One Canon Law for the powerful, another for the Orthodox

George Conger has the big news in Today’s CofE Newspaper.

Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori broke national Church canon law by receiving a Catholic priest with a history of sexual misconduct into the ministry of the Episcopal Church, a leading canon lawyer has concluded.

The Presiding Bishop’s office has refused to respond to questions about her alleged violations of Episcopal Church canon law, stating they do not comment on litigation. However, an investigation by The Church of England Newspaper suggests there is a prima facie case that the Presiding Bishop also violated rules she put in place in the Diocese of Nevada governing clergy sexual misconduct when she received the Rev Bede Parry into the priesthood in 2004.

The Presiding Bishop’s