WHEN PRESIDING BISHOPS ERR

From EPISCOPAL NEWS SERVICE:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Nov. 17 that she received a Roman Catholic priest into the Episcopal Church despite him admitting an incident of sexual misconduct because she believed "he demonstrated repentance and amendment of life." Questions about Jefferts Schori's decision, made in 2004 when she was bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, arose in June after a plaintiff listed as John Doe 181 filed a lawsuit against Conception Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery in Missouri. The Rev. Bede Parry was a monk at the abbey in the 1980s and directed a choir. The plaintiff, now an adult, alleged that Parry had sexual contact with him during a 1987 summer choir camp at the abbey. Parry, 69, served All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas since 2000 as organist and later as an assisting priest, but resigned after the lawsuit was filed.

Jefferts Schori said that when Parry asked her to receive him as a priest, he told her about a 1987 sexual encounter he had with "an older teenager." She said in her statement that he "indicated that it was a single incident of very poor judgment." She said she decided to receive Parry as a priest "believing that he demonstrated repentance and amendment of life and that his current state did not represent a bar to his reception." She said she restricted Parry to an assisting role, under the supervision of another priest, and told him that he could not work alone with children. The latter requirement is a restriction the diocese places on all its clergy and laity.

COMMENT: I think it important to stress that Parry was not just received into the membership of the Episcopal Church (which would have been problematical but proper), he was received into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. It does not matter how many restrictions you put on a priest in a parish setting or how strictly a priest is watched over, that priest will always have opportunities to relate to members of the parish and others in a more intimate way than is usually possible for members of the laity. It just comes with the job and the way many people view the priesthood.

It is my opinion that Jefferts Schori allowed Parry to practice as a priest in the Episcopal Church out of Christian charity and nothing else. It is also my opinion that when Parry told her that he had repented and intended "to sin no more," he was more than likely telling the truth.

However, at the time Jefferts Schori made her decision regarding Parry it was already well understood by society in general that it is always extremely likely that a sexual predator will offend again no matter how much they intend not to or how much they feel guilty about past offences.

Therefore, it is my opinion that Jefferts Schori, and those who advised her at the time, made one huge mistake. It was negligence at such a high level that if a child had been abused by Parry subsequent to his reception as a priest in the Episcopal Church, Jefferts Schori would have possibly been charged with criminal negligence (although I say that from my knowledge of English law, not American law).

This begs one huge question. Should Jefferts Schori continue in any position of authority within the Episcopal Church in which she may well be responsible for making decisions about similar cases in the future? In fact, does this error of judgement mean that she is not to be trusted to make competent decisions in any area of the Church's life?

Second only to the sin of putting the wellbeing of members of her own church and other people at risk is the sin of hypocrisy that raises its ugly head well above the parapet in this case. Can liberal episcopalians in America continue to call for extremely strict measures in other denominations to protect young people from predatory sex offenders, and full accountability of leaders of other denominations if they allow or enable sexual offences to occur and/or cover them up when they take place, if they turn a blind eye to a similar beam in their own collective eye, especially when the person concerned is a high ranking liberal?

Charity may lead us to conclude that we should let the presiding bishop off the hook. But, of course, as I assume above, it was most probably charity that got the Episcopal Church, and Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in particular, into this embarrassing and blameworthy mess in the first place.

Comments

WHEN PRESIDING BISHOPS ERR — 40 Comments

  1. Does forgiveness mean forgetting or not taking action based on the what is being forgiven? That’s also a relevant issue. And how many people are involved in such forgiveness? That is, who speaks for whom?

    I am not suggesting what ought to happen, but I can see someone saying (either to the priest in question or of the Presiding Bishop): “We forgive you, but in order to prevent similar problems in the future we are not going to let you continue serving in your current position.”

  2. Knowing to what extreme restrictions the church goes in protecting against sexual predators it is strange that we would knowingly allow an admitted sexual predator to become a priest…

  3. I think Bishop Katharine did make an unfortunate decision, and I wish she would reverse it. That said, I’m still not ready to dismiss her as a good leader, which I feel she has generally been. This news is very disturbing, however.

