Monday, February 9, 2015

Of Bishops, Clergy, Discrimination and Accountablity

February 9, 2015
Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:
Like many of you, I was deeply saddened by the news that bicyclist Thomas Palermo had died on December 27 after he was struck by a car driven by Bishop Heather Cook of the Diocese of Maryland. Mr. Palermo’s wife, Rachel, his children, Sadie and Sam, and his family are in my prayers every day. As a parent who has lost a child, I also grieve for Mr. Palermo’s parents, who survive him. I hope that you will consider a donation to the educational trust fund that has been established for his children.
 In the weeks since Mr. Palermo was killed, many people in the church have struggled to understand better how our systemic denial about alcohol and other drug abuse in the church may have contributed to Bishop Cook’s election and confirmation as a bishop even as she seemed to be struggling with addiction. Many Episcopalians are asking what people in positions of authority in the church knew about her history of addiction and driving while under the influence of alcohol. They are also asking why the electors in Maryland and the bishops and standing committees who consented to her election were not made aware of this information, some of which is a matter of public record.
Bishop Cook has been indicted on 13 counts including vehicular homicide and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland has asked her to resign as bishop suffragan. There is also a Title IV investigation underway, and I hope there will be an open reporting of its results that will answer many of these questions.
However, the ongoing Title IV investigation does not relieve those of us who help lead the church of our obligation to acknowledge that the credibility of the process by which we elect bishops is in question. Long before this crisis, many people in the church understood that the process no longer serves us well in some instances. I have served as consultant to six bishop search committees, and I concur. The seeming failure of the process in Maryland lends new urgency to the discussion.
Resolution A002 from The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church asks General Convention to authorize a task force to recommend a new process for selecting bishops to General Convention in 2018, and it is very likely that other resolutions that address the need for transparency and accountability in bishop searches and elections will come before convention as well.
In addition, I have decided to appoint a House of Deputies special legislative committee on alcohol and other drug abuse to review the General Convention’s 1985 policy on alcohol and drug abuse (Resolution A083) as well as propose and receive resolutions on this and related topics. I believe firmly that people who experience addiction can be called by God to lead our church. I have been blessed by the leadership and pastoral gifts of my own bishop, Mark Hollingsworth, who, since before being named a nominee for bishop, has spoken and written openly and powerfully to us about his many years as a recovering alcoholic. I also know that the church can sometimes confuse secrecy and confidentiality, and that our desire for reconciliation can sometimes make us reluctant to confront one another in love. I hope that we can examine our church’s relationship to alcohol and other drugs in a clear-eyed and forthright way, mindful of the systemic issues that can constrain transparency.
These are the measures I can take to help our church repent for our role in Thomas Palermo’s death. I ask each of you to remember that all of us bear responsibility for ensuring that we elect our leaders honestly and transparently. Even until the very last moment, we all bear responsibility for coming forward when we believe that the process has failed us; in fact, in the liturgy of ordination for a bishop, the Presiding Bishop says, “You have been assured of her suitability and that the Church has approved her for this sacred responsibility. Nevertheless, if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 514).
Please join me in praying for our church, for Heather Cook, for the Dioceses of Maryland and Easton, and most especially for the family and friends of Thomas Palermo.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies

I remember protesting the election of Jack Iker in 1991, but because no one in the House of Bishops wanted to take seriously the charge of  his clearly stating that he could not 'support the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church', nothing could stop Jack's consecration.  Neither
the attending bishops, the clergy nor the laity were willing to look forward enough to see what kind of lasting and destructive effect his election would have on the Church.  As Church it was easier to smile and 'be nice' rather than be willing to ask the hard questions that the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin, et, al. were posing with their 'gentleman's agreement' on women's ordination.  

We have a similar 'gentleman's agreement' is now being touted in the House of Bishop's re., the ministry of LGBTQ persons and the bishops are not willing to see what kind of duplicity they are again farming.  Bishops in some areas believe that they have the right to control the priests  of their dioceses as to how they live, what they may wear, who they may see and where they may attend church.  The Diocese of Texas has been especially grievous in this matter since the days of +Benitez.  At least some of this is being rectified by that diocese today, but it does not go far enough to note the damage that the Church has done to LGBTQ persons. 

 The shame with which many of us had to grow up because of not only flawed theology, but outrageous Biblical scholarship, has been held in place by those who are frightened and unable to reflect on a human dignity other than their own. First of all, it is paternalistic, at best.  It is judgmental and discriminatory and worse.  It can leave clergy constantly in fear of losing their jobs, their careers, unable to support themselves or their families simply on the whim of a single person in bishop's orders. According to the canons, a bishop may not do this, but once again, there is no way to bring such charges against a bishop without really ruining one's career.  The Women's Caucus produced a long list of instances where clergy are being bullied by their bishops and it is a growing problem throughout mainline churches. It is an ugly little secret throughout the Church that our juridical officers are unable to be held accountable.

And while I am grateful to +Andy Doyle's leadership in his support of the repeal of discriminatory canons in the Diocese of Texas, this should not be a matter for just a bishop to
decide.  How the clergy may serve and how they may live is a matter for the laity and the clergy to decide also.  If we are to root out discrimination, it cannot be a matter single bishop's opinion.  It must be the will of the diocese; it needs to be canonical.  There must be a willingness of the diocese to fight the discrimination within themselves.  

As for the election of bishops: all too often we go the easiest route to avoid conflict when we go shopping for a new cleric, bishop or priest. In that kind of climate, it is easy to hide.  It is easy to appear 'nice' rather than able to face the conflict in life.  For someone who finds it difficult to address  conflict in their lives, the episcopacy is no place for them in the present-day Church, and for that matter, the ordained ministry of any order.  We need to develop clear system of vetting of candidates who can lead the Church through conflict rather than hide from it.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, role playing, social climbing, are all forms of hiding.  And the Church is full of clergy who play such games  because the structure of the church is no longer one in which transparency and integrity is held as a sacred value.  

When women's ministry in the early 80's began to erode the 'good ole boy' network, where a new clergy person had to 'know someone' in order to get a cure, we replaced it with a computer driven system that ostensibly put everyone on an equal footing.  But these days, it is often the diocese who becomes the lynch pin, for who is called.  It is a different twist on the 'good ole boy's club'.  And bishops still have inordinate control over the clergy's lives in ways that are not healthy and would be considered criminal in the public or private sector.  

General Convention '15 may just be able to begin to address some of these issues because they are fresh.  But my guess is that the House of Bishops, the lower house, will stall any work by the House of Deputies to bring order to the Church that might affect the slow decline of a Church that has lost faith in its leadership. Is this part of checks and balances?  Perhaps, or it may be leading to the kind of log jam we have in Congress that will end up killing us.

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