for the Office of Pastoral Development. We speak now to offer our truth to the church as a next step in faith, trusting in Christ’s ongoing work of reconciliation within and among us. We believe that our church can and must do better for the sake of “all involved and affected.”

The Office of Pastoral Development (OPD) carries a great deal of responsibility, authority and control when the Respondent in a Title IV case is a bishop. Our experience was severely lacking in clarity, consistency, timely communication, and tracking of our process by the OPD. It is our belief that the OPD is underresourced for the weight of responsibility it carries in our common life. We also believe there is a lack of clarity about what is expected from this office given the multiple parties involved in the discipline of a bishop and the lack of a public, documented process for this disciplinary situation.

Among other concerns, we note that there appeared to be very little accountability to the Title IV process within the Office of the Presiding Bishop and OPD itself. Examples include:

  • The Disciplinary Board was not brought into the process at the point required by Title IV. The Accord was presented to the Standing Committees as complete before the Disciplinary Board was informed.
  • Following the Respondents' admission of guilt to the complaint filed, there was very little further investigation into whether there was only one offense. Nor was time given to determine if the matter should have been considered a case of sexual misconduct due to the identity of the other party involved in the bishop’s affair.
  • There was inconsistent monitoring of the implementation of the terms of the Accord. The Respondent was simply left responsible to fulfill its requirements.
  • The requirements for reporting to our Standing Committees at the end of the Respondent’s suspension were dropped without explanation.
  • Questions of his own health and fitness for this ministry were expressed by the Respondent in facilitated conversations with diocesan clergy towards the end of his suspension and yet the OPD supported his return.
  • The Bishop of the OPD appeared obligated to serve in conflicting roles in this case. He was Intake Officer, responsible for the provision of pastoral support, the previous diocesan bishop of one of the dioceses affected, and responsible for providing candidates for provisional episcopal oversight.

Unfortunately, due to lack of consistency in communication and clarity of process, the Standing Committees of our Dioceses became aware of these gaps at points too far along in the process to be able to challenge or help correct them.

It was also our perception that while the Respondent and The Presiding Bishop agreed to the content of the Accord, the dioceses were then obligated to fund it. In order for the Standing Committees to reduce the expense and time frame included in the Accord, they would have had to challenge that which the Presiding Bishop had concluded was the appropriate approach. Our Standing Committees were given very limited time both to learn of the complaint and the admission of guilt by the Respondent and then agree to the financial detail supporting the Accord.

While our dioceses were reeling from the initial revelation of the affair and suspension, the OPD was pushing for a financial settlement regarding the year-long separation named in the Accord. The Respondent was given a forty percent cut in salary with full benefits continued. Nowhere was it acknowledged that only a few months before this, he had received a forty percent increase at his insistence upon assuming responsibility for both dioceses. There were layers to this situation that the process did not allow room to acknowledge or discuss in this initial phase of exploration and decision making.

Under the terms of the Accord, during the one-year suspension and the settlement which followed, the dioceses paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the Respondent and his household alone. During this time the dioceses were informed that our role was to wait for final discernment about whether our bishop might return, but there was no process suggested or provided to help heal and support two dioceses whose elected leadership was suddenly and unexpectedly absent. We had to call and fund an Assisting Bishop and in the end search for and fund a Bishop Provisional for both dioceses. While we were hopeful for and supportive of our former bishop experiencing healing, it became very apparent as the process continued that the healing our church was proposing and actively supporting, was entirely centered on him. We eventually came to recognize that we had been wounded, not only by the initial betrayal, but also by the process itself.

This Title IV process actually reflects a deep systemic problem: when our former bishop had an affair, the system not only took care of him, it did so in extremely expensive ways, to the financial and emotional cost of those whom he had vowed to pastor, in the name of “healing” and “reconciliation.” The dioceses were hurt by the affair itself. Relationships and trust were damaged. The financial support expected from us for the one who had violated these relationships was not only surprising, it was unjust.

The model the church has chosen for bishops in this situation is one that is accessible to almost no one else. Through holding this model up as church we are essentially saying that health and reconciliation can be achieved by giving the person who “needs it the most,” a year off, including full healthcare, no work responsibilities, a lot of money, lots of space and top-notch professional support. In the midst of MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and a worldwide pandemic, an already privileged, white male in a position of power who had betrayed his vows was given a copious amount of support. Our dioceses, by contrast, received almost none.

Title IV in its current form has addressed some of the abuses in our church. The systemic cycle of privilege by virtue of position (and perhaps gender and race) however, still has a firm hold on us. The way in which Title IV was implemented in our situation only served to reinforce some of our worst, collective failings.

In an article published by ENS, The Bishop of the OPD celebrated the return of our former bishop to the House of Bishops. “The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, bishop for pastoral development, praised this moment of reconciliation as an example of “living into the highest ideals of our Title IV process.”” We hope that our ideals in The Episcopal Church as expressed in Title IV are actually much higher than what we in our dioceses have just experienced. The heavy weight placed on restoration and the view that that is what a successful Title IV process produces serves to perpetuate systemic, white male, episcopal privilege in a way that is costly to the church in terms of money, members, and institutional integrity.

We can do better than this. We have to do better than this.