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Bishop Susan’s Letter on Church Accountability

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.

 

In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Susan Brown Snook

Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego

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Category: #Advocacy, #Bishop's Blog, #Communications, #Repentance & Reconciliation

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6 replies to “Bishop Susan’s Letter on Church Accountability

  1. Judith Conley | on September 6, 2023

    Thank you and all who have taken the stand to speak out for the safety of our Community, and for those who are offenders, to be treated justly.

  2. Michael Lawless | on September 6, 2023

    Bishop Brown Snook. Thanks for your attention to an issue that is sensitive and important. It is courageous to confront the incident as you have.

    I am a semi-retired professor and former Roman Catholic. I am aware of the special trust that is placed in us.

    You have my thoughts, prayers, and good wishes through this difficult process.

    Best, Michael Lawless

  3. Judy Burton | on September 7, 2023

    Thanks for your diligence and transparency Bishop Susan. Prayers that the Holy Spirit be the guiding light in these discussions and deliberations.

  4. Belinda Long | on September 7, 2023

    Bishop Susan,
    Thank you for response and action involving this extremely important issue. We at St Mary’s Ramona stand in prayer and support with you and the diocese of San Diego and all Episcopal churches world wide. May you be directed by love of Christ.
    Regards,
    Belinda Long-Flynn
    St Mary’s In The Valley
    ECW

  5. gary m. owen | on September 7, 2023

    People, including bishops, of advanced years and many raised or residing in
    different parts of our nation, lived
    in times and places where differing
    standards of appropriate speech and
    touch prevailed.
    I myself have had to learn new
    boundaries. Some do not.
    I offer the above NOT to excuse
    behaviors offensive and intrusive in present the present day but to
    express support for your efforts
    now and always to bring ALL on
    board with the highest standards
    of respectful speech and conduct.
    Accountability regardless of Title?
    YES! Bless you for taking on this difficult task.

  6. Sally Anne Verkleeren | on September 10, 2023

    Bishop Susan
    I am encouraged by your commitment. Having had a retired priest do a weird prayer over me at a social event several years ago that was not requested or appreciated. I felt very violated. I can imagine when the comments are worse the violation goes deeper and more damaging. At some point repercussions should include prevention by excluding the guilty from events, and even losing title and in worse case even retirement. When to involve police has always been placed aside. My prayers are for justice and prevention combined so a problem will not continue Thank you.

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