  4. I can’t remember…has any further accusations been made against him since he crossed over and became an Episcopal priest? I mean suggesting continued behavior after he joined the Episcopal Church? I don’t believe there has been any further incidents, so the question remains whether the initial approval made sense. It’s not clear to me beyond that one decision that KJS has done anything warranting stepping down as Presiding Bishop. Contrary evidence that I am unaware of?

  5. No. You can’t break regulations set up to protect children and then when found out claim it’s okay because nothing bad happened. What she did was extremely dangerous. The fact that no child was abused has kept her out of prison. It does not mean that she is innocent of an incredibly stupid decision or that she is not going to make more of them from the same arrogance.

  6. I think I should point out that I have never given a priest who has buggered children permission to go near children or allowed a member of the laity near children in my care following a failed CRB check. In the nigh on 25 years I have been married I have not even kissed another person, no matter what their age. If anyone accuses me of such like Brian R just did I don’t care how much water is between us, I shall sue their phoney liberal arses off!

  7. Here’s what I said over on Facebook about this:

    You know, nobody rejoiced more than I did when our Presiding Bishop was elected. And she has turned out to be very capable and has done much, much good. It has come to my attention, however, that she sometimes has been known to give a pass to clergy when questionable information comes her way about them. So the reports of this incident did not really surprise me.

    It is my understanding that LONG before 2004 we had policies in place as a church that would err (if erring were an issue) in favor of potential abuse victims in such cases.

  8. What does it say about us that we will condemn dangerous malpractice in a gay hating church or reactionary part of our own church but will call each other really hurtful names rather than admit one of our own has committed a similar error?

    People of straw?

  9. So someone explain please…is there something in our rules regarding which would have prevented him outright from becoming an Episcopal priest? There are plenty of rules governing the behavior of all of us and what is and is not allowable. I am not aware that the rules would have specifically forbidden her from allowing this to have occurred. In which case she did not violate any official rules…whether she made a poor decision (I think she did) is another thing entirely. Subsequently is there evidence that she in any way tried to cover up this guy’s past? Keep it hidden from folks? That too would be very problematic and could warrant her stepping down. However, demanding her resignation because there should have been a rule preventing this is very different from a deliberate violation of a rule. OCICBW…

  10. Nobody has demanded her resignation. I strongly suggested that the question whether or not the incident shows a reason why she cannot be trusted to make big decisions should be asked. It was a question I didn’t answer.

  11. I was going to add another comment, I got side tracked and then decided I’d rather just send you a big cyber hug, MP.

    ::HUG::

  12. I have just now read, in the Huffington Post, an article that indicates Parry had SEVERAL incidents of sexual misconduct with minors. Not just ONE indiscretion, as indicated above. The article reads, in part:

    In a signed statement and newspaper interview this year, Parry has admitted to several acts of sexual misconduct with young adults and teenagers while he was a Catholic monk in the 1970s and 1980s. “Frankly, those allegations, most of them are true,” Parry told the Kansas City Star in June.

    This changes everything, which is why I have to retract my previous statement.

    PARRY is the one who needs to step down, at once. He needs to go. He needs to be charged and even do jail time – like other people would.

    I had no idea there were SEVERAL incidents in question, until just now.

  13. I am of exceedingly mixed feelings. That’s all I’ll say for now.

    [Besides the fact that ++KJS SHOULD have made this statement when the Parry Sitch came to light several months ago.]

  14. The head of the German Protestant Union/Lutheran Churches had to resign after one incident of running a red light “under the influence”. Nobody was hurt but it was felt that it was too visible a position to just let it pass.

  15. Mr. Anonymous…”had” to? I thought that it was a decision made by the individual for the very reasons you cite…

    yes, JCF, it took MUCH to long for 815 to put out this statement…probably (Tracie) because subsequent info had revealed his problem to be much more than a single incident (upon which KJS apparently made her decision)…

  16. Yikes, that headline! The accompanying pic! :-0

    Before she agreed to ordain Parry, Jefferts Schori said she wrote to Catholic bishops in Las Vegas and Santa Fe, N.M., and received brief responses that “indicated no problematic behavior.”

