Saturday, December 17, 2016

BISHOPS BEHAVING BADLY: A CANDID ACCOUNT



Last week I read a Facebook post about a bishop’s resignation, calling the event “another in a long line of bishops behaving badly.” The thread of comments pursued a theme of multiple bishops beset by lechery and larceny. I reacted, perhaps overreacted, because it was an attack on a dear friend at a vulnerable time. But I did not address the basic theme that the church is suffering from “a long line of bishops behaving badly.” Here, I hope to assess that premise, not reactively as I did on FB, but sticking to the facts.

I say this first so you know my perspective. As a lay person and a priest, I never had the experience of a bishop engaged in misconduct. As a bishop, I have had two experiences leading in opposite directions. On the one hand, I have heard stories of bishop misconduct in the 80s and 90s that were a real eye-opener to the dark side of the church. On the other hand, I have never in my life worked with a more sincere, good-hearted, and supportive family of colleagues than the House of Bishops. It was that way when I arrived and has just gotten better as the years go by. I suspect the change may result from better search and screening processes in this century, the work of the College for Bishops, and a generally healthier Church producing generally healthier bishops.

I have been in the House of Bishops for 9 years now. Here’s what I know: I am aware of one case of bishop misconduct of the financial variety that happened in this century but before I was elected. It happened in Ecuador. A new bishop was chosen, but later driven out. It was not because of any misconduct on his part. Really, quite the opposite. Some of the clergy who were used to the old ways, found him too rigorous and upright.

In my near-decade among the Bishops there have been four cases, to my knowledge and recollection, actually prosecuted. There are many investigations. It is not because bishops are inherently corrupt but because we have to make hard decisions, and hard decisions make enemies. Enemies tend to make Title IV accusations to get even or to get their way. When bishops are being oriented, they tell us to brace ourselves for the Title IV complaint. It’s part of the job. I haven’t had one yet, and I attribute that to praying ardently each day for the peace and happiness of my enemies. We all feel the bull’s eye on our backs.

But as I say there have been only 4 cases that I recall in this near-decade, as opposed to hundreds of cases involving priests. We cannot say about the laity because the proposal to apply standards of conduct to the laity was soundly voted down (and a good thing too). So, let’s look at these 4 cases that constitute the “long line of bishops behaving badly” in the fields of lechery and larceny:

One bishop was prosecuted but ultimately not disciplined on a charge. The charge was not any sexual misconduct of his own. 20 year earlier, when he was the rector of a congregation, his brother was a youth leader on staff, and was accused of inappropriate relations with a teenager. The youth director denied it. The rector fired his brother but did not take the case to the police. His restraint was at the request of the teenager’s family. Decades later, when he was a bishop, the charges were brought against him. The other bishops pressured him to resign but he was not formally disciplined.

A bishop was charged and renounced her orders after a DUI-related fatal car accident. I do not mean to mitigate the seriousness of that at all. But it does not fit the mold of lechery and larceny.

A priest had an extra-marital affair. Over a decade later, after he had become a bishop, the old affair came to light. He was suspended and subsequently resigned from his position.

There is currently a high-profile case about the Bishop of Los Angeles. I do not intend to argue the merits of that case here and I hope commentators will keep the case in the ecclesiastical court and not on my page. But the basic facts are: he closed and sold a church to recoup expenses incurred in litigation to save multiple other churches that ACNA secessionists were trying to take away from the diocese. No lechery or larceny involved.

As far as I know, that is it. That is the “long line of bishops behaving badly.” So, here’s my question: Why do we think the episcopacy is scandal-ridden? Does the cloud of old misconduct from the 80s and 90s hang over us? Or do we actually want to imagine that our bishops are corrupt? Do we have an inner Presbyterian? It makes me wonder about depth psychology dynamics like projection and transference. And does this have anything in common with the widespread assumption this year that democracy is a scam, elections are fixed, and scientists are telling us carbon emissions contribute to global warming because such a hoax will somehow enable them to take our money? What are tabloids, expose documentaries, and pseudo-Reality TV doing to the way we look at each other, especially our spiritual leaders?



7 comments:

Sandra Imboden said...

Was your question rhetorical or do you want people to answer? I lost all respect for the house of bishops in 2006 when they voted to elevate Gene Robinson. I personally did not opposed gay bishops but I opposed the way it was done. Our Anglican brothers and sisters pleaded with us to delay. Some of those Anglican bishops were from countries where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. But the hob could not delay and in their hubris cast a vote that would not only damage the Episcopal/Anglican relationship but would damage the relationship between church hierarchy and parishioner. My opinion of the hob is that they are arrogant and stubborn and out-of-touch. What real harm would it have been to delay the vote and engage a dialogue with the AC? Both bodies may have grown and gained from the exchange.
I guess there could be a loose parallel here to the DNC- they too thought they knew best and things ended badly for them - Hubris again!
Once a person or group is viewed as arrogant it is easy to always see the worst in them.

Bishop Dan said...

A real question. Thank you for your input. That is a different reason for disrespecting us. Not that we ae ourselves immoral as the FB post suggest but that we are arrogant liberals. Of course, the Deputies regard us as conservative. But those are both perspectives worth of respect.

Bishop Dan said...

Oh just to refine the history a bit: Gene Robinson's election was 03. I was not there at the time but i know it was a tough vote. There was no formal request from the Anglican Communion bishops not to consent to Gene's election. There wasn't really time for such a thing. The NH election precipitated a crisis. Our standard is that if a Diocese has gone through the proper process to elect a bishop, we consent. It was canonically challenging to find grounds to vote no. Still, I know one bishop who went to Gen Con prepared to vote "no" for the sake of international unity, but hearing the arguments presented at Gen Con felt morally compelled to vote yes. I really don't think that was hubris but integrity at least on his part.

The year you mention 06, the Anglican Communion through the Windsor Report asked TEC to exercise restraint on ordaining gay bishops. The House of Bishops voted to comply -- a vote I assume you would approve. The House of Deputies voted down the restraint resolution defying the Anglican Communion. The outgoing and incoming Presiding Bishops implored the Deputies to change their vote, which they did, but have been angry at the Bishops ever since.

But you are saying that based on the votes of the bishops in 03 and 06, people are justified in accusing us of sexual profligacy and financial sculduggery today?

Tammy Pallot said...

I would say the suspicion you describe about Bishops is the same suspicion that creeps up about vestrys. "They are..._____“ I always wonder who the" they" are? Aren't the members of your vestry the same people you have known, loved, and trusted for years? I suspect the same is true for Bishops. Perhaps it is our propensity to see everything as "us vs them"??? Or, perhaps we just love a good conspiracy, even if it doesn't seem grounded in truth.

Bishop Dan said...

Suspicion of vestries puzzles me. I know it happens, but they are the regular folks in the pews elected by their friends and neighbors. Yet, you are right, Tammy. People suspect them of all sorts of chicanery.


Bishop Dan said...

Suspicion of vestries puzzles me. I know it happens, but they are the regular folks in the pews elected by their friends and neighbors. Yet, you are right, Tammy. People suspect them of all sorts of chicanery.


Bishop Dan said...

Suspicion of vestries puzzles me. I know it happens, but they are the regular folks in the pews elected by their friends and neighbors. Yet, you are right, Tammy. People suspect them of all sorts of chicanery.