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#MeToo movement hits Episcopal General Convention

#MeToo movement hits Episcopal General Convention
The Presiding Bishop's office takes a direct hit

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 6, 2018

AUSTIN, TEXAS --- The Episcopal House of Bishops tried to come to terms with the fact that the #MeToo movement has invaded The Episcopal Church and there is now a long trail of wounded and broken churchmen and churchwomen who have been sexually, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually abused by clergy -- even bishops -- and others in positions of power and authority.

Wednesday (July 4) evening, the House of Bishops hosted a Liturgy of Listening. A quiet time of prayer and meditation. It was a time of listening to the stories of the walking wounded, a public display of repentance and reparation and a time for The Episcopal Church's leadership to say "We failed. We are sorry. We have sinned."

"We know these stories," said Bishop Dede Duncan-Probe (XI Central New York). "But we have never heard these stories in a liturgy."

The Central New York bishop is the chair of the House of Bishops' Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team. She planned and orchestrated the service.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led the assemblage in a litany recognizing corporate wrong doing.

"We have sinned," he said in a measured and metered voice. "We have sinned against God and against each other."

The Presiding Bishop, who is noted for his effervescence, was restrained. His voice was soft, his hands did not pierce the air.

The common Confiteor was Psalm 51. Some knew the penitential passage by heart. Others read it off their IPads or smart phones, their faces lit by the bright screens, in the paperless, digital convention.

Bishop Curry led the bishops in a Litany of Lament, acknowledging to the assembled clergy and laity their faults and failings as their bishops.

"We lament and confess to you ..." the bishops prayed.
"...Christ, have mercy," the audience responded.

Then, joining the bishops in the Litany of Lament, the audience lamented and confessed their own faults, failings and uncharitableness to the wider church.

"Loving and merciful God," Bishop Curry prayed. "Accept our lament and repentance. Pour Your Grace on those who suffer from the consequences of sin. Guide our footsteps upon the path of Your Grace and forgiveness. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ ..."

The entire 90-minute service was punctuated by silence, a deep pervasive silence. There was no rustling of papers, no shuffling of feet, no scrapping of chairs. None of the familiar sounds one hears in a typical quiet worship setting.

STORY 1: "I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse," the strong voice of Bishop Marianne Budde (IX Washington, DC) said as she pierced the silence, relating the abuse of a parishioner by her rector. That priest eventually became a bishop.

The Washington bishop was the first of a dozen bishops to read the stories of those who have been abused by those who had power and authority in The Episcopal Church. The bishops gave each victim-survivor -- men and women alike -- a voice through which their intimate first-person account of abuse was actually heard.

STORY 2: "As a parish administrator, part of my duty was to greet guests ..."

Each bishop recounting an abuse story, was accompanied by two HOB colleagues, who stood as silent sentries during the retelling of the tale of woe. The abuse stories at the hands of Episcopal church leaders was the hard kernel at the center of the evening of penance.

STORY 3: "This morning, June 3, the lectionary for Year B, Proper 4, used Psalm 81:1-10. The second stanza of verse 10 turns my stomach ... 'open your mouth and I'll fill it' ..."

Between each story, silence again descended, wrapping the listeners in thought. Heads dropped. Tears were wiped away from closed eyes. Lips were pursed into grimaces. Then softly, the Kyrie eleison was started, breaking through the extended stillness.

STORY 4: "During my ordination rehearsal, the bishop pointed and asked me to kneel in front of him ..."

Stories come from six women and six men who have suffered sexual abuse or harassment at the hands of The Episcopal Church. Their stories came to light in that quiet darkened room.

STORY 5: "During my second month in college, I became involved with a lady twice my age ..."

The identity of each victim and each abuser was protected and not revealed, although the bishops lent their voices to each of the abused.

STORY 6: I know that men were coached about lovely housewives and their seducing behaviors ..."

None of the abusers had been called to account by the church, nor made to own up to their failure.

STORY 7: "In 1996, when I was a visiting chaplain to students at one of our seminaries ..."

The abusers ran the gauntlet from a raping priest, an abusive rector, a clergyman's wife with the hots for young boys and the systematic failure of a specialized organization to cherish youngsters ...

STORY 8: "I am a member of one of the very smallest of American fraternities, the tiny and shrinking group of men who grew through early adolescence singing in Anglican boys' choirs ..."

The intervening silence was uncomfortable. It lanced the heart and pierced the soul.

STORY 9: "I went to a priest for some pastoral counselling and the situation rapidly got out of hand ..."

When the social media #MeToo movement broke, the House of Bishops reached out seeking those who could identify. In all, 42 persons responded to the call. Twelve of those stories were read during the bishops' July 4 listening session.

STORY 10: "What stands out to me the most about my abusive past is that if I walked into a healthy Episcopal church ..."

The special reconciliation service was designed to help set a framework for this year's General Convention's consideration of the various resolutions dealing with churchwide sexual misconduct.

STORY 11: "I long for the House of Bishops to develop and offer other opportunities for our stores to be heard, received and responded to ..."

The stories revealed unhealed pain, humiliation and suffering.

STORY 12: "I love The Episcopal Church. I love the episcopate, which makes it hurt all the more to feel continually betrayed ..."

Several times The Episcopal Church was excoriated.

"I have been involved in an over 25-year process with the Office of the Presiding Bishop to seek healing and reconciliation," the first story teller explains fleshing out the story of the sexually abusive rector who became bishop. "Unfortunately, my abuser, who is now deceased, was not willing to enter fully into a process of reconciliation."

Continuing with the abuse survivor's story: "I have received significant healing in relation to his action; more difficult has been recovery from the abuse of those representing the Office of the Presiding Bishop."

Twenty-five years ago, Edmond Browning (1986-1997) was presiding bishop. He was followed by Frank Griswold (1998-2006) and Katharine Jefferts Schori (2006-2015). Since late 2015, Michael Curry has been the presiding bishop. But he and former Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori were in the audience to hear firsthand how the Presiding Bishop's office failed to bring reconciliation and healing on their watches. Instead, the Presiding Bishop's office launched legal action.

"I sought a theological process of reconciliation. The Office of the Presiding Bishop sought a legal model which called for the silencing of the victor-survivor, avoiding any accountability or responsibility and forcing closure," the storyteller explained. "My hope is to call the church, and particular the Office of the Presiding Bishop, to a season of honest self-examination and repentance so that current and future victor-survivors will not suffer such abuse."

"Rape is a soul-robbing violation," another of the storytelling bishops explained. "It's unconscionable that it happened. Unconscionable that the bishop -- now retired -- colluded in a coverup to protect the priest. Unconscionable that my priest-friend felt that she could tell no one in the church what happened to her."

Confessing himself, he said: "I look back on my own silence of over 20 years with regret. Yet, this has been the status quo in the church. To agree to silence."

"The church will take and destroy your childhood, your innocence and your basic senses of decency because you can sing with power and some understanding in a high vocal range," a bishop said recounting the experience of a former child chorister. "The church is inhabited by persons who are actively collaborative with evil. The church is a place where aesthetics remain in a position of priority over morals, over the safeguarding of children, over the honestly of its temporal inhabitants."

Another bishop, giving voice to an abuse victim, pleaded with the House of Bishops: "Please take seriously the plague of sexual misconduct that affects our branch of the Jesus Movement."

The revelations of gross clerical and episcopal misconduct were apparently too much for at least three bishops, who reportedly left the service before it ended.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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