Being a Church of Justice
Dear Presiding Bishop Curry, President Jennings, and our brothers and sisters in the House of Bishops,
We write as lay and clergy members of the Task Force for Compassionate Care for Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. In November we published a report of our work to integrate trauma-informed care into our processes, particularly regarding our care of victims of sexual misconduct in the Church.
On January 1, 2019, Presiding Bishop Curry and President Jennings issued a letter to the Church about General Convention lifting of statute of limitations regarding sexual misconduct, encouraging victims of sexual misconduct to come forward, stating, “As a result of this resolution [D034], from January 1, 2019 until December 31, 2021, those who wish to bring a case of sexual misconduct against a member of the clergy will be able to do so, regardless of how long ago the alleged misconduct occurred.” (Emphasis added.)
Since the publication of this letter, and the publicity our task force’s report has received, we have been contacted by victims of clergy sexual misconduct who are now undergoing Title IV processes because of the lifting of the statute of limitations.
Along the way we have discovered the staggering news that some within our church are interpreting paragraph 5 of the resolution (Canon IV.19.4(d) on page 256 of the 2018 Canons) to mean that the lifting of the statute of limitations inexplicably had embedded within it another statute of limitations, namely January 1, 1996. This is clearly not what the letter communicated and, if accurate, effectively nullifies the expressed intent of the resolution.
Having spoken with several bishops and deputies, we have observed that this is not the intent of any bishop or deputy we’ve spoken to who voted for D034. Indeed, it is not, actually, what the language of Canon IV.19.4(d) on page 256 of the 2018 Canons says.
Nevertheless, some are apparently choosing this interpretation, even though it clearly runs counter to the spirit, the intent, and the language of the resolution. This misinterpretation of the resolution leaves room for obfuscation and the silencing of claims stemming from events prior to 1996.
We understand that a number of chancellors spent time at the recent executive council meeting in Oklahoma City, wrestling with the resolution, and the resulting canon, trying to find a way forward. We are grateful, because real people are being impacted by the confusion and ambiguity that have been wrought, which (if actual), we hoped was the result of a mistake by well-intended people, as bishops and deputies wrapped up their work.
The result is, in itself, incredibly re-traumatizing to anyone whose assault or abuse or harassment happened before January 1996. Left unresolved, this ambiguity and its fallout leaves victims with the painful impression that their story doesn’t matter, there is no justice for them, and the Church does not truly care to do the right thing by them, nor ensure that the Church is safe from their perpetrators.
In fact, this situation will now re-traumatize all survivors, whether or not their complaints are excluded due to this narrowed window. The first casualty of clergy sexual misconduct is the victim’s ability to trust, and to trust the Church in particular. When it shows itself to be untrustworthy, the Church echoes and compounds that original betrayal of trust. Though unintentional, this offering and then rescinding a suspension of the statute of limitations will represent a betrayal of trust. All survivors will be re-traumatized, deepening and extending the harm already done to them by the Church.
In our view, this could not possibly have been the intent when this legislation was drafted. But this is where we are. Real people are being impacted, are being re-traumatized by the Church. This is not what it means to be the beloved community, what it means to walk the way of love.
We are your sisters and brother who love you, who want to trust you, and who want to be able to trust this church. We beg you, please do whatever you can to assure that this damaging and spiritually dangerous situation is corrected.
We are mindful that the house of bishops will be meeting very soon. We implore you to address this matter when you are convened at Kanuga. If executive council is not in a position to act and fix this before General Convention reconvenes in 2021, we urge the presiding bishop and president of the house of deputies and the house of bishops together, to appeal strongly to bishops and intake officers who come upon cases dating before 1996 to offer the victims a compassionate pastoral response as a matter of conscience, and a sincere apology for this devastating error, even if they cannot yet offer them an appropriate canonical response. As those voting to lift the statute of limitations recognized, it is time for the church to do the right thing.
We urge the presiding bishop and the president of the house of deputies to acknowledge that they, too, misunderstood the canonical realities of D034, to apologize to victims who were unintentionally misled by their letter of January 1, and who then made themselves vulnerable, only to be hurt, again. We urge you to work purposefully and with a sense of urgency to ensure that when General Convention meets again in 2021, the statute of limitations will be lifted—for real this time—that this time the Church will get it right when trying to do the right thing.
In the meantime, please do not give up trying to make this right, to make real justice happen, now, without delay. Because we all want this church to be safe, to be a church of justice, and a church that not only wants to do the right thing, but does the right thing.
In this we all may become the beloved community, and indeed walk the way of love.
Your hopeful sisters and brother in Christ,
The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego
Task Force for the Compassionate Care of Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct:
The Rev. Paige Blair-Hubert
Mary Doak, PhD
The Rev. Roy Hoffman, DMin
Ms. Lynne Fish
Ms. Catherine Thiemann