[UPDATED:] Troubling Questions Raised by Bishop's Acceptance of Child Molester to Be Priest

[UPDATE 07/07/2011: The Diocese of Nevada has finally issued a clarifying statement about this matter, in which Bishop Dan Edwards insists: "As I review what was done 2002 - 2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained. The bishop, priests, and lay people of Nevada kept children safe and they were true to our belief that people can be redeemed." Unfortunately, the statement proceeds solely on the basis of the information supplied to the Diocese at the time by Fr. Parry himself -- namely, that he told Bishop Jefferts Schori and her Commission on Ministry only about the single molestation in the summer of 1987. He did not tell them of the multiple incidents before that -- one in 1981, and three more between 1973 and 1979 -- which led to his being required to have psychological counseling before he repeated his behavior in 1987.

What the statement shows is a compassionate group of laity and clergy who were misled by their desire to reward a gifted musician, who (they thought) had strayed on just one occasion, with a clerical position in the Church:
Based on the known facts and interviews with Fr. Bede, lay and clergy church representatives agreed that he should be received as a priest. The record shows no dissent. Nonetheless, the bishop added the restriction that he should not have contact with minors. This was to add double protection and prevent even the appearance of any threat to minors. This restriction and the reasons for it were conveyed by the bishop to people who supervised Fr. Bede’s work. Further, the bishop, in consultation with the diocesan attorney, recommended abuse awareness workshops.

For nearly a decade since that decision, Fr. Bede has served faithfully, still without a hint of misconduct. . . [emphasis added].
No doubt -- he appreciated being given the chance. But what is curious in all this is that no one is willing to deal with the consequences of Father Parry's having lied to all of them about the incidents in his background -- and with their having failed to turn up that evidence after two years of checking his background. The attorney for the abused plaintiff in Missouri was able to flesh all this information out even before he filed his lawsuit -- why were not the Commission on Ministry, and Bishop Jefferts Schori, concerned enough to do the same?

And then there is the damning report done by the Catholic Church, which concluded in 2000 that Fr. Parry still had "the proclivity to reoffend with minors." Bishop Edwards protests, contrary to the allegation in the Missouri lawsuit, that:
No such report was sent to the Diocese of Nevada and, to this day, we have no knowledge of its existence other than an assertion by the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in a John Doe lawsuit against the monastery.
(Of course, Bishop Edwards appears to think the report was done in the 1980's -- since he makes the claim that "Reliable testing to predict such sexual abuse was not even developed until nearly two decades later . . ."[emphasis added; h/t: Douglas LeBlanc].) Even if he is correct that the Diocese has no record of receiving the report, there remains the fact that Father Parry knew about it and its conclusion, because it resulted in the denial of his application to join a monastery. So this is one more deception to chalk up in connection with his application to be received into the Episcopal Church (USA). At this point, should not at least an inquiry be made into the basis for the lawsuit's allegation that a copy of the report was given to "the Episcopal Bishop for the Diocese of Nevada"? How can Bishop Jefferts Schori continue to maintain her wall of silence on this point?]

A recent lawsuit filed in Missouri over child molestation and abuse charges against a Catholic monastery there contains allegations which, if proved, raise troubling questions about the conduct of ECUSA's Presiding Bishop when she was the Bishop of Nevada from 2000 until her election to the national post in 2006. The lawsuit alleges that one of the abbey's Benedictine monks, Bede Parry, molested the plaintiff at a summer camp in 1987, and had sexual contact with several other young men over an eight-year period between 1973 and 1981 while they were at school or sang in the Abbey Choir, of which Parry was the director. (See this news release for a link to download a .pdf of the petition - h/t: Pageantmaster.) When the facts of the abuse came out in 1987, Parry left the monastery for a course of treatment, and then used his position as a Catholic priest to work at a variety of Catholic and Lutheran parishes in the southwest.

In 2000, Parry apparently applied to join another Catholic monastery, and underwent psychological testing and evaluation. "The results of this testing revealed that Fr. Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors," the lawsuit alleges. Instead of joining the monastery, Parry was hired as the music director at All Saints Episcopal Church, in Las Vegas, where Jefferts Schori was the diocesan. (She did not need to be consulted about his hiring, and Parry now says that he did not disclose the test results to the clergy at All Saints.)

After a few years in that position, Parry says, "[I noticed that] they needed clergy, and I felt called. I talked to the bishop, and she accepted me. And I told her at the time that there was an incident of sexual misconduct at Conception Abbey in ’87. The Episcopal Church doesn’t have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy, so it didn’t seem like I was any particular threat. She said she’d have to check the canons, and she did." However, he says he told her only of the single incident in 1987, and not about any of the earlier ones.

