THE Episcopal Church in the United States has opened a three-year window for the reporting of sexual misconduct by clergy against adults — no matter how long ago it was committed — and is urging all victims to come forward to share their stories.
The Church has suspended for three years the canon that places a time-limit on initiating proceedings in cases of clergy sexual misconduct against adults. There is already no time-limit on reporting clergy sexual misconduct against children and youth under the age of 21.
The suspension means that any case of sexual misconduct against a member of clergy can now be brought forward, regardless of how long ago the abuse happened.
In a letter to all dioceses, the Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, and the President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, said: “We hope that this temporary suspension of the statute of limitations will be one way for the Church to come to terms with cases of sexual misconduct in our collective past.”
A spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church said that any complaints would be handled by individual dioceses, but that she was aware that some were already being reported as a result of the suspension, which took effect in January.
The suspension was one of 24 resolutions addressing sexual harassment, abuse, sexism, inequality, and discrimination submitted by the Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation set up by the Church, as a response to the #MeToo movement.
Dioceses across the US have now set up #MeToo taskforces.
The diocese of Massachusetts is also urging those who may have been abused by lay staff or volunteers to come forward. The diocese’s two bishops told parishes in an open letter: “In our own diocese, we recognize that clergy are not the only ones who have committed acts of abuse or harassment in the church. Some who are lay staff, volunteers or other parishioners have acted inappropriately.
“For several months, a new #MeToo Task Force of our diocese has been in conversation and has been considering how to respond in situations where a lay person has engaged in sexual misconduct within the church. While there is no canonical disciplinary process for lay persons as there is for clergy, our desire is that our churches be safe places for everyone, environments where all can thrive in faith in God and service to their neighbors.”