Episcopal Church challenged to repent for when it failed to protect victims of sexual exploitation, abuse

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 22, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, issued a call Jan. 22 for the Episcopal Church to spend Lent and beyond examining its history and its handling or mishandling of cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.

The two say in a letter to the church that recent “compelling testimony from women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men has turned our minds to a particularly difficult passage of holy scripture.” The story of the rape of King David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22), they said, “is a passage in which a conspiracy of men plots the exploitation and rape of a young woman. She is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned.

“It is a Bible story devoid of justice.”

Jennings announced the letter during the opening session of the winter meeting of the church’s Executive Council at the Maritime Institute Conference Center outside Baltimore.

She and Curry call in their letter for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on Feb.14, during which Episcopalians should meditate on how the church has “failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment.”

“We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance,” they wrote.

They added that a Lenten discipline for the church would be to “consider how to redouble the church’s effort build “communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

Curry and Jennings said: “As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent.”

The two presiding officers also want to have General Convention discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”

Jennings told the council that many Christians might think that such exploitation and abuse happen only in Hollywood or in business and industry “but not in the holy work we do.” However, she said, “those problems have been endemic in our culture in the church for far longer than Hollywood, or tech culture, or corporate journalism have existed.”

On the agenda

Executive Council is meeting Jan. 22-24. A major agenda item is finishing work on the canonically required draft of the 2019-2021 churchwide budget. Jennings said the current working version is filled with “big dreams and limited resources.” She told council that the final version of the budget hinges, in part, “on our ability to have holy, respectful, and civil conversations about how we allocate our resources for God’s work in the world.”

According to the joint rules of General Convention (II.10.c.ii on page 227 here), council must give its draft budget to General Convention’s Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance (PB&F) no less than four months before the start of General Convention (essentially by February of convention year). PB&F will meet next from Feb. 5-7 to begin work on that draft budget.

Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) has been crafting the draft budget for much of the current triennium, gathering information and input from committees, the churchwide staff, dioceses and Episcopalians. While council is not required to give PB&F a balanced budget, that is FFM’s goal, the Rev. Mally Lloyd, the committee member leading the budget work, told council Jan. 22.

The committee has eliminated a large gap between anticipated revenue and those big dreams Jennings mentioned. The deficit was just more than $12 million at the start of council’s October meeting and $8 million at the end.

Council then asked the church for input on the budget in November and posted a version showing that FFM had reduced the deficit to $4.5 million.

On Jan. 22, Lloyd and FFM chair Tess Judge showed the council a current working draft that is essentially balanced. Revenue is increased based on the fact that diocesan income was up nearly 3 percent in 2016 over 2015. Based on the formula used to calculated diocesan payments to the churchwide budget, that means $2 million more in the coming triennium.


What Judge called exceptional investment performance in 2017 of 20 percent added $1 million to the anticipated income for the coming triennium, based on how the draw on investment income is calculated.

In addition, Lloyd said “we adjusted every single expense line a little bit” to trim $1.5 million, thus making up the $4.5 million deficit.

“Brothers and sisters, we still have some work to do,” Judge told council members, explaining that some line items still need to be tweaked after talking with staff.

Judge and Lloyd stressed that it is hard to do a line-by-line comparison of the current budget and the draft of the 2019-2021 plan. The current budget was structured around the Five Marks of Mission while the draft is built on categories of the Jesus Movement. “It’s a lot of new things and a lot of changed things in this budget,” Lloyd said. Council discussed how to note those differences in the document it sends to PB&F.

Council is due to vote on the final version of its draft budget on Jan. 24.

The rest of the meeting

After the opening plenary on Jan. 22, council spent the rest of the day meeting in its five committees. Council will meet again in plenary the morning of Jan. 23. The members will approve its Blue Book report to General Convention and elect the bishop member to its Anglican Consultative Council delegation. On Jan. 24, council committees will each report to the full body, proposing resolutions for the full body to consider.

Some council members are tweeting from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1). The council comprises 38 members – 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons, and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. In addition, the vice president of the House of Deputies, secretary, chief operating officer, treasurer and chief financial officer have a seat and voice but no vote.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (10)

  1. Richard Basta says:

    Of course we should not tolerate sexual abuse or exploitation of and by both genders. However, in this case , the concept of corporate guilt and thus repentance tends to bear false witness against those church members who do not or did not participate in this sin. That’s my opinion. Others may feel differently, which is fine.

  2. Eliza Linley says:

    It is most frequently clergymen in positions of power who have committed these abuses. And clergy- and laywomen who have suffered. Not sure that calling the whole church to repentance rings true here. It may be adding insult to injury for many.

  3. Eric Bonetti says:

    The reality is that the church is far from safe. When I asked the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to mediate a dispute with my rector under the aegis of Title IV, it not only dismissed the matter, but it knowingly ignored retaliation by the rector. Most recently, +Shannon sent out a letter saying he supports the two clergy involved and criticizing family members for refusing to be reconciled. Absent so much as an apology to family members, why on earth would anyone expect reconciliation?

  4. richard Waller says:

    Very good. Possibly the church might summon up the moral courage to confront the Trump regime.

  5. georgina hegney says:

    This is painful subject and I respect that some who have been victimized may choose not to revisit their experience. But inviting the voice of those who suffered is an important part of repentance and re-turning the church to health and wholeness. Those victimized directly and those who perpetrated these offenses are being invited into a conversation that will aid in healing brokenness. And we are called to examine not only individual sin but corporate sin, that is, a systemic silence over many years. I cannot help but believe the silence we were met with in response to clergy misconduct in the church of my childhood was in part intended to spare members embarrassment in the larger community, avoid conflict in the congregation, and protect the children. Sins committed on our behalf… Our lamentation can only truly begin when we begin to hear the stories of pain and loss.

  6. Richard Price says:

    You mean in the same way it summoned up the courage to confront the Clinton regime?

  7. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    “Exceptional investment performance in 2017”. Thank you President Trump.

  8. Bill Louis says:

    How did this article go from sexual abuse reconciliation to one about the 2019-2022 budget? I know its a painful issue for the church and the article was really a softball coverage of a serious issue but why did it disappear? Too many negative comments?

  9. Fran Coleman says:

    What Georgina Hegney said.

  10. I applaud the Presiding Bishop’s and the President’s call from the House of Deputies to invite, listen deeply to, and seek justice with respect to documented stories of sexual harassment within TEC. Their call has encouraged me to share (with their suggested #ChurchToo hashtag) the following story: https://medium.com/@sarahlaughed/churchtoo-another-metoo-moment-in-the-episcopal-church-66644531175

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