Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Episcopalians React to a Church Scandal: Laity Get Swift Justice, Bishops, not so Much

In our small corner of Episcodom, a recent sex scandal has resulted in a parishioner who worked with church youth being barred from church property, and his ministry being terminated. The church has sent out a letter advising parishioners that nothing happened on church property. While we usually operate under the presumption of innocence, the church has to reconcile its hopes that the accused is innocent with the requirements of "Safe Church" policies that the safety of our children must be assured.

That is one way to handle things, at least for scandals involving a lay person. Do it quickly and decisively, but that is not how things work if you are a bishop.

In the past, Bishop Bennison of Pennsylvania got into trouble in a case that dragged on for years for not acting on the sexual misconduct of his brother with an underage girl,
"The basis of the misconduct charge was that Bishop Bennison had failed to respond appropriately to his brother’s actions when his brother served as the bishop’s youth minister in a California parish 35 years ago, and that Bishop Bennison had conspired to cover up the scandal." (See George Conger's pages)
In the end, Bishop Bennison refused to resign after almost everybody advised him to quit.

Hopefully we have learned to avoid covering things like that up.

More recently we learned about the Bishop of Lexington and his past adultery.
"On 14 March 2016 the Rt. Rev. Douglas Hahn wrote to his diocese confessing: “Several years ago - long before I was your bishop - I engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with an adult woman parishioner."
A priest having an affair with a parishioner is both a misuse of power as well as adultery. It is similar but not identical to the misuse of power that a youth minister might exert over one of their charges. At least for Bishop Hahn it was with an adult woman. The discipline imposed by the Episcopal Church? One year's suspension.

Adultery is considered a minor offense in the modern Episcopal church, and bishops and priests have been making up the rules regarding adultery and remarriage for the last 50 years ever since abandoning lessons derived from scripture, so they can pretty much make it up as they go. At this point, I guess they treat each other the same way they treat their parishioners, they get a spanking with a wet noodle, but in so doing they also are looking after their own. We once had a priest who got a nasty divorce, and the parish church, unable to justify to the Bishop that the priest should go, had to live with it.

At Anglican Ink you can read a bit of the history of Episcopalian discipline in regards to the scandal of adultery. If you remember how the Church handled the scandal of the Righter trial and its tortuous arguments, then you can guess how this current scandal will turn out, or simply let Bishop Hahn summarize,
"Bishop Hahn wrote the new disciplinary procedures were designed not to punish to but 'designed to help create healing and reconciliation'”.
"Discipline" being effectively re-defined is no longer disciplinary in its effect.

"Healing" is Episcospeak meaning, "This is going to hurt someone else a lot more than it is going to hurt you."

"Reconciliation" is Episcospeak meaning, "We pewsitters are getting screwed again."

The new definition of discipline in action: The bishop will get a year off without pay while the diocese will have to shell out money to hire a substitute for any confirmations, ordinations, or disciplinary actions that come up in the interim, and once the year is up, Bishop Hahn puts on his miter and resumes his job as if nothing had ever happened.

Would this bishop have gotten elected to his position if the nominating committee, or the laity, or the clergy had known of his past? The Standing Committee of Lexington will have to reconcile themselves to the fact that they are powerless to impose any harsher sanctions. If they were a real board of directors of a real corporation and found out that their CEO had withheld potentially scandalous details of his past, they would have fired the guy who they had hired under false pretenses and brought in a new CEO to try to save the business. They should learn from the Bishop Bennison case that they are stuck with him.

In the meantime, I hope the Standing Committee of Lexington will consider removing the door from Bishop Hahn's office...  in the interest of transparency of course.

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