Bishops Vow: No Free Passes for Bishops on Behavioral Issues

An interactive website detailing the complicated Title IV process is at

By Kirk Petersen

More than three dozen bishops have signed a letter saying “We are angered by and deeply concerned about the perception – or the reality – that bishops get a free pass on behavioral issues.” They call for a thorough discussion at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting later this month.

The Rt. Rev. Susan Brown Snook, Bishop of San Diego and one of the organizers of the effort, told TLC “we want the church to know we are not looking the other way.”

“We are aware of several recent high profile cases in which bishops were accused of improper behavior, and many in the church believe those bishops received few or no consequences,” says the letter, which was sent to the House of Bishops on August 31 with the signatures of 29 bishops. Additional bishops have since added their names, bringing the total to 41. A copy of the letter is at the bottom of this article.

Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad said in an email that Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry “shared this letter to the HoB listserv this morning, and he welcomes the important conversation his fellow bishops recommend.”

The letter does not mention any specific cases, but in the past year at least three bishops have faced or been threatened with disciplinary investigations under Title IV of the canons of the church, and fallout from a prior fourth case generated controversy at the 2022 General Convention.

  • Most recently, the president of the House of Deputies, Julia Ayala Harris, revealed August 30 that she had been pursuing a Title IV case for more than a year against an unidentified retired bishop who allegedly made unwanted contact of a sexual nature in the immediate aftermath of her July 2022 election at General Convention.
  • In June, the adult sons and ex-wife of Bishop Prince Singh accused the provisional bishop of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan of years of physical and psychological abuse. A month later they raised the stakes, decrying a lack of action and launching an extensive website with searing letters and video messages. They also called for an investigation of Curry and Bishop Todd Ousley, head of the Office of Pastoral Development, who until recently was the point person for complaints against bishops.
  • In February, a church court accused Bishop of Florida John Howard of “a pattern and practice” of discriminating against LGBTQ clergy and their allies. Parties inside and outside the diocese have requested a Title IV investigation of Howard — and the threshold for launching an investigation is extremely low.
  • The 2022 General Convention passed Resolution D095 calling for a review of the mandate of the Office of Pastoral Development, after scathing complaints by the Dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan that when Singh’s predecessor, Bishop Whayne M. Hougland Jr., was suspended in 2020 after admitting adultery, the Church Center devoted considerable resources to supporting his healing and reconciliation. Meanwhile the dioceses were saddled with the expense of a part-time provisional bishop while also continuing Hougland’s full benefits and 60 percent of his salary.

No sanctions have been announced against Singh or Howard. Curry has unilateral authority to impose restrictions on a bishop’s ministry pending further investigation, and has done so in the past for at least two other bishops.

Singh agreed to participate in a Title IV investigation and to undergo a psychological and alcohol evaluation, which the two Michigan dioceses said would occur the week of July 17. There have been no announcements about the case since then. Howard is nearing the mandatory retirement age of 72 and must step down by the end of the year, although his retirement would not automatically end a Title IV proceeding. Hougland resigned near the end of his suspension after the dioceses decided he should not be reinstated.

Ayala Harris said she had gone public with her accusation because she was dissatisfied with the Title IV investigation, which ended July 31. “Despite all the evidence, including three eyewitnesses to the incident, the church attorney assigned to this matter has chosen to refer it for a pastoral response instead of discipline,” she wrote, calling it “an obvious abuse of discretion by the church attorney.”

“A pastoral response doesn’t necessarily mean there will be no discipline,” Brown Snook said. “We particularly expect bishops to be held to a higher standard.”

“We are glad the church has already taken one positive step in the past few months, which is to hire an independent Episcopal Church Intake Officer for Bishops,” the bishops wrote. “This is a good first step in addressing the perception that as bishops we are not held accountable for our behavior.”

The hiring resulted from the review touched off by the Hougland controversy. The Rev. Barbara Kempf began her new role as intake officer in August, working closely with Ousley but reporting to Curry. Her appointment has been described as an effort to separate the disciplinary and pastoral roles of the Office of Pastoral Development. Kempf is both a priest and an attorney, and also has a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She has served as an administrative law judge and state health department legal investigator, and as Title IV intake officer for the Diocese of Indianapolis.

When asked if she had a response to the bishops’ letter, Ayala Harris issued the following statement:

“I shared my story with a small glimmer of hope that it would create positive change and foster cultural transformation within our church community. Over the past few days, I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit ignite a collective passion for prioritizing accountability and safety in our beloved church. I never imagined our higher calling would be embraced so swiftly by so many. Together, we will work toward ensuring the safety of all people within our community and to strengthen the integrity of our disciplinary processes.” 668577015-Letter-to-Hob-8-31-23-Final-41

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