In separate letters, the Bishop of New Hampshire and two leaders of St. Paul’s School discuss their responses to the conviction of former student Owen Labrie on one count of engaging in sex with a student younger than the age of consent. He was found not guilty on felony charges.
The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, Bishop of New Hampshire, wrote on Aug. 29:
… The Bishop, who does not serve on its Board of Trustees, has no role in the School’s management or operations. The role of the Bishop is limited to the spiritual and canonical oversight of the clergy employed at the School as chaplains or faculty. This relationship is in contrast to the more close affiliation we have with the schools founded by the Diocese — the White Mountain School and the Holderness School — where the Bishop serves, ex officio, as the President of the Boards of Trustees. I have been in contact with the heads of each of these schools about the Labrie case because I feel we need to redouble our efforts to ensure, as best we can, the health and safety of all in our care and to teach holiness in our relationships.
Quite apart from the legal boundaries between St. Paul’s School and the Diocese, I believe the Holy Spirit is making us aware of other more troubling issues raised by the case. These issues include: the role of male privilege that was exploited to subjugate a more vulnerable member of the community; the critical role of those closest to us to challenge us to act in ways that are consistent with our highest values; and the intensified responsibility of those of us charged with the health and safety of our kids. This is a time to awaken to the realities this case disclosed about our life together, and how we might seek healing and transformation with God’s grace.
The school’s rector, St. Paul’s alumnus Michael G. Hirschfeld, issued a letter Aug. 28 with James M. Waterbury, Jr., also a St. Paul’s alumnus and president of its board of trustees. They wrote:
By now you have likely learned of the verdicts in the trial of Owen Labrie ’14. The trial has been deeply painful for all of us in the St. Paul’s community, but especially for the young woman who has suffered through this nightmare. From the beginning — some 15 months ago — to the conclusion of the trial, she and her family have shown remarkable moral courage and strength. Her resolve and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the truth have been inspiring to us and to many outside our School community.
… Many terms, including “senior salute” and “score,” that are part of the student vernacular, have been discussed as part of the trial. These terms, and the behaviors they suggest, have and will continue to be addressed by the School community. There is no place for inappropriate and hurtful behavior that disrespects any member of our School. Conduct that is damaging to the fabric of our community and inconsistent with our values has never been — and will not be — tolerated.
… We have been painfully reminded of the fact that social media can provide an adult-free space for negative student culture to form and perpetuate itself. We have learned that what was once termed “dating” or “courting” behavior has been inverted in some instances from our traditional sensibilities — sexual contact is now seen as the point of origin of many relationships, not a part of an emotionally developed relationship. These issues have highlighted some of the differences in educating students in the 21st century.
Image of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul at St. Paul’s School by Eddie Cheuk/Wikimedia Commons