"A Call to the Light": The Case for Inhibiting the Presiding Bishop

With the extremely disturbing news about the long-standing cover-up that went on over sexual abuse of young men by an assistant coach at Penn State University, it is very instructive to compare the reaction of the University after the story came out to that of the House of Bishops concerning the revelations, on numerous blogs (Catholic and Episcopalian), concerning the Presiding Bishop's own cover-up of her actions while serving as the Bishop of Nevada.

Let me be perfectly clear: the two situations are not precisely parallel, because the sexual abuse of young men went on under the noses of the responsible officials at Penn State University, who studiously ignored bringing the abuser to account, or reporting him to the police. In contrast, and at least as far as we now know, Father Bede Parry did not commit any sexual abuse of minors under the nose of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

But there -- with one big exception, which is the point of this post -- the dissimilarities between the two cases end. For it is now undisputed that Bishop Jefferts Schori learned early on, from Bede Parry's own former Abbot, that he was a multiple-count abuser who could not continue to function as a Catholic priest (or monk) because he had "a proclivity to reoffend with minors." And she learned of this fact before she decided to receive him into her Diocese as an Episcopal priest.

[UPDATE 11/18/2008: At long last, and far too late to stem the damage, the Presiding Bishop has decided to favor us with a statement explaining her version of the facts. As others have already observed, the statement appears to have been carefully vetted by the Presiding Bishop's personal attorneys (both in-house and outside counsel -- but the latter her personal Chancellor) to avoid any inadvertent admissions of those matters which no one yet can prove, and of which she herself would be the most knowledgeable. She also indicates that this will be her one and only statement on the matter, since she refers all further inquiries to the current diocesan of Nevada, the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards.

From this Curmudgeon's point of view, her statement just adds more fuel to the fire, because it conceals more than it answers -- as I shall demonstrate in detail in a future post. For now, the main thing to note is that it puts her against the current accounts of both former Father Parry, who admittedly is a confirmed liar (now trying his best, one assumes, to repent of his past and make amends for his sins), and his former abbot. The latter -- who had no reason whatsoever in 2002-2003 to hide or to distort the truth, and who has even less of a reason to do so now -- has strongly affirmed that he informed Bishop Jefferts Schori of the fact that Bede Parry had been found to have "a proclivity to reoffend."

That particular phrase redounds, because it echoes the wording of the specific conclusion of the Roman Catholic Church's psychological evaluation in 2000 of Fr. Bede Parry -- a conclusion which sealed his fate, as concerns his being allowed to remain a priest (or even a monk) in the RCC. For Abbot Polan to say (as he did just last May, in the presence of three witnesses) that he told Bishop Jefferts Schori in those very words of that conclusion, is to put his testimony squarely at odds with the Presiding Bishop's latest (and only) statement on the matter, linked above.

For the present, therefore, we have two directly contrary reports of what actually happened when Bishop Jefferts Schori made background inquiries into Fr. Bede Parry's trajectory as a Roman Catholic priest. What that contradiction necessarily entails, however, is that one of the two of them (Bishop Jefferts Schori, or Abbot Polan) is now lying. I leave it to the intelligent reader to conclude who has at this point the greater motivation to prevaricate under these circumstances. The only significant question remaining, in my view, is whether or not this incident will finally provide the impetus for a full and thorough investigation into the reception of Father Parry by Bishop Jefferts Schori.]

Therein lies the chief similarity between the two cases: Both the officials at Penn State University and at the Diocese of Nevada (including its Standing Committee at the time, and its Commission on Ministry, as well as its Bishop) made an apparent decision to ignore the offender's history, and to place (or leave) him in a position where he would be free to continue his abuses, if he was so inclined (notwithstanding supposed "restrictions" on his ministry, which were soon forgotten altogether).

The chief dissimilarity between the two cases, however, lies in seeing how the two institutions reacted to the news of this decision to hire (or to retain) a self-convicted pederast, once the news of that decision became public. The University fired not only the offender, but also his supervising head coach, an 84-year-old figure otherwise beloved in college football for his record number of winning seasons. And the University's President, to whom the charges had also been reported, but who had chosen not to take them to the police, was fired as well.

