By Kirk Petersen
Two dioceses contend that when their bishop was suspended for adultery, the Episcopal Church provided ample support for his healing and reconciliation — but virtually no support for the dioceses themselves. They are pursuing their grievance in a highly public way, via Resolution D095, submitted with sharply worded support materials for consideration at the General Convention in July.
In June 2020, the Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland Jr. agreed to a one-year suspension under Title IV of the canons of the church, after admitting to an extramarital affair. He had been Bishop of Western Michigan since 2013, and in October 2019 was elected to the additional position of provisional bishop for the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, as the two dioceses explored the possibility of reuniting. As the end of the suspension approached, the dioceses decided he should not be reinstated, and he resigned.
Resolution D095 itself, in the bland wording of the genre, calls for a task force to review the Office of Pastoral Development (OPD) and Title IV proceedings when the respondent is a bishop, with an eye toward consistency with disciplinary actions involving priests and deacons.
The explanation submitted with the resolution reveals significant frustration on the part of the people who drafted it. Here is one of the harshest of the 22 paragraphs of explanation (emphasis in the original):
This Title IV process actually reflects a deep systemic problem: when our former bishop had an affair, the system not only took care of him, it did so in extremely expensive ways, to the financial and emotional cost of those whom he had vowed to pastor, in the name of “healing” and “reconciliation.” The dioceses were hurt by the affair itself. Relationships and trust were damaged. The financial support expected from us for the one who had violated these relationships was not only surprising, it was unjust.
The dioceses say that the suspension accord was negotiated by OPD with little or no diocesan input, and said the experience “was severely lacking in clarity, consistency, timely communication, and tracking of our process by the OPD.” The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley is the bishop for pastoral development, and the complaint has added poignancy because Ousley was Bishop of Eastern Michigan for a decade before assuming his current role. When asked to respond, Ousley said that as an employee of the church it would be inappropriate for him to speak with the news media about pending legislation.
During the suspension, Hougland continued to draw 60 percent of his salary, with full benefits continued. At TLC‘s request, spokesperson Katie Forsythe provided additional details of the financial burden imposed on the dioceses. Hougland’s combined salary and housing allowance for 2020 was budgeted at $180,000 before the suspension — up from $137,557 for 2019, representing an increase for taking on the provisional bishop role in Eastern Michigan. She said that when Hougland resigned, the combined dioceses paid him a lump-sum severance of $75,204.
Meanwhile, the dioceses also were paying the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams $60,000 as a part-time provisional bishop for part of 2021. The current full-time provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, who began after Hougland’s resignation, is paid $173,000. The two dioceses maintain separate budgets (totaling about $3.5 million) while sharing some personnel, including the bishop, two other full-time employees, and five part-time employees. Most of the expenses are shared equally between the dioceses.
“In the midst of MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and a worldwide pandemic, an already privileged, white male in a position of power who had betrayed his vows was given a copious amount of support,” the diocesan complaint said. “Our dioceses, by contrast, received almost none.”
After resigning, Hougland was named transitional director of Bellwether Farm, a camp and retreat center in the Diocese of Ohio. In July, he is scheduled to become interim rector of St. Chrysostom’s, a large, affluent parish in Chicago. “Whayne’s adultery is an issue he was able to speak openly about with us, and for him it has been an occasion through which he discovered grace, mercy, and humility before God,” the church said on its website. He could not be reached through either of those employers, nor through the Michigan dioceses.
In March, Hougland was readmitted to the House of Bishops as a non-voting member, and Ousley said the reconciliation was an example of “living into the highest ideals of our Title IV process.” The dioceses said: “We hope that our ideals in The Episcopal Church as expressed in Title IV are actually much higher than what we in our dioceses have just experienced.”
The dioceses’ announcement said the resolution and supporting memorial “were endorsed almost unanimously by our deputations and have the full support and input of Bishop Singh.” Singh later said he did not help draft the resolution, but did review it before it was submitted, and notified both Ousley and Hougland before it was announced.
TLC asked Singh if he believes the bitter tone of D095 will help bring healing to the dioceses. “Healing is a process, and some of the process is, I think, what is expressed in this memorial and resolution.” He said he thinks it will help bring some closure “to a very painful episode in the life of the dioceses.”
He said that in his visits to churches, “I do pick up here and there some grief, and some degree of anger, and that sense of betrayal.” However, “healing is happening, and I’m seeing the fruit of it.”
Singh said ministries are continuing and thriving, and the two dioceses are actively working to explore their continuing partnership through a Bridge Building Committee, which has worked through the resignation and the pandemic. That committee will hold a retreat in August with both diocesan councils, standing committees, commissions on ministry, and staff.
A previous version of this article referred to an incorrect resolution number. The article has been corrected.