By Kirk Petersen
The adult sons and ex-wife of Bishop Prince Singh have escalated their accusations of abuse with the launch of episcopalaccountability.com, an extensive website with searingly painful video messages and copious citations of canons and General Convention resolutions related to church discipline.
Nivedhan and Eklan Singh and their mother, Roja Singh, in June Facebook posts publicly accused the bishop of years of physical and emotional abuse. Prince Singh, the provisional bishop of the neighboring dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, has denied the allegations.
The accusers have now called for an independent investigation of what they describe as an inadequate response to their allegations by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and Bishop Todd Ousley, who heads the church’s Office of Pastoral Development. They also call for an investigation of the two senior bishops under Title IV, the section of the canons regarding clergy discipline.
The standing committees of Eastern and Western Michigan have emphasized that Bishop Singh is cooperating in the investigation. “The comprehensive psychological and alcohol evaluation that the Presiding Bishop has requested and that has been readily accepted by Bishop Singh has been scheduled and will take place the week of July 17th with a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians,” they wrote in a June 30 statement.
“Bishop Singh has not been suspended or restricted from ministry and continues with his normal schedule and activities, including visitations. Typically, restrictions would be instituted if the bishop under Title IV had acknowledged guilt (our previous experience) or if individuals or the church were in immediate harm,” the committees continued.
“Previous experience” refers to the fact that Singh’s predecessor, Bishop Whayne M. Hougland Jr., was suspended for a year in 2020 after admitting to an extramarital affair. He resigned near the end of the suspension. The two dioceses have been exploring a potential merger since 2019.
Regarding the new website allegations, Bishop Singh did not respond to a request for comment. He previously has referred all inquiries to Katie Forsyth, canon for evangelism and networking for the two dioceses. Forsyth responded to an inquiry about the website by writing in an email: “The Standing Committees will be updated as the process unfolds and will respond at the appropriate steps, according to our canons. The Standing Committee members continue to hold Bishop Singh, his sons, his ex-wife, and his [fiancée] in their prayers.”
Bishop Singh has announced he will be married in August in India to a woman identified only as Ato, with whom he had reconnected after dating her in seminary. The bishop said his marriage plans had “created a hurt-filled and harmful reaction within my family,” although his sons denied it had anything to do with their allegations.
Nivedhan asserted that his family’s allegations had spurred Ousley to “recuse” himself from Title IV matters regarding bishops. He noted that on June 29, the church announced the appointment of the Rev. Barbara Kempf to the new position of Title IV intake officer for bishops. She “will work closely with” Ousley, but will report to Curry.
Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad wrote by email that “the process to name a new intake officer has been underway for some time” and is not a response to the allegations. She noted that an additional position was authorized by Resolution A143 at the 2022 General Convention, at the recommendation of a Title IV committee. She added, “we are unable to comment on Title IV investigations that are underway.”
The Episcopal Accountability website is quite extensive, running to well over 10,000 words of text. (This article is about 1,400 words.) It includes detailed letters from each of the three family members, as well as a timeline, FAQ, and email templates that can be used by people who want to express their support of the call for further investigation. “I stand with #EpiscopalSurvivors and, for this reason, I will no longer be supporting TEC financially until Bishop Prince Singh is defrocked,” one of the templates states.
Roja Singh, an associate professor of sociology at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, said her ex-husband had denigrated her as a Dalit, the Hindu caste sometimes referred to with the slur “untouchables.”
Eklan Singh, 22, an actor in Rochester, said in his letter: “I wrote about how his alcoholism upset me, how he is horrible to my mother and how sexist and abusive he is as an individual. I told him he had to try and stop drinking and that I had caught him having a glass of gin late at night even after family therapy. I told him hard alcohol was especially bad and he tried to convince me that gin is not hard alcohol. Clearly he thinks I’m stupid!”
Nivedhan Singh, 30, a Nashville-based audio engineer and musician, has taken the lead in coordinating the family’s accusations, and provided some of the most disturbing allegations.
In a six-minute video, Nivedhan Singh graphically describes being beaten by his father for a wide range of infractions. “The beatings themselves were hard strikes across my thighs, arms, face, and buttocks,” he said. “I remember gasping for air and not being able to breathe during the beatings and yelling for him to please stop.”
He said: “I had a lot of trouble with bedwetting when I was a kid, and it went on till I was about 12, 13 years old. And when I would wet the bed I would also get beat. And that just made me wet the bed more.” He said he attempted suicide at age 10 by tying an electrical cord tightly around his neck.
He said some people had tried to minimize what happened “as spanking, as regular punitive corporal punishment.” But “what happened to me was more than spanking. It was deliberate, overpowering physical violence from an ordained individual against his child.”
Nivedhan Singh said that one morning his father kicked him so hard in the knee that he was limping, and had to ask to be excused from gym class. “I said that I fell, running late for school. I didn’t know that what was happening to me was unusual. It was just what I was used to,” he said. “I loved my father and I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with him by being honest about what was going on at home.”
In a separate, two-minute video, Nivedhan and Eklan take turns laying out their accusations, reading from a script. “If you have survived abuse from a clergy or bishop family member,” Nivedhan said, and Eklan continues, “we hope to provide reporting resources and help you realize,” concluding together “that you are not alone.”
Title IV can lead to a public trial by a church court, but the initial stages of a Title IV proceeding are intended to be confidential. In the case of charges against a priest or deacon, the diocesan bishop will seek to reach a resolution among the parties. In the case of charges against a bishop, the presiding bishop fills that role.
Title IV.17.2.c specifically anticipates the possibility that a presiding bishop might face Title IV charges, but the path for such an investigation is unclear. The supervising authority in the pre-trial stage would be “the Bishop authorized by Canon IV.19.24.”
That canon refers to an article in the constitution, which in turn refers to the rules of the House of Bishops — but there is no clarity to be found in those rules.
A reasonable presumption is that charges against the presiding bishop would initially be under the jurisdiction of the vice chair of the House of Bishops — the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, a close confidant of Curry’s.
“TEC has demonstrated that it is incapable of following its own Title IV procedures and is therefore incapable of adequately investigating its own national staff,” according to the FAQ on the Episcopal Accountability website. It calls for a review led by “a 3rd-party investigatory body,” and suggests an organization called “Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment” (GRACE) as one possibility.
The GRACE website says one of the organization’s board members is Justin Holcomb, who is identified as an Episcopal priest and seminary professor. That title is a bit out of date. Holcomb was consecrated Bishop of Central Florida on June 24, in a ceremony that was scheduled to be performed by … Presiding Bishop Curry. Curry was unable to attend because of health issues.