In 2004 the Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts Schori, received a former Roman Catholic priest, Bede Parry, as a priest in the Episcopal Church. What made this instance of a relatively common phenomenon remarkable is that Parry had sexually abused minors under his care as a Roman Catholic priest, he had been barred from exercising his ministry in that church, and this was known to the Bishop of Nevada when she received him into TEC.
The question of how a former Roman Catholic priest who has admitted to repeated abuse of minors under his care and who agreed to be laicized could have been received into TEC as a priest has been much discussed. It is startling that the Diocese of Nevada acknowledges that it was aware of his past misconduct, including a police report, prior to his reception, but proffers the reassurance that the Bishop and Commission on Ministry
did not decide to put children at risk. By accepting Fr. Bede as a priest, they were determining that he was not a threat to children.
Few have found this very reassuring, especially since a near-contemporaneous psychological evaluation made by the Roman Catholic Church shortly before Parry began his process of reception into TEC found that he had a “proclivity to re-offend with minors.” Indeed, notwithstanding the prior determination of safety by the diocese, Parry immediately tendered his resignation as a priest in TEC — characterized by Episcopal News Service as Parry’s “renouncing his orders” — the moment his past conduct became public knowledge.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this entire matter is that immediately after accepting Parry’s resignation the current Bishop of Nevada, Dan Edwards, also said of the original decision:
It was a multi-level decision which meticulously followed the applicable canons. …
As I review what was done 2002-2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained.
And TEC’s Office of Public Affairs, working for the Presiding Bishop, released a statement at the same time that emphasized:
Diocese of Nevada Bishop Dan Edwards and his staff have reviewed the records and shared with appropriate commissions and the diocesan chancellor, and they confirmed there were no departures from established policies and procedures. As in all Diocese of Nevada workings, all canons were followed; all policies and procedures were followed, and continue to be followed. (Emphasis added.)
The canonical implications of this have been much discussed, most ably by Allan Haley who concludes to the contrary that there were canonical violations in this process. We believe Haley makes a strong case. Our purpose, however, is not to debate this point, but instead to consider the implications of the position taken by the Diocese of Nevada and the Office of Public Affairs: that a child abuser could knowingly be received into TEC’s priesthood while complying “meticulously” with all canons, policies and procedures. If true, this is a bigger cause for concern than what may have been a one-time canonical violation. That bishops violate the canons is hardly news. That confessed child abusers are not barred by TEC’s child abuse policies is more troubling.
Bede Parry Was a Typical Abuser
In his defense of the actions of the Diocese of Nevada, Bishop Edwards begins with an odd claim:
First, what this story is not: This is not the horrifying story of a predatory pedophile priest who is passed from parish to parish so he can continue his predatory behavior. Far from it. For those who have the story of the predatory pedophile fixed in their minds, it will be difficult to hear and accept the actual facts. These facts will not fit their entrenched assumptions. But if we are to tell the truth, we must tell a different story.
He then elaborates:
An incident with a late adolescent, while certainly morally wrong, and unquestionably a matter for serious concern, does not indicate pedophilia. Pedophilia is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. It is a condition that is usually compulsive, so repeated misconduct is common. American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 1994) (DSM IV) Pedophilia Sec. 302.2 pp. 527-528. Fr. Bede is not a pedophile. This is not a moral difference but it is a psychological difference that matters a great deal in determining whether someone is likely to err again.
This claim at the heart of Bishop Edwards’s defense is misplaced for two reasons. First, if the diocese knowingly received as a priest someone who sexually abused minors under his care, it is of no consequence that the priest was not also a pedophile in the clinical sense.
More significantly, however, Bede Parry fit in almost every respect the standard profile of clerical abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. He was a typical abuser.