    She TOOK THE PEDOPHILE CHURCH’S bishops’ word on this??? :-0

    “His background check showed no more than what he had already told us.”

    Methinks (in hindsight) Parry knew damn well that that was ALL his background check WAS going to show.

    Seriously, we (TEC) have to do better. ++KJS needs to state that she erred in her process (esp. in taking the RC bishops’ word on this. I wouldn’t trust those b@stards as far as their flowing man-lace! :-X)

  17. Parry has already stepped down and has already been disbarred from serving as a priest.

    Parry lied to +KJS and said there was only one incident, when in fact there had been several –to which he now admits.

    +KJS made Parry submit to psychological exams that indicated he would not re-offend.

    It is a very confusing and disheartening situation when we who are called to speak forgiveness, grace and mercy must hold reins on those very things of which we are called to speak and embody.

    The whole situation reeks with brokenness. But asking for the resignation of +KJS or comparing her to a drunk driver when in fact she is only guilty of demonstrating extreme forgiveness and trust makes me grieve… –mostly because I have stepped down from my job because of the sexual sickness and sins of another –and there is no justice in it –no righteousness in it –no hint of forgiveness nor grace… only the cross. And it sucks.

    Parry should be stripped of all he owns and all he makes in the future and restitution given to his victims. But making others suffer because of his crimes does nothing except prolong his power over us all.

  18. Since +KJS is no longer a diocesan bishop, it’s unlikely that she will have to make a similar decision in the future. Nor would she have the authority to reverse her decision. That’s up to the current bishop of Nevada. I don’t think she had the necessary experience to be elected Bishop of Nevada or PB in the first place (from newly ordained deacon to PB in only 12 years seems awfully fast). But unless there are further developments, I don’t see this as grounds to remove her either.

  19. I’m not saying she ought to step down or be removed. But this matter needs to have the bright light of day directed upon it at the very least.

    The issue is not merely forgiveness and trust. The offense was not merely sin; it involved sickness. And repentance (even involving true compunction and contrition) does not safeguard potential future victims. By 2004, it was VERY well understood that offenders with regard to this sort of thing are very likely to re-offend – no matter how much regret they express.

    Back when I was living overseas (I’m not going to reveal which country, so please don’t ask) I was subjected to horrible sexual harassment by a priest. I was very vulnerable due to not having yet been fully professed and I was afraid I wouldn’t be believed. I sought the advice of a respect psychotherapist in that country as well as my spiritual director and both men agreed that I would not be believed and so I was on my own. The therapist did coach me using role-play on how to communicate and enforce my boundaries but it was still a really horrible situation as the priest taunted me about my powerless situation.

    Some years later (after having left that country), I found out that the priest had subsequently abused another woman – one who was far more psychologically fragile than I ever was. I went through torrents of guilt that I had not reported him. I then moved heaven and earth practically to go through two bishops in the United States to inform the priest’s bishop in his country so that said bishop could keep his ear to the ground about it. The offending priest had since retired and so probably did not have as much of an opportunity to offend as he had had earlier.

    Dear people, we have GOT to make the church safe for those (mainly women and boys) who could be targeted by sexual predators. Most of us probably have no idea how many people have fled from the Church (and from Christianity) because of this very thing. We truly must not treat it as anything less than a matter of the utmost seriousness.

    I’ll stop now; I have some errands to run. (I may say more later.)

    Oh, one more thing: The Presiding Bishop IS in the position of making decisions with regard to reports of misconduct perpetrated by bishops. (And don’t think that doesn’t happen.)

  20. It is a decision difficult to understand given the risks involved. In my hiring days of managing a speech therapy office, I would not have hired an employee with a similar record. In regards to clergy, it would appear that any serious “discernment” would determine that the criminal actions of the predator indicate a door closed.

  21. Murphy: “Hey, O’Reilly, do you know what Paddy’s been up to since he got sprung playing lollipops? I ain’t seen him around.”

    O’Reilly: “You ain’t seen him around, Murph, because he’s got himself another gig. He’s all frocked up again, over at the Anglican’s!”

    Murphy: “No F***in’ Way!!!”

