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Bishops Aim for Equity & Flexibility in Title IV

The House of Bishops on June 26 passed another series of resolutions to amend the canons concerning clergy discipline, including a resolution designed to prevent conflicts of interest in receiving complaints.

Bishops approved an amended version of Resolution A053 to require every diocese to have at least one intake officer who is not directly employed or otherwise compensated by the diocese in which the matter is pending.

Under Title IV of the church’s canons, intake officers serve as a complainant’s first point of contact with the Title IV process. Intake officers’ handling of this initial step is considered crucial in a complainant being heard, and their report serves as the basis of the decision to proceed with the process or recommend the case be dismissed.

The amendment to A053 — requiring at least one non-employee intake officer per diocese — was seen as a middle road option compared to the original resolution by the Title IV Disciplinary Canons Committee, which sought to bar anyone who is employed by the diocese from serving as an intake officer.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick, Bishop of Hawaii and a member of the committee, spoke in favor of the resolution in its original form, saying it is “the ideal” to avoid perceived or real bias in the intake process.

“The hope would be to show that there is no conflict of interest, there is no insider trading going on,” Fitzpatrick said.

Others questioned the feasibility of the requirement, especially for smaller, less-resourced dioceses.

“Our dioceses across this denomination don’t have equal capacity to be able to fully do Title IV in its most idealized expression,” said the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely of Rhode Island.

The Rt. Rev. Frank Logue, Bishop of Georgia, proposed the amendment to offer dioceses more flexibility.

“It is important … that we honor what our church expects from us and be able to create some critical distance so that we can be seen as being fair,” Logue said. “It is also important that we run this process in a professional way and in a timely manner, and I believe this middle path will allow us to do that.”

Bishops also approved Resolution A052, which amends the canons to offer a Restorative Covenant as one possible result of conciliation in the Title IV process.

Fitzpatrick said the goal is to offer more opportunities for a pastoral response without escalating a matter to a hearing panel or mediation.

“We often hear the difficulty is that, under Title IV, it seems anything that is presented immediately becomes something that requires almost a trial,” he said. “This is the opportunity for bishops to have other ways of responding pastorally with different language, so we can respond to … those complaints that don’t rise to the level of ‘conduct unbecoming.’”

Bishops also passed D053, which requires vacancies on churchwide disciplinary boards to be filled within 60 days. The Rt. Rev. Susan Haynes, chair of the Title IV Disciplinary Canons Committee, said the resolution seeks to address the issue of vacancies lasting months and even years.

Bishops also passed A057, which brings an order or accord involving suspension of a bishop more in line with that of priests and deacons, making termination of the pastoral relationship the default in both cases. Other resolutions passed June 26 seek to address lags and communication issues in the Title IV process.

In addition, bishops approved A147, which calls for the study of how to address elected lay officers facing credible allegations of misconduct. It asks the committee to make recommendations for possible canonical changes to authorize suspension or removal of officers in those situations.

Article X

The House of Bishops also approved Resolution A226, a first reading of an amendment that seeks to clarify portions of Article X of the church’s Constitution, including prayer book memorialization language passed by the 2018 General Convention.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Justin Holcomb, Bishop of Central Florida, said the resolution was “culminating work” that began at the 2018 General Convention related to the issue of memorializing the Book of Common Prayer.

“We have a term that’s been kind of fluid and flexible that now has a definition,” Holcomb said. “That term needed a practical and clear definition, and so until this resolution, ‘memorialization’ remained to me and to those in my deputation undefined. And now we have ‘authorized for use at any service.’ That’s wonderfully clear.”

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