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Title IV, Transparency, and Trust

When the General Convention meets in late June, the proposed legislation includes at least 23 resolutions to amend the canons that are the disciplinary rules we set for our common life as followers of Jesus. As the sole person who has served this term simultaneously on the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution, and Canons and the Court of Review, I have seen the faithful work behind 18 of these resolutions, as found in the Blue Book reports for this Convention.

Our work did not, of course, take place in a vacuum. Last fall, amid some highly publicized cases of alleged misconduct involving bishops, both the President of the House of Deputies, Julia Ayala Harris, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asked the standing commission to examine Title IV as it pertains to bishops. The new, churchwide court also has spent many hours working on the first appeal of a case. The court resolutions are a response to what the group learned in that work, particularly in places where additional clarity would assist in implementing the canons.

The makeup of these two bodies is significant, as bishops are far from the majority in both groups that drafted these resolutions. The standing commission comprises five bishops, five other clergy, and ten laypersons. The court consists of three bishops, six other members of the clergy, and six laypersons, as well as one alternate in each of these groups.

To hear the voices of the broader church, the standing commission sent out a survey in October of last year. More than 150 people responded, and the standing commission was further informed in bringing resolutions to the Convention that address the issues identified in the canons. An important point in this work was clear in the statement the standing commission made in inviting participation in the survey: “The issues we face arise in part because of the language and structure of Title IV. They arise as well from the manner in which the church implements these canons, the tension between transparency to build trust and confidentiality to protect participants, and the culture of the wider church.”

The canons related to the discipline of bishops are largely identical to those for other members of clergy, so most of the changes proposed in the resolutions relate to the discipline of all deacons, priests, and bishops. The resolutions submitted by the standing commission would change the canons that relate solely to the discipline of bishops in at least two significant ways. The first is to change the composition of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops so that bishops are not a majority of that body or of any conference panel or hearing panel drawn from that board.

The second change relating solely to bishops is to create closer parity with the discipline of other clergy in a suspension. Any suspension of a bishop lasting longer than six months would mean the termination of the pastoral relationship, unless a diocese’s Standing Committee, by two-thirds vote, asks of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops within 30 days that the relation continue and the Disciplinary Board for Bishops approves the request. In the case of any bishop provisional, a suspended bishop’s pastoral relationship would end without needing a vote of the diocesan convention, as currently required.

Beyond this, the changes to all matters of discipline would have an effect on concerns raised about cases involving a bishop. Two key examples are the role of the church attorney and a change in who may serve as an intake officer. In the proposed changes, the church attorney may not act unilaterally, but when declining to advance a case will be required to set out reasons for that decision and require others in the Title IV process to accept or reject that decision.

In the case of intake officers, the proposed changes specify that a bishop may not serve in this role. As Presiding Bishop Curry appointed a priest to that role, this would not create a change but would continue the practice of not having a bishop be the first person to receive complaints of misconduct by colleagues in the House of Bishops.

Additional related changes proposed in the resolutions would create timelines requiring a prompter response, as well as greater accountability in reporting any decisions to those who made the complaint. This timeliness and transparency are critically important to restoring trust in how we handle reports of misconduct by any member of the clergy.

Canons alone will never solve problems. Living into our disciplinary rules must always answer this question: “What does faithfulness to Jesus look like in this moment?” The process will not always be easy, yet if we can ground this work in that ethos, the proposed changes will go further toward our being the just church for which we all long.

This overview of the proposed Title IV changes reflects Bishop Logue’s opinion on the work and does not speak for either body that submitted the resolutions.

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