Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, the President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, Ms. Julia Ayala Harris, wrote a letter to deputies, informing them that she had been the victim of unwanted physical contact and inappropriate comments from a retired bishop at the last General Convention in 2021. She filed Title IV disciplinary charges, which have been in process over the last year, and has just been notified that the church attorney (similar to a prosecuting attorney in a court case) had referred the matter for a “pastoral response” rather than further disciplinary proceedings. She was very disappointed in this response. It is important to say that a “pastoral response” can include non-public disciplinary actions (e.g., the Presiding Bishop could impose restrictions on the bishop’s ministry). But I can understand her disappointment.
The retired bishop involved in the situation has now been identified as The Rt. Rev. Edward Konieczny, whom I served as Canon in the Diocese of Oklahoma from 2017-19. This revelation has been heartbreaking for me. I ask your prayers for the Diocese of Oklahoma, its current bishop, The Rt. Rev. Poulson Reed, and for all who are devastated by this revelation.
President Ayala Harris’ letter opened up a wide conversation across the church, as you might imagine. We who follow Jesus have an obligation to do all in our power to support “the lease of these,” and to protect victims against any kind of abuse. Sadly, there have been several other high-profile Title IV charges against bishops in the last few years, and there is a perception across the church that bishops receive more lenient treatment than priests or deacons in Title IV cases. While I don’t have enough information about the events that President Ayala Harris experienced to express an opinion about that case, I want you to know that I am fully committed to work toward full accountability for all bishops, and for all orders of ministry in the church.
To that end, I worked with several other female bishops in Province VIII (i.e., the western states) to draft a letter to the Presiding Bishop, requesting that time be set aside at our upcoming House of Bishops meeting for a full discussion on this issue. That letter began as a small endeavor, and grew to include nearly 60 signatures from bishops across the church. I anticipate that significant time will be devoted to this issue at our upcoming House of Bishops meeting. That meeting was originally scheduled to be held in person, and was moved to Zoom due to the Presiding Bishop’s health issues. This will necessarily limit the scope of the conversation, but I anticipate that the work will continue far beyond this meeting.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry responded to the revelations on Tuesday of this week with a statement to the church, calling for the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons to review the Title IV provisions for bishops.
A discussion at the House of Bishops is only a first step, and a review of our Title IV canons is only a second step. Many more steps need to be taken to protect victims in our church, and ensure that every person in God’s church is safe and protected. For now, I want you to know the following:
I ask your prayers for our church, for President Ayala Harris, for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and for all who are vulnerable. Please pray for me, as I pray for all of you.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Susan Brown Snook
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego
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