But as for the Episcopal Church (USA)? The former Bishop of Nevada, who now serves as the Church's Presiding Bishop, has had not one public word to say about her decision to receive Bede Parry as an Episcopal priest. The Diocese of Nevada, in its turn, has published a statement assuring everyone that the canons were "meticulously followed", but which ended up raising more questions than it actually answered.

In short, it is the University which has acted in a more open and Christian manner than one of the chief Christian churches in the United States. The University chose to "walk in the light", as St. John put it in his first-century letter to other early Christians (highlighted so appropriately by the Rev. Canon Philip Ashey in the introductory video), and to let the chips fall where they might -- even if it meant the dismissal of one of its very best football coaches ever. The Episcopal Church (USA), in contrast, continues to stonewall further investigation or questioning, and decidedly has not chosen to "walk in the light."

In this post, I want to call out my own Church, so that it may choose to walk in the light on this topic rather than opt for continued darkness, and so that it, likewise, will let the chips fall where they may.

The Church, acting through its own disciplinary bodies, should inhibit its Presiding Bishop from further exercise of her office and functions until she has made a clean breast of all the factors surrounding her decision to receive Bede Parry, a confessed sexual offender and demonstrable liar to her face, as a priest in her Diocese. Although the Diocese's Commission on Ministry, and Standing Committee, each had specific roles to play at specific times in the reception process, it remains a fact that in the final analysis, the decision to receive him as a priest was hers, and her decision alone.

Those of us looking at that decision in light of what has since been uncovered, however, have to ask: What evidence possibly could have amounted, in the view of Bishop Jefferts Schori, to a convincing documentation of his "godly and moral character", or have shown that "[his] departure . . . from the Communion to which [he previously] belonged has not arisen from any circumstance unfavorable to moral or religious character"? (I am quoting from the 2003 version of Canon III.11, which ostensibly applied to Bishop Jefferts Schori's decision at the time.)

And if those obvious discrepancies between canon and deed in 2004 were not enough, we have now learned from Bede Parry himself that he had voluntarily cooperated in his dismissal from the Catholic priesthood before he was received as a priest by Bishop Jefferts Schori! Don't even try to think how a former Catholic priest, defrocked for sexually abusing young men, could begin to qualify for reception as a functioning priest in the Episcopal Church. Instead, take a look at the constitutional and canonical provisions to which both he and Bishop Jefferts Schori were subject at the time. Canon III.11.1 (a)(2) required that Fr. Parry supply "[e]vidence of previous Ministry and that all other credentials are valid and authentic" (emphasis added). Yet he confesses that in 2002 he was being dismissed from his orders, and would not have been allowed to remain as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church -- he was not even a suitable candidate to be a monk in a monastery.

"Evidence of previous Ministry" would have been no problem -- Fr. Parry would have to produce only his ordination papers in the Roman Catholic Church, which would have shown that he had been validly ordained as a priest in 1982.

The "other credentials" of which the Canon speaks are not defined. Taking the words in a canonical sense, however, they would be something akin to "letters dimissory" --- credentials from a bishop given to a priest when he leaves that bishop's jurisdiction, and certifying that he served in good standing, and is not departing for any reasons having to do with his moral character. If one thing is certain in this mess, it is that no Catholic bishop or abbot would have given Bede Parry such credentials on his departure from the Catholic Church. Given that fact, what could he have used to prove his prior "good standing" in the Catholic Church when he applied to Bishop Jefferts Schori for reception into the Episcopal Church? She and her Standing Committee must have seen some sort of evidence on that point; otherwise, they could not properly have given him the preliminary certificates of acceptance required by Canon III.11.3, since he went on and was finally received in 2004. How, then, could he have even qualified for such acceptance under Canon III.11.3 in the first place?