Jefferts Schori presided over Parry's reception into the Episcopal priesthood in Las Vegas in 2004. (Pictures of the ceremony are at this link.) The questions that arise have to do with how thoroughly she evaluated his psychological state before agreeing to his reception. (The Roman Catholic Church had ordained him to the priesthood in 1982.)

Church Canon III.11, as in effect in 2003-2004, provides at the outset as follows, with regard to receiving persons in the Church as priests who were originally ordained in a church which shares the historic apostolic succession, but which is not in communion with the Episcopal Church (emphasis added):
Sec. 1 (a) When a Priest or Deacon ordained in a Church by a Bishop of the Historic Episcopate but not in communion with this Church desires to be received as a Member of the Clergy in this Church, the person shall apply in writing to a Bishop, attaching the following:
(1) Evidence that the person is a confirmed adult communicant in good standing in a Congregation of this Church;

(2) Evidence of previous Ministry and that all other credentials are valid and authentic;

(3) Evidence of moral and godly character; and that the person is free from any vows or other engagements inconsistent with the exercise of Holy Orders in this Church;

(4) Transcripts of all relevant academic and theological studies;

(5) A certificate from at least two Presbyters of this Church stating that, from personal examination or from satisfactory evidence presented to them, they believe that the departure of the person from the Communion to which the person has belonged has not arisen from any circumstance unfavorable to moral or religious character, or on account of which it may not be expedient to admit the person to Holy Orders in this Church;

(6) Certificates in the forms provided in Canon III.8.6 and III.8.7 [attesting that the candidate meets all the requirements to be a deacon and a priest, respectively] from the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge and Vestry of a Parish of this Church; and

(7) A statement of the reasons for seeking to enter Holy Orders in this Church.
Section 2(a) of Canon III.11 next provides (emphasis added):
Sec. 2(a) If the person furnishes evidence of satisfactory theological training in the previous Communion, and has exercised a ministry therein with good repute and success for at least five years, the applicant shall be examined by the [diocesan] Commission [on Ministry] . . .
The lawsuit alleges that a copy of the 2000 psychological evaluation report was given to Bishop Jefferts Schori as part of the process by which she and the diocesan Commission on Ministry evaluated Parry's fitness to be an Episcopal priest. If so, the report should have triggered a new evaluation on the spot, because Canon III.8.7 (a) requires, as a condition of the certificate of fitness being issued (emphasis again added):
A person may be ordained Priest:
. . .
(3) if the medical examination, psychological examination, and background check have taken place or been updated within 36 months prior to ordination as a Priest.
As stated earlier, Bishop Jefferts Schori received Parry in 2004; therefore, the evaluation done on him in 2000 was more than three years old at the time of his reception.

The report itself may have disclosed the fact, but a proper background check would also have turned up that Parry had left Conception Abbey in 1987 on charges relating to multiple incidents of abuse over a fourteen-year period, and not a single isolated one. If Parry is correct that he lied to Bishop Jefferts Schori on this point, she should have easily discovered the lie with a little investigation -- and that lie would have been sufficient for her to deny his ordination.

The questions of what Bishop Jefferts Schori was told, what information she had available to her in the 2000 report (and any subsequent updating of it), and as a result of the background check done on Parry, thus become key to evaluating her decision to allow him to become a priest under her jurisdiction. But her spokesman at 815 Second Avenue Episcopal headquarters says only this: "We do not comment on lawsuits or allegations."

The point is, Bishop Jefferts Schori is not being asked "to comment on lawsuits or the allegations [in lawsuits]." (Neither she nor the Episcopal Church is a party to the lawsuit.) She should come forward with all of the information she had to justify her overriding of the highly disturbing conclusion supposedly reached by the 2000 report: that Father Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to re-offend with minors. A "proclivity" means a present inclination, and is no sign of any meaningful repentance.

The report was sufficient to keep Father Parry out of a Catholic monastery. Was it not also sufficient to keep him out of a position as an Episcopal priest? If not, why not?

Bishop Jefferts Schori and the members of her then Commission on Ministry have some explaining to do. Moreover, it is worth pointing out that in just two days, the new disciplinary canons take effect. At that point, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and any clergy members of the Nevada Commission on Ministry in 2003, have an obligation to self-report any lapses in clerical standards of conduct which they may have committed in connection with the Parry application. (For example, if they did not call for an update to the 2000 report, then they violated Canon III.8.7 (a) quoted above. If the Commission missed it, the duty to have the report updated as canon law required fell squarely in the lap of Bishop Jefferts Schori.)

We shall soon see how seriously the Episcopal Church (USA) takes its new canons.

[UPDATE 06/30/2011: I have been asked to elaborate on the statute of limitations which would apply to any charges against Bishop Jefferts Schori in this matter. The issue is complicated because of the transition provisions in the new Title IV canons which take effect on July 1. The basic period of limitations is established by new Canon IV.19.4 (a) at ten years from the commission of the offense. Since the conduct in question occurred in 2003-2004, we are unquestionably within the general ten-year statute of limitations with regard to any failure to comply with the obligations of then-canon III.8.7 (a) to update the psychological evaluation on then-candidate Parry.

