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The Episcopal Church reveals clergy misconduct cases involving nominees for presiding bishop

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(RNS) — Two of the five bishops being considered for the top leadership role in the Episcopal Church are currently subjects of ongoing church discipline investigations, the denomination disclosed Thursday afternoon (June 13). 

Those two nominees, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York, and Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, who leads the Diocese of Pennsylvania, also both had previous complaints dismissed, as did a third nominee, Bishop Robert Wright, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

The announcement comes less than two weeks before the election of the next presiding bishop at the denomination’s General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Over the past year, many bishops, other clergy, and laypeople have called for greater transparency in our processes that address bishop misconduct,” said the announcement, which was written by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Vice President of the House of Bishops Mary Gray-Reeves, who is acting as presiding bishop-designate in some church investigations. “As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we know that the call to lead comes with an extra measure of accountability, and we believe that balancing appropriate confidentiality with appropriate transparency will help increase trust that our church is a safe place for all of God’s children.”

The denominanation’s Title IV process covers alleged clergy misconduct ranging from XXXX to XXXXX. From August 2023 to February 2023, 34 complaints about clergy misconduct were made to the denomination’s Title IV instake officer. Of them, 7 were dismissed, 9 were sent on a panel for more investigation, and 18 of those matters are still at the initial inquiry stage. 

The process has been been criticized for being too complex and ineffective. 

Of the current nominees for presiding bishop, Duncan-Probe was the subject of an anonymous report in early May alleging she publicly misrepresented her academic credentials, according to the announcement. The matter was referred for investigation later that month.

In an update sent to her diocese, Duncan-Probe said she believed the claim had to do with her  degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation, which her online biography says was completed at Oxford University.  

“Be assured that, in response to the Title IV complaint, I have provided these documents substantiating my Ph.D.,” she wrote. “It is my full expectation that this Title IV will soon be completed and dismissed.”

Gutiérrez, is the subject of an investigation regarding complaints that he mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct against a priest in his diocese. Religion News Service reported in December that a parishioner who reported abuse allegations against a priest in Gutiérrez’s diocese found the church investigation disorienting, disempowering and at times combative.  The complaint against Gutiérrez was referred for investigation on June 11. 

In an email sent to priests (WAS it just priests, or whole diocese?) in Gutiérrez’ diocese, the bishop said  he had not been informed  “of any specific act or failure to act that, if proven, suggests a violation of our canons.” He also said in the matter under investigation, he was in the difficult position of providing pastoral care to both complainant and respondent.

“I want to iterate that it takes courage to come forward and report misconduct,” Gutiérrez wrote. “We have an obligation to ensure protection for anyone who has been harmed by the church. And, we have an obligation to the truth.”

Thursday’s announcement also listed three additional reports involving nominees that were dismissed: a December 2023 complaint against Duncan-Probe regarding her refusal to permit a ministerial candidate from continuing the discernment process; a May 2024 complaint against Gutiérrez charging him with resolving a clergy misconduct matter with a written resolution the complainant said was too harsh, and for reportedly providing insufficient pastoral care for the parish involved; and a December 2023 complaint involving the Rev. Robert Wright, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, for “allegations of ageism, ableism, microaggressions and abuse of power,” per the announcement. In the cases involving Gutiérrez and Wright, the dismissals were also accompanied by “pastoral response.”



Curry and Gray-Reeves noted that while church bylaws don’t require these disclosures, they are permitted when pastorally appropriate. Sharing this information publicly, the church leaders said, “protects the integrity of the presiding bishop election.” They added that those facing Title IV allegations are “presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

The denomination is currently drafting proposed changes to the Title IV process, in response to concerns raised both clergy and lay Episcopalians. Those proposals are currently being considered by a subcommittee that will make recommendations on the proposals are considered at the church’s General Convention. In February, Curry, who is also the subject of a Title IV complaint related to his response to reported bishop misconduct, announced steps to make it simpler to report bishop misconduct.  

 

 

 





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