By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

As the Rev. Megan Castellan set out five months ago on a disciplinary reform project to reduce sexual misconduct in the Episcopal Church, she expected progress to take longer than it has.

“Even the most well-meaning people don’t like change if it means they have to give up power or perceived power,” said Castellan, an alternate deputy from Central New York and convener of a special House of Deputies subcommittee on Title IV and Training. “A lot of what we were asking for would be a tacit acknowledgment that the way things have been was wrong. For people who have been in power, that’s an uncomfortable statement to have to make.”

Castellan said July 11 that she has been pleasantly surprised by the achievements at General Convention, and more victories still were possible as the houses took up legislative proposals born in her subcommittee.

But much work remains to be done in coming years, she said, including bigger changes, such as creation of a churchwide court that would exclude bishops from of Title IV disciplinary proceedings.

“Bishops are compromised inherently by our structure because they want to be pastors to their clergy,” Castellan told TLC in an interview at the Austin Convention Center between legislative sessions on July 11. “[Bishops], by virtue of their office, will seek to be a pastor to their clergy. That’s good. That’s what they should do. But that is also in conflict with their role in Title IV, frequently.”

Castellan rattled off achievements that were priorities of the so-called #MeToo committee. She cited D016, which passed both houses. It creates a Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation. She pointed also to new protections for whistleblowers, including a prohibition on retaliation against those who bring Title IV complaints, in D076. The Committee on Safeguarding and Title IV recommended D076 be adopted.

One of the biggest milestones came, Castellan said, when the Committee on Safeguarding and Title IV approved D034, a resolution that temporarily suspends statutes of limitations. If approved by both houses, DO34 would allow misconduct cases dating as far back as 1996 to be filed between 2019 and 2021. Current canons prohibit hearing of cases that are more than 10 years old.

Systemic and cultural reform, not identifying perpetrators of sexual misconduct, is the focus of the #MeToo committee’s push, Castellan said. Holding individuals accountable will be a byproduct, she said, of a larger effort to clean up a system that has too often been compromised by conflicts of interest and dynamics that allow misconduct to go unchecked.

“I really don’t think it has anything to do with individuals,” Castellan said. “It’s going to take culture change — all of us changing ourselves and changing the culture of the church in order to create an institution where this stops happening. That’s really the goal.”

Changing Episcopal Church culture to become more just and equitable could take many years, she said, but the process has momentum. The House of Bishops helped advance the cause at General Convention, she said, by repenting on the first day, highlighting victims’ stories in a liturgical forum and adopting a covenant of resolve to do better.

“The force and effect of having bishops stand up en masse and confess sin to the rest of us was deeply moving,” Castellan said.

Setting up a churchwide court to hear misconduct cases could prove more difficult. The #MeToo committee “floated a trial balloon,” Castellan said, in the form of Resolution D033. The proposed legislation would have established a churchwide intake officer position to function as a resource outside of a complainant’s diocese. Such a resource could be useful, advocates say, when would-be complainants fear local consequences of speaking up.

D033 met resistance in committee. The panel referred it for further study and opted not to recommend adoption.

“It got a lot of traction, but people wanted more details,” Castellan said. “They wanted to know exactly how it would work.”

A resolution (A182) to study prospects for creating a churchwide Title IV court received the blessing of the Safeguarding and Title IV Committee. But even some who voted for it expressed concerns.

“I’ll probably vote for it because it’s just a study, but I think it’s a terrible idea” to have a churchwide court, said David Harvin, a deputy from Texas and member of the Safeguarding and Title IV Committee. He said bishops should be involved in disciplinary and related pastoral processes as essential roles of their office.

Castellan said she knows of no bishops who support establishing a churchwide court, but the idea has not prompted a lot of lobbying. It needs to be an “airtight plan” when it’s presented, she said. That includes explaining how it would free dioceses from burdensome Title IV proceeding costs in time and dollars.

“Moving to a churchwide disciplinary board would standardize the people who are doing this,” she said. “It would allow us to train them more intentionally. It would allow us not only to transfer the costs from the diocese to the churchwide network, but would also allow us to get a tighter grip on the sort of training these people are getting.”

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