    O’Reilly: “Oh, yes f***in’ way, you’d better believe it. He charmed their boss-lady. All tears an’, ‘I’ll never do it again, me lady’. She sent him to the shrink. He passed with flying colours!”

    Murphy: “Ya bullshittin’ me!”

    O’Reilly: “It’s no bullshit, Murph. Never mind the choir, the bloke should be on Broadway.”

  22. As I understand the canons at the time the PB made her decision, they were followed to the letter. I think that under the current rules, she would not reach the same decision.

    For any who do not understand our polity, when a bishop leaves a diocese for any reason, retirement, election as presiding bishop, accepting a new position in another diocese or in an academic setting, or as the result of a disciplinary action, she immediately has no authority over the clergy in that diocese. So, even were she so inclined there is no way she can, “reverse her decision.”

    It would be lovely if the Holy Spirit could assure us that every decision a bishop makes is a good one. We do not live in that world and the church that does, Rome, is in fantasy land.

    The offender is now out of the priesthood. Clearly he won’t be readmitted. Apparently he is a skilled liar as he cleared the psychological interviews. At this point, the civil authorities alone have jurisdiction.

    What to say about the PB? She did not break the rules, in fact she appears to have not even bent them. If and I think it was, a sub-optimal decision, it was motivated by a reasoned and appropriate charity.

    What she has done is harmed her own credibility and that of the church by her ham handed public silence. She is the lead person for the entire denomination. Silence for all these weeks instead of as the pros say, “getting in front of the story” is amazingly bad leadership.

    Her term of office is almost 2/3’s served. Most of the next three years will be spent in a search for a new presiding bishop and a restructured church that can survive the economic realities that a secular society present.

    Were she to resign, I would not be upset. But if she stays, she needs to dismiss her PR staff and get new people who have a clue. Had she gotten out an honest telling of the events and a comment that she made the best decision she could at the time and it turned out to be the wrong decision, this would already be where it belongs, in the footnotes.

    FWIW
    jimB

  23. {{{Ellie}}}

    That’s a harrowing story.

    I live w/ the (personal) knowledge of a sitting bishop who was, at the very least, Very Sloppy in his relationships w/ vulnerable women.

    This was 20+ years ago, and I can only hope that he grew up and improved. But if scandal were ever to erupt, I’d have to ask myself, SHOULD I have come forward and said something?

  24. Ellie, I have been concerned about the staff that supports the office of the PB for some time. They seem to me to be motivated by institutional imperative and personal survival, not the church’s needs. That is an observation from the outside, but it is what it looks like to me.

    FWIW
    jimB

  25. MadPriest, in answer to your question in your second to last paragraph, I don’t know whether you consider me part of your group labeled “liberal episcopalians”, and I don’t know if you read my blog, but since the month of June, I have written no fewer than 6 posts that referenced the matter of KJS allowing Bede Parry into the priesthood, the latest a couple of days ago upon the release of her letter. I know there are people in the Episcopal Church who want me to shut up.

    And, in fact, I believe I have not called called another church to account for abuse of minors or cover-up during the 5 or 6 months of the PB’s silence, because I would have felt hypocritical.

    I can think of at least two others whom you might label “liberal episcopalians” who have spoken out and taken heat, as I have, for doing so.

    Of course, the Episcopalians who remain and others who have left and who wish to destroy the Episcopal Church are having a field savaging the PB about Bede Parry.

  26. Which is why we cannot just keep quiet about it. It makes us look like we believe in one rule for us, one rule for them. Which, it appears, many of our co-religionists do.

    Have you been called a prick yet for speaking out and stating uncomfortable truths?

    It’s all very depressing.

  27. PS: I probably won’t write further about the Bede Parry matter unless new information surfaces. Going beyond what I’ve already said would, I believe, be repetitious and only serve to give aid and comfort to the enemies of our church.

  28. The problem lay in the ongoing idea that to “forgive” is to “forget.” If it can be forgotten, it wasn’t anything to forgive.

    Don’t forget what could happen, forgive what has happened (and can’t be changed).

    Forgiveness does not mean a weak permissiveness.