The 2011 John Jay report prepared for the United States Conference of Catholic bishops summarized the research conducted over the last decade with the following:
Less than 5 percent of the priests with allegations of abuse exhibited behavior consistent with a diagnosis of pedophilia (a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by recurrent fantasies, urges, and behaviors about prepubescent children). Thus, it is inaccurate to refer to abusers as “pedophile priests.” (p. 3)
The majority of victims (81 percent) were male, in contrast to the distribution by victim gender for sexual crimes in the United States. National incidence studies have consistently shown that in general girls are three times more likely to be abused than boys. Despite this widely accepted statistic on victim gender, recent studies of sexual abuse of minors within institutions have shown a higher percentage of male than female victims. (pp. 9-10; footnotes omitted)
“The majority of victims were pubescent or postpubescent,” with 78 percent being 11 and older. (p. 10) In their earlier 2004 report, the John Jay team noted more specifically that “the majority of victims are males between the ages of 11-17.” (p. 70)
And based on their analysis of both the formal allegations and “potential allegations” (known indications of abuse that were not the subject of formal allegations presented to the dioceses) the John Jay team concluded in 2004 (p. 52) that half of the Roman Catholic priests who abused minors did so to more than one victim. And these “serial abusers” were more likely to be reported to the police than those who abused only one victim. (p.64)
To summarize, half of the Roman Catholic abusers had more than one victim; fewer than five percent were clinical pedophiles. There were nine non-pedophile repeat abusers for every pedophile. To say that Parry was not a pedophile tells us virtually nothing about whether he was likely to abuse again. And his own history confirms this: he acknowledges that he was a repeat abuser, and the psychological evaluation performed shortly before he began the process of being received into TEC found that he had a proclivity to re-offend with minors. Bishop Edwards’s excursus on clinical precision is an irrelevant detour.
The Roman Catholic Response
In January 2002 the Boston Globe began a series of reports exposing abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church. Later that year the bishops responded with a new policy, subsequently revised and commonly known as the “Dallas Charter,” that implemented a “one strike and you’re out” policy. It cannot be a coincidence that in that same year, 2002, Bede Parry was laicized (with his consent) in the Roman Catholic Church and began the process of reception into TEC.
The norms promulgated by the Roman Catholic bishops in 2002 and subsequently revised in 2005 are unequivocal:
When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants. … If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender ought to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to administer the sacraments. He is to be instructed not to wear clerical garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.
Significantly, “sexual abuse” is broadly defined to include not only inappropriate conduct in personal encounters, but also “the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors” (defined in the United States as minors under the age of eighteen).
It was clear under this policy that Bede Parry would be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry. In fact, he consented in 2002 to his removal from the clerical state, commonly known as “laicization.” That same year he began the process of being received into TEC. He has stated publicly that he was attracted to TEC because it does not have a “one strike and you’re out policy.”
The TEC Response: Background
TEC’s development of policies on sexual abuse began even before the Roman Catholic scandal as a result of an incident of misconduct and large legal judgment against the church in the 1990s. By 2001, a special “Committee on Sexual Exploitation” had surveyed all the domestic dioceses and reviewed the policies on sexual abuse of seventy dioceses. It concluded that “none of the policies gathered was a truly state-of-the-art, ‘next generation’ policy that could serve as a model for those dioceses planning on revising and updating their current policies.” After the Roman Catholic scandal became public in 2002, the TEC committee reported to the 2003 General Convention that “denial has existed at all levels.”
As a result, the Church Pension Group began to develop model child sexual abuse prevention and response policies. And consideration of this issue, which had been moving slowly, became more urgent. The CPG made a presentation at the March 2003 House of Bishops meeting entitled “What Every Bishop Should Know About Pedophiles and Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in the Church.” In a pastoral letter to the church from the bishops later in 2003, they made clear that they were using “pedophilia” not in the narrow, clinical sense cited by Bishop Edwards but as synonymous with sexual abuse of minors under 18: “Pedophilia is pervasive; one in eight males and one in four females will be molested before they reach the age of eighteen.”
A year after the Roman Catholic bishops adopted their “Dallas Charter,” the TEC policy began taking shape. The 2003 General Convention passed Resolution B008 “Protection of Children and Youth from Abuse” and the House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on “Child Sexual Abuse.” The latter cited Resolution B008 but stated further:
In addition we asked the Presiding Bishop to create a working group from among our members to partner with the Church Pension Group, the Church Insurance Corporation and other agencies and appropriate organizations to develop the materials necessary to provide the Church with consistent expectations and standards.
These “consistent expectations and standards” were released by the CPG in 2004 as “Model Policies for the Protection of Children and Youth from Abuse.”
Finally, both the Title III canons on Ministry and the Title IV canons on Discipline were comprehensively revised over the period 2003 to 2009.
