Three presiding bishop candidates have faced Title IV disciplinary claims; two cases remain active

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 13, 2024
Duncan-Probe, Guttiérrez, Wright

From left, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez and Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright.

[Episcopal News Service] Three of the five candidates for 28th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church have been the focus of pending or recently dismissed Title IV disciplinary cases in the past six months, according to information released June 13 by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

Two of the bishops face active cases under the church’s Title IV canons: An anonymous complainant has alleged that Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe “publicly misrepresented her academic credentials,” and Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez is accused by an unidentified complainant of mishandling a diocesan disciplinary case involving allegations of sexual misconduct by a priest.

Two additional, prior Title IV complaints against Duncan-Probe and Gutiérrez were both investigated and dismissed by churchwide authorities, as was a separate complaint against Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, according to Curry’s June 13 letter. It was co-signed by the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, the House of Bishops vice president who serves as presiding bishop-designate in some Title IV cases.

“While our canons do not require the kind of disclosure we are making today, they do leave room for the presiding bishop or presiding bishop-designate to exercise discretion in Title IV matters when sharing information is pastorally appropriate,” Curry and Gray-Reeves wrote. “In this instance, we believe disclosure is pastorally appropriate because the subjects of the complaints are people who have been nominated as our next presiding bishop, and this disclosure protects the integrity of the presiding bishop election.”

Electing and confirming a new presiding bishop to serve a nine-year term will be a top order of business for the 81st General Convention when it convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky. The five candidates who will stand for election on June 26 are Duncan-Probe, Gutiérrez, Wright, Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York.

Disciplinary cases against bishops have generated increasing scrutiny over the past year, as Episcopal leaders churchwide have raised concerns about a perception that bishops are not held to the same standards as other clergy under the church’s Title IV canons. Curry ordered the launch of a new website in February to promote greater transparency in such cases and to make it easier to file claims and follow their progress.

“As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we know that the call to lead comes with an extra measure of accountability, and we believe that balancing appropriate confidentiality with appropriate transparency will help increase trust that our church is a safe place for all of God’s children,” Curry and Gray-Reeves said. “We provide this information with the caution that our canons make it clear that all persons against whom allegations are made are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

The case against Duncan-Probe stems from an anonymous report filed with the Title IV intake officer for bishops on May 5, less than three weeks after she was named as a petition candidate for the 28th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church.

Duncan-Probe, in a June 13 message to her Syracuse-based diocese, denied the allegation that she has not been truthful about a doctorate she earned in 2013. “It is my full expectation that this Title IV will soon be completed and dismissed,” she said.

Duncan-Probe, 61, has led the Diocese of Central New York since 2016. Her diocesan biography indicates that after a career in education and business, she earned a Master of Divinity degree from The General Theological Seminary in New York. The webpage also says she holds “a Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Foundation, completed at Oxford University.”

“Throughout my tenure as your bishop, I have welcomed questions about this degree, notably because it was a transformative time and I am proud of this degree!” Duncan-Probe wrote in her June 13 message. She affirmed that she was accepted in 2010 into a doctoral program through the Graduate Theological Foundation that was affiliated with England’s prestigious Oxford University. All course work, she said, was completed at Oxford’s Christ Church, and she was tutored by Oxford faculty.

“In 2013, I submitted my doctoral thesis and defended my degree at Christ Church before a doctoral panel that included two of my Oxford tutors and the president of GTF,” she said. She described the doctorate as “what is commonly referred to as a professional degree or a ‘third tier degree,’ because although GTF was licensed to confer the degree, they were not accredited by the federal government.”

Duncan-Probe added that she has submitted documentation verifying her degree in response to the Title IV complaint, and the background checks conducted by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop included verification of her academic credentials.

Less is known about the pending complaint against Gutiérrez, 59, who has led the Philadelphia-based Diocese of Pennsylvania since 2016. The information released by Curry and Gray-Reeves did not identify the priest or complainant, who filed a report on June 5.

When contacted by ENS, the diocese shared a message Gutiérrez’s sent to the standing committee and trustees, in which he denied any wrongdoing.

“I have not been informed of any specific act or failure to act that, if proven, suggests a violation of our canons and therefore cannot offer a more detailed explanation regarding these events. Moreover, as others have already noted, the timing of this filing is curious.” Gutiérrez wrote.

“Bishops in this process find themselves in the difficult position of caring for everyone involved – complainant, injured parties and respondents. In the matter related to this current charge, I acted as a pastor to both the complainant and respondent as was appropriate to my role as bishop and, as a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Jennifer Tucker, the diocese’s communications director, told ENS that the underlying priest misconduct case is three years old, fueling concerns that “Title IV is being weaponized” in the complaint this month against Gutiérrez.

The previous Title IV complaint against Gutiérrez was filed May 15 and dismissed May 28. In that case, the anonymous complainant accused the bishop of being too harsh in disciplining a priest and “for allegedly failing to provide adequate pastoral support to the parish,” according to Curry’s and Gray-Reeves’ letter. Tucker said that matter is unrelated to the separate complaint filed June 5.

In the prior complaint against Duncan-Probe, filed in December 2023, the complainant criticized her for ending an ordination discernment process. The intake officer dismissed that case in February.

The case against Wright, the Atlanta bishop, already had been publicized by the complainant, Catherine Meeks, who accused the bishop of “ageism, ableism, microaggressions and abuse of power” while Meeks was serving as executive director of the Atlanta-based Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. Meeks, who retired at the end of 2023, filed her Title IV complaint in December 2023, and it was dismissed in February.

Curry, in a phone interview with ENS, underscored the importance of full transparency on such matters as the church looks ahead to the election of a new presiding bishop.

“We want the church to be able to have trust in the election process,” Curry said. “This is for the good and welfare of us all as the church.”

When asked if there had been any other Title IV complaints against the five candidates for presiding bishop, Curry responded that these cases were the only complaints he and his staff were aware of. “We put out anything we knew,” he said.

The five candidates are scheduled to address bishops and deputies in a two-hour session on June 21. The nominating committee will formally submit their names June 25 during a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, and on June 26, the House of Bishops will hold a closed session at Christ Church Cathedral for the election. The bishops then will ask the House of Deputies to vote to confirm the election result.

The 28th presiding bishop is scheduled to take office on Nov. 1, and an installation is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Washington National Cathedral, the traditional seat of the presiding bishop.

The presiding bishop has a range of responsibilities, as outlined by The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Those include presiding over the House of Bishops, chairing Executive Council, visiting every Episcopal diocese, participating in the ordination and consecration of bishops, receiving and responding to disciplinary complaints against bishops, making appointments to the church’s interim bodies, and “developing policies and strategies for the church and speaking for the church on the policies, strategies and programs of General Convention.”

– 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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