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Episcopalian Bishops speak of ‘pain’ of clergy disciplinary cases

29 September 2023

Richard Washbrooke for the Lambeth Conference

The Most Revd Michael Curry speaks at the Lambeth Conference, last year

The Most Revd Michael Curry speaks at the Lambeth Conference, last year

THE House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States has acknowledged the “disappointment, pain, and grief” felt by many in the Church over the handling of recent disciplinary cases against bishops.

A statement welcoming a review of the disciplinary process for bishops was published by the House at the end of its meeting last week, after a raft of high-profile cases concerning bishops under the Title IV disciplinary canons.

The statement read: “We acknowledge the disappointment, pain, and grief felt across The Episcopal Church, and in any diocese, regarding the issue of moral, ecclesiastical, and pastoral accountability for bishops. The pain is absolutely real and urgent, both in the dioceses specifically affected by recent cases, and in cases where the recent complaints have recalled prior traumas elsewhere.

“We are thankful that the Presiding Bishop has called on the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to review the Title IV disciplinary process, listen to the concerns and hopes of the church, identify what has worked and what needs improvement, and make recommendations to the next General Convention.

“We understand that when any bishop breaks the trust placed in us by the church, the Body of Christ suffers. We are called to be wholesome examples to the flock and proclaimers of the Good News of Christ to all the world. Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, we commit to each other and to the whole Church that we will do our part in the work necessary to bring about the authentic changes our church needs ‘to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God’.”

The statement ends with a pledge “to hold each other accountable to standards of conduct set by our ordination vows and the Baptismal Covenant, striving, with God’s help, to exercise the responsibilities of servant leadership modelled by Jesus”.

The statement does not refer to any of the recent three cases of bishops who have faced, or are facing, a Title IV investigation. They include the Rt Revd Prince Singh, who resigned a day after his ministry was restricted while a disciplinary investigation of allegations of domestic abuse made by his sons and ex-wife is under way (News, 15 September).

Two other recent cases involve a Florida bishop, the Rt Revd John Howard, who is accused of discriminating against LGBTQ+ clergy in his diocese, and an allegation against a retired Oklahoma bishop, the Rt Revd Ed Konieczny, of sexual harassment, from the House of Deputies’ President, Julia Ayala Harris (News, 8 September). Bishop Konieczny denied any wrongdoing, and the Title IV investigation ended with a “pastoral response” and no disciplinary action.

After that case, a group of women bishops asked for the issue of bishops’ accountability to be added to the agenda of this latest House of Bishops’ meeting. They referred to “several recent high-profile cases in which bishops were accused of improper behavior, and many in the church believe those bishops received few or no consequences.

“We are angered by and deeply concerned about the perception — or the reality — that bishops get a free pass on behavioral issues. We want to ensure that in our system, issues like these are taken seriously and treated appropriately. Bishops cannot be allowed to have a ‘free pass’.”

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