By Kirk Petersen
A bishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) resigned abruptly on October 29 at the request of the Standing Committee of the diocese, for allegedly mishandling a serious pastoral issue regarding sexual misconduct by a priest.
The Rt. Rev. James “Jim” Hobby, who was consecrated the Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh in 2016, allegedly “Failed to act with urgency, transparency, and timeliness when an accusation of sexual misconduct by a member of the clergy was brought to his attention,” according to a November 2 announcement from the Rev. Jeffrey Wylie, president of the Standing Committee. “To be clear, this misconduct involved another adult who is a clergy member.”
Hobby has overseen a period in which churches in his diocese reached a groundbreaking settlement with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, resolving litigation about church properties stemming from the decision by his predecessor to leave the Episcopal Church in 2008.
Hobby’s resignation represents the second time this year an ACNA bishop has left office for an offense related to sexuality. On June 2, the College of Bishops voted to revoke the holy orders of Ronald W. Jackson, who had recently retired as Bishop of the Diocese of the Great Lakes. The penalty means Jackson is no longer a priest in the ACNA, let alone a bishop.
In explaining the sentence of deposition, the ACNA announcement said: “Bishop Jackson admitted to the use of pornography over many years and pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual immorality and conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense [canonical citations omitted].
Bishop Hobby has been treated less severely. Kristen Parise, the communications director for the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh, told TLC that “Bishop Hobby is still a bishop in good standing in the ACNA” and remains a member of the denomination’s College of Bishops. She declined further comment.
In a statement about his requested resignation, Bishop Hobby said:
While this grieves me, I accept that accountability is an important part of the Christian life. As Bishop, I am accountable to the Archbishop and elected Standing Committee of the Diocese. Therefore, for the good health of the Diocese, I have resigned my office with immediate effect so that the search for my successor can immediately begin.
The Standing Committee’s initial cryptic announcement of Hobby’s resignation was issued late on Friday afternoon, October 29, saying only that the resignation had been requested “after a careful review and assessment of his handling of a serious pastoral matter.”
After discussions at virtual services and coffee hours throughout the diocese on Sunday, the Standing Committee offered additional detail in a letter Monday afternoon, November 3. In addition to the alleged failure “to act with urgency, transparency, and timeliness” for the adult offense cited above, the letter said that Hobby:
- Repeatedly failed to properly follow the Canonical process for this accusation.
- Inexplicably delayed in advising the Standing Committee of other formal complaints about the same clergy member.
- Did not share material information regarding the investigation with the Standing Committee and the Canonical Investigator in a timely manner.
- Failed repeatedly to act in a manner that demonstrated proper concern for the victims of an abusive priest. To be clear, this abuse related to adults and did not involve physical contact.
The letter said that Hobby had agreed to resign even though he “was aware that he could reject this request and go through the formal Canonical process” for clergy discipline. The resignation took effect just over a week before the 2020 diocesan convention, scheduled for November 7.
Pittsburgh is one of five dioceses where a former Episcopal bishop left the Church a decade ago, accompanied by many parishioners, and eventually established a rival diocese in the ACNA. In a 2018 article headlined “Pittsburgh Leads in Reconciliation,” TLC reported that the Episcopal diocese had reached “a distinctively Christian compromise resolution” with nine ACNA churches that were the subject of litigation over property ownership.
Under the agreement, the nine churches will own and control their buildings, while paying a small annual assessment to the Episcopal diocese. The annual assessment — 3.25 percent of operating revenues for the first 20 years, and 1.75 percent in perpetuity thereafter — recognizes that the Episcopal Church had a “trust beneficiary” interest in the properties because they had operated for many years as part of the Episcopal Church. An ACNA priest on the negotiating team likened the agreement to an amicable divorce.
The Anglican diocese was not technically a party to the lawsuit, and Hobby did not help negotiate it, but it could not have occurred without his blessing. He endorsed the agreement as “quite remarkable, given the litigious culture in which we live.”
In another act of outreach between the two dioceses, when TEC leadership spent three days in Pittsburgh for a February 2017 revival, Hobby attended a portion of the event as a guest.
As in the Episcopal Church, under the ACNA canons the Standing Committee — an elected group of lay and ordained members — will now serve as the ecclesial authority for the diocese, and will conduct a search for a new bishop.