Young Adult Caucus’ letter urges reforms of church’s Title IV clergy disciplinary process

By David Paulsen
Posted May 29, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The House of Deputies’ Young Adult Caucus has issued a letter to the 81st General Convention amplifying churchwide calls for reform of The Episcopal Church’s Title IV disciplinary canons for bishops and other clergy.

The letter, submitted as a memorial resolution, expresses “grave concern” about the current state of clergy discipline “and the inconsistent application of the canons that has been observed throughout the church over many years.” An online hearing on the resolution was held May 28 by the bishops’ and deputies’ Title IV legislative committees.

Eva Warren, a deputy from the Diocese of Ohio, testifies May 28 in an online hearing held by General Conventions’ committees on Title IV.

Eva Warren, a Diocese of Ohio deputy and chair of the Young Adult Caucus, testified in support of the resolution, saying its goal was to highlight key weaknesses of the Title IV canons and underscore areas of potential reform.

“We are heartened that many of our suggestions dovetail neatly with resolutions already under consideration before this committee, and we hope that our memorial statement underscores our support for these broader reforms,” Warren said. She also urged more attention to ways that current disciplinary processes don’t comply with canonical policies and fall short of ensuring pastoral care for people navigating those processes.

General Convention, the church’s primary governing body, divides its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Parallel committees from each house, though distinct, typically meet together for hearings and deliberation on resolutions organized around two dozen topic areas. The bishops’ and deputies’ committees on Title IV were assigned at least 24 resolutions, including several proposed in response to increasing concerns in the past year over the perception that bishops were not held to the same disciplinary standards as other clergy.

If enacted, some of the proposed canonical changes would expand the range of outcomes for the disciplinary process, limit the role of intake officers, increase checks on the authority of church attorneys, adjust how investigators are appointed, enable suspension of bishops like those of priest suspensions, and update the descriptions of the outcome in cases that end in a “pastoral response” with more specific language.

Fourteen of the Title IV resolutions were proposed by the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons. In its report to the 81st General Convention, it noted that its work last year took on greater “scope and urgency” after Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris separately urged action in response to growing calls for renewed scrutiny of Title IV related to several cases involving bishops.

The church’s Court of Review, with responsibilities that include hearing disciplinary appeals, proposed four of the resolutions assigned to General Convention’s Title IV committees. One of them, Resolution A104, would require Title IV cases to be resolved within 15 months after the disciplinary complaints are filed.

Three additional resolutions were proposed by a task force that studied the church’s anti-harassment practices. Its recommendations included the creation of a churchwide database “which will hold all pastoral responses, pastoral directions, accords, and decisions regarding clergy discipline, for the purpose of transparency, integrity, and accountability of all clergy search processes in The Episcopal Church.” That resolution, A026, is being revised after generating discussion within the committees over the benefits, challenges and effectiveness of maintaining such a database.

Another resolution, D025, was proposed and endorsed by members of the Young Adult Caucus. It would mandate that a “church-wide intake officer” be available when requested to receive and respond to disciplinary complaints against priests and clergy, a responsibility that now falls solely to the intake officers appointed locally in each of the church’s 108 dioceses.

The Rev. Christine Faulstich, in her testimony on D025, questioned the viability of such a plan. As canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Texas, Faulstich is one of the diocese’s two Title IV intake officers. Their work “takes up a fair amount of our time,” she said, and a churchwide intake officer’s work could be exponentially greater.

The Young Adult Caucus also expressed support for a churchwide intake officer in its memorial resolution. “Additionally, we urge the church to discern the value of third-party intake officers, particularly specialized in this area,” the resolution says, “to provide greater trust in the integrity of the Title IV process, particularly at initial intake.”

“This caucus does not profess to have all the answers about Title IV reform, but we are gravely concerned about revelations, past and present, demonstrating instances in which Title IV has failed to protect our church and the faith of our communities that we love and serve,” the caucus’ resolution concludes. “By acting now we have the opportunity to build trust in our church and demonstrate how we care for each other.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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