However, new Canon IV.19.4 (d) specifies a two-year limitation on any proceedings brought against a member of the clergy on account of his or her knowingly violating the Constitution or Canons of the Church, as specified in new Canon IV.3.1 (a). Under the facts as presented by the allegations in the petition, however, I think that Canon IV.19.4 (d) is a red herring.

First: there is no current contention that Bishop Jefferts Schori knowingly set out to violate the Canons of the Church in failing to call, in 2004, for any update to Candidate Parry's 2000 psychological evaluation -- it was far more likely a negligent violation of the Canons. (As readers of this blog are quite familiar with Bishop Jefferts Schori's innate inability to read or follow the Canons, I shall not dwell on the point further.)

Second: if she negligently (or carelessly) failed to follow the canonical requirements for priestly ordinations in 2004, her conduct violated the language of new Canon IV.4.1 (g) - in failing to update the psychological evaluation of a priest ordained elsewhere, she may be charged with failing to:
exercise . . . her ministry in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church . . .
Notice what a broad sweep this provision of the new canons, effective July 1, entails: For willful and knowing violation of the Constitution and Canons, the limitation on presentments is two years (as it was under the Canons in effect in 2004). But beginning July 1, 2011, the Canons now provide that for simply failing to "exercise" one's ministry in accordance with the Constitution and Canons, the statute of limitations is ten years.

Those who rushed through the canonical changes to Title IV, which included the Presiding Bishop in the House of Bishops, are now hoist by their own petard, so to speak. But surely the conclusive irony to note in this regard is that if the Presiding Bishop fails to self-report her violation of Canon IV.4.1 (g) as detailed above, she thereby violates new Canon IV.4.1 (f), which makes it a separate canonical offense to fail to:
. . . report to the Intake Officer all matters which may constitute an Offense as defined in Canon IV.2 meeting the standards of Canon IV.3.3 . . .
Canon IV.2 defines "Offense" as "any act or omission for which a Member of the Clergy may be held accountable under Canons IV.3 or IV.4." As we have just seen, any failure by Bishop Jefferts Schori to abide by the requirements of Canon IV.4.1 (g) is thus an "Offense" as defined by Canon IV.2. And the "standards of Canon IV.3.3 require that
. . . the Offense complained of must violate applicable provisions of Canon IV.3 or IV.4 and must be material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church.
This canon lawyer would have little difficulty in finding that allowing an unrepentant pedophile, whose most recent testing showed a "proclivity to re-offend", to be received as a priest in the Episcopal Church without any meaningful background check most definitely was "material and substantial", as well as "of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church." After all, if as Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori has zero difficulty in deposing clergy without bothering to follow the requirements of the Canons, she can hardly be heard to complain about being subject to a similar lax standard with respect to her own violations of the Canons.

A violation of Canon IV.4.1 (g) is expressly not subject to the two-year statute of limitations set out in Canon IV.19.4 (d). Consequently, any failure now by the Presiding Bishop to self-report the possibility of her violation of the Canons in 2004 would constitute a brand new offense under the revised disciplinary Canons, for which the statute of limitations would run for a further ten years!

The icing on the cake is provided by this provision (Canon IV.19.4 [c]) in the new Canons taking effect tomorrow:
Except as provided in Subsection (b) above, the time limitations for initiation of proceedings in this Section shall be retroactive only to January 1, 1996.
So the statute of limitations in the new Canons as of July 1, 2011 are expressly made retroactive to all offenses committed from and after January 1, 1996! Despite the fact, in other words, that there was a two-year statute of limitations in effect in 2004, when Bishop Jefferts Schori may have committed her violation of the Canons, General Convention changed all that in 2009 by providing a retroactive liability for offenses committed up to ten years previously -- all in the name, presumably, of providing greater accountability for the Church's clergy. So be it.

If she knew in 2004 what the Missouri petition says she did, then there is no escape for Bishop Jefferts Schori under the new Title IV provisions which she helped push through the House of Bishops at General Convention in 2009, as a means of adding to her primatial powers. It is a delicious irony that those changes may now come back to haunt her. More than anything else, this case exercise in applying the new disciplinary Canons to a complicated fact situation may serve as a striking illustration of the degree to which those Canons now open wide the door to the prosecution of clergy on any number of grounds which, under the old rules, might have slipped through the cracks without notice.

I am not particularly happy about the vast and open-ended expansion in clergy liability under the new Canons. That one of the first hapless perpetrators to be caught in their greatly enlarged snare may be the Presiding Bishop, however, is a particularly satisfying instance of poetic justice.]

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