Here is a list (in italics) of all the things which that Canon required in 2003 that Bede Parry submit to Bishop Jefferts Schori, as a prerequisite for his even being considered for Episcopal priesthood (my comments and observations are in square brackets):
(1) Evidence that the person is a confirmed adult communicant in good standing in a Congregation of this Church [he would have supplied evidence from his employers at All Saints in Las Vegas];
(2) Evidence of previous Ministry and that all other credentials are valid and authentic [as noted, he easily could have produced proof that he was validly ordained by the Catholic Church in 1982, but that is all; as argued above, he certainly would not have had any kind of certificate or credentials attesting that his departure from the Church had not been for any reasons touching upon his moral character];
(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 [after his dismissal from the Roman Catholic Church, he certainly would have been "free from any (such) vows or engagements," but evidence of the reasons for his dismissal would at the same time have negated any previous submissions of his "moral and godly character" making him fit to be a priest];
(4) Transcripts of all relevant academic and theological studies [this would have required him to submit a transcript from St. John's College of Theology in Minnesota, where he had been briefly suspended for sexual misconduct, and required, as a condition of graduation, to take sexual abuse counseling];
(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 [again, such a certificate must have come from his employers at All Saints in Las Vegas -- but if it had been submitted, it would serve only as evidence that he had lied to them about his background in order to be hired, because it was contradicted by Abbot Polan when he talked to Bishop Jefferts Schori];
(6) Certificates in the forms provided in Canon III.8.6 and III.8.7 from the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge and Vestry of a Parish of this Church [these would again have come from All Saints in Las Vegas, showing their support for his application]; and
(7) A statement of the reasons for seeking to enter Holy Orders in this Church [such a statement would have focused on the need for additional clergy at All Saints, but probably said nothing about the reasons Bede Parry had been ousted from priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church].
And those requirements assume, as we have seen, that Bede Parry had been serving for at least five years as a Minister "in good repute" in the Roman Catholic Church, and so would have no trouble in supplying all the evidences required of his "godly and moral character." Canon III.11, however, is for receiving, as its title states, "Priests and Deacons Ordained in Churches in the Historic Succession but Not in Communion with This Church." It emphatically cannot apply to priests or deacons who have been defrocked by that other church on grounds of immorality, and who hence could not ever establish their "godly and moral character."

Yet all the evidence is that Bishop Jefferts Schori proceeded to issue to him a certificate of his acceptability, and then, after more than a year, to receive him formally under Canon III.11 as a priest in good standing in her Diocese. How could this possibly amount to what the current Bishop of Nevada (the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards) has described as "meticulously follow[ing] the applicable canons"? Bishop Edwards expressly references Canon III.11 as the one which Bishop Jefferts Schori "meticulously followed" -- but as we just saw, that Canon applies only to persons who, at the time of their application to be admitted to Episcopal orders, had "with success" practiced their previous Ministry "for at least five years with good repute", and thus had good credentials to present at the time of their application.

If Bishop Jefferts Schori received Bede Parry under the provisions of Canon III.11, as Bishop Edwards says she did, then she was either grossly negligent, or mightily deceived -- but she could have continued in that state only until she talked with Fr. Parry's former Abbot. That conversation alone, confirmed by Abbot Polan himself, should have raised enough red flags to require a complete reappraisal of Bede Parry's application -- with a resulting determination that he could not be received under Canon III.11, since he could not, with his background, satisfy its requirements. (Being caught lying about one's background in an application, and on such a material matter, should have negated any prior submitted proofs of "godly and moral character" on the spot.)

It is high time, therefore, for charges to be brought against Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for violating the Constitution and Canons of her Church in the matter of Bede Parry, while she was the Bishop of Nevada. (The current disciplinary canons cover offenses committed up to ten years ago, provided that they were offenses so punishable at the time they were committed. Article VIII of ECUSA's Constitution read the same in 2003-2004 as it does now, so the "same offense" requirement is easily satisfied. See the further note on the statute of limitations below.)

Under Article VIII of ECUSA's Constitution, as in effect both in 2003 and now, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, as the diocesan bishop and Ecclesiastical Authority in the Diocese of Nevada, was required to see that
No person shall be ordered Priest or Deacon to minister in this Church until the person shall have been examined by the Bishop and two Priests and shall have exhibited such testimonials and other requisites as the Canons in that case provided may direct.
As we now see from his public admissions on the record, there is simply no possible way that Bede Parry could ever have validly "exhibited the testimonials and other requisites as the Canons . . . may direct" -- including valid and authentic credentials of having been a Catholic priest in good standing, whose departure from that Church was not due to any "circumstance unfavorable to [his] moral or religious character . . .". Another part of the Canon (section 2) also required Parry to supply evidence that he had "exercised a ministry in his previous Church with good repute and success for at least five years . . .". Once again, it would be highly revealing to see what the evidence of "good repute" was which convinced Bishop Jefferts Schori -- especially after she had spoken with Bede Parry's former Abbot, and he had warned her of Fr. Parry's prior offenses and his "proclivity to reoffend with minors."

Just in case the Constitutional prohibition against receiving someone like Bede Parry as an Episcopal priest was not clear enough at the time, there was another paragraph (the fourth) in that same Article VIII which should be brought to bear here. It declares, in relevant part (with emphasis added):
If any Bishop . . . confers ordination as Priest or Deacon upon a Christian minister who has not received Episcopal ordination, the Bishop shall do so only in accordance with such provisions as shall be set forth in the Canons of this Church.
Bede Parry had not "received Episcopal ordination" when Bishop Jefferts Schori welcomed him as a priest into her Diocese at its annual convention in the fall of 2004. By doing so, however, she effectively allowed him to function as a priest canonically resident in her Diocese, just as though she had ordained him -- without requiring that he first satisfy all the canonical requirements to be ordained an Episcopal priest. In other words, even if Bede Parry had come to her initially as a candidate for the priesthood, she never could have begun his ordination process lawfully under the Canons, given his previous record of abusing young males. Her licensing of him, despite his disqualification to be ordained, and especially despite his having lied to her, was thus a second violation of Article VIII, as quoted above.

And we are not done yet. For Article VIII goes on to provide, in its next and fifth paragraph:
No person ordained by a foreign Bishop, or by a Bishop not in communion with this Church, shall be permitted to officiate as a Minister of this Church until the person shall have complied with the Canon or Canons in that case provided . . . .
Once again, this provision applied equally well to the case of Bede Parry, who had been previously ordained "by a Bishop not in communion with this Church." Despite his lying to her in his application, and despite all of his other disqualifying conduct, as cited above, she nevertheless "permitted [him] to officiate as a Minister of this Church" without first complying with all of the applicable canons, in direct violation of ECUSA's Constitution. This violation is the most blatant and direct of the three, because it focuses on just the licensing of Bede Parry in the Diocese of Nevada.

There are thus three Constitutional violations which can be laid at the feet of the Presiding Bishop over her conduct in the Bede Parry case:

1. In violation of the first sentence of Article VIII, Bishop Jefferts Schori gave Episcopal recognition to, and revived in the Episcopal Church, the priestly orders of Bede Parry when the evidence and testimonials he gave to her, and to the diocesan Standing Commission, must have been false. At best, he must have concealed from them the most important facts about his prior abuses -- about which Bishop Jefferts Schori had specifically been advised and warned -- and the consequent reasons for his having been forced out of the Roman Catholic Church in disgrace.

2. In violation of the fourth paragraph of Article VIII, Bishop Jefferts Schori recognized Bede Parry's priestly orders without having complied with the canons for ordaining someone who had not previously been ordained in the Episcopal Church.

3. In violation of the fifth paragraph of Article VIII, Bishop Jefferts Schori licensed Bede Parry to function as a minister in her Diocese without requiring him to comply honestly with all the provisions of Canon III.11 as then in effect.

The new Title IV imposes a two-year statute of limitations on any proceedings for "knowingly violating or attempting to violate" the Church's Constitution and Canons. However, we have it on Bishop Edwards' word that the above offenses were not willful offenses, because every attempt was made to "follow the canons meticulously." Instead, the violations described above -- consisting either of gross negligence or reckless disregard -- would come under the following language of new Canon IV.4.1:
1. (a) . . . [A] Member of the Clergy shall:
. . .
(g) exercise his or her ministry in accordance with applicable provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church and of the Diocese, ecclesiastical licensure or commission and Community rule or bylaws . . . .
For violations of this section, the statute of limitations under Canon IV.19.4 (a) is ten years, and so the period will not expire until October 2014. Under Canon IV.3.3, any such violation "must be material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of this Church." Given the substantial emphasis on screenings for sexual abusers in 2003, however, as I detailed in this earlier post -- and given the role which Bishop Jefferts Schori herself played in promulgating new standards for her Diocese in that same year -- she could hardly assert now that her handling of Bede Parry's application was not "material", or of "clear and weighty importance to the ministry of this Church." In effect, she was substantially involved in seeing comprehensive standards for such screening put into place, and then promptly turned around and ignored those standards in order to receive Bede Parry as a priest.

Another noteworthy addition to the catalog of offenses under the new disciplinary Canons is this section of Canon IV.1:
1. (a) . . . [A] Member of the Clergy shall:
. . .
(f) 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, except for matters disclosed to the Member of Clergy as confessor within the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent;
Under this new provision, therefore, any bishop, priest or deacon in the Episcopal Church (USA) who becomes aware of these facts constituting a probable violation of Canon IV.4.1 (g) by another bishop must report them to the appropriate Intake Officer for disciplinary matters concerning bishops -- and if they do not, they will have committed a violation of the Canons of their own! In this case, the Intake Officer for bishops is the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, of the Church's Office of Pastoral Development, in North Carolina. (His physical address and "800" telephone number are at the link just given.)

Under the new Title IV, Bishop Matthews must conduct an inquiry into the charges, and must make a report to the Reference Panel of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, which in the Presiding Bishop's case, consists of Bishop Matthews, Bishop Dorsey Henderson (the President of the Disciplinary Board), and Bishop Dean Elliott Wolfe, who, as Vice President of the House of Bishops, is designated by Canon to function in the place of the Presiding Bishop when she herself is the subject of disciplinary charges. The charges against her cannot be dismissed in the first instance, unless Bishop Wolfe agrees with Bishop Matthews to dismiss them, and the complainant is notified of that fact (so that he or she may appeal to Bishop Dorsey Henderson, the President of the Disciplinary Board).

If it appears to a majority of the Reference Panel that the charges need to be investigated further, they may refer the case to their appointed Investigator to look into the matter and deliver a full report. Based on that report, the Reference Panel then votes how to proceed further -- to dismiss the charges, to issue a "pastoral directive" to the Presiding Bishop, or to refer the charges to a Conference Panel, as I discussed in detail in this earlier post. But the main thing which Bishop Wolfe (and only Bishop Wolfe can make this call) can do is this, according to Canon IV.7.3:
If at any time the Bishop Diocesan [in this special instance, referring to Bishop Wolfe] determines that a Member of the Clergy may have committed any Offense, or that the good order, welfare or safety of the Church or any person or Community may be threatened by that member of the Clergy, the Bishop Diocesan may, without prior notice or hearing, (a) place restrictions upon the exercise of the ministry of such Member of the Clergy or (b) place such Member of the Clergy on Administrative Leave.
If Bishop Wolfe, therefore, cannot convince the Presiding Bishop privately that she should make a full and fair public statement accounting for her actions in the Bede Parry case, such that everyone could judge whether or not she followed the 2003 Constitution and Canons "meticulously", then he should proceed to inhibit her from acting as Presiding Bishop until she does so, and until the Conference or Hearing Panels of the Disciplinary Board reach a decision as to how to proceed in her case.

Much will depend on how the Presiding Bishop answers these charges against her. She has it in her power to give a full and public explanation, to make an appropriate apology, and to state just what went wrong and to accept responsibility. But unless and until she does so, she is not fit to be sitting in judgment of other bishops' alleged violations of the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA.

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