These documents constitute the canons, policies and procedures on child sex abuse of TEC. When the Presiding Bishop’s office and the Diocese of Nevada say that all “canons, policies and procedures” were “meticulously followed” they are referring to this set of documents, all of which were adopted after the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal and the Roman Catholic bishops’ response and most of which were in their current form or were substantially the same as those that now exist when Bede Parry was received in 2004.
When these new canons and policies, developed in the last decade in the light of public scandals, are reviewed carefully, one can with effort see how the claim could be put forward by those defending the decision that all canons and policies were complied with when the Diocese of Nevada received a repeat offender from the Roman Catholic Church as a priest in TEC. None of these canons or policies explicitly prohibits a child abuser from serving as either a TEC priest or in any other position that regularly works with children. The CPG policy requires “screening” of church personnel, but does not prohibit outright the employment of child abusers. The disciplinary canons make child sexual abuse a violation, but do not mandate removal of clerical abusers, either permanently or even temporarily. Indeed, the new disciplinary canons give the diocesan bishop more, not less, discretion in disciplinary matters. While there is little doubt that most bishops will respond aggressively to credible allegations of abuse, such a response is not mandated. The ordination and reception canons similarly contain no explicit prohibition on the ordination of known sex abusers, and the argument that such a prohibition is implicit is disputed as we have seen. The closest any of these canons and policies come to an outright prohibition is the 2003 pastoral letter from the House of Bishops, which states only that:
In the case of pedophilia, our consistency in carefully screening, choosing and training all who work with children and youth will serve to allay any concerns about favoritism or carelessness, prohibiting those who have harmed children from ministries involving children, while providing the ability to firmly guide those who might harm children into other areas of ministry which serve the Church and contribute to our mission.
Indeed, it is startling in this context to compare Bishop Edwards’s recent conclusion with the Roman Catholic norm.
It was a multi-level decision which meticulously followed the applicable canons. … As I review what was done 2002-2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained.
When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established, … the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry.
Similarly, it is unsettling to compare the Roman Catholic norm on child pornography — possession in any form is a grave offense for which a single instance will result in permanent removal from the ministry — with the TEC policy:
10. Church Personnel are prohibited from possessing any sexually oriented materials (magazines, cards, videos, films, clothing etc.) on church property or in the presence of children or youth except as expressly permitted as part of a pre-authorized educational program.
11. Church Personnel are prohibited from using the Internet to view or download any sexually oriented materials on church property or in the presence of children or youth.
12. Church Personnel are prohibited from discussing their own sexual activities, including dreams and fantasies, or discussing their use of sexually oriented or explicit materials such as pornography, videos or materials on or from the Internet, with children or youth.
This carefully worded policy clearly exempts pornography held on private property and not shared with children. A youth worker could have a massive library of child pornography at home without being in violation of this policy.
In response to any claim that ours is a tendentious reading of these TEC policies, it is sufficient merely to note that we are addressing vigorous claims that the knowing reception into the priesthood of a child sex abuser was fully in accord with these policies. We can only conclude that to the extent the inexplicably bad judgment exercised in the case of the reception of Bede Parry was fully in accord with TEC’s canons and policies, this serves not to exonerate that judgment but only to indict those policies. When TEC revised its canons and policies in recent years in light of public scandals, it chose to adopt the model of discretion formerly used by Roman Catholic bishops instead of the strict policy those bishops themselves adopted in response to these scandals. The result is Bede Parry as an Episcopal priest. We have little doubt that most TEC bishops would exercise better judgment than that shown in Nevada, but the biggest scandal in the Parry affair is that after the events of the last decade it can plausibly be claimed that receiving a known child abuser as a priest is fully consistent with TEC’s revised policies.
This analysis reveals serious problems with our canons as they now stand. Clearly they need review and revision. It is also the case, however, that the most adequately drawn laws require for their implementation leaders who exercise judgment in prayer and with accountable concern for Christ’s body. In the case of Bede Perry, the best one can say is that the judgments involved, although layered, were poor. Much is simply unknown with the result that many legitimate questions remain unanswered. Despite the seriousness of the questions, the Presiding Bishop, who had the final decision in this matter, has remained silent. Nevertheless, given the serious nature of the issue involved in this case, the Episcopal Church is right to ask for a more adequate accounting of the reasoning behind the decisions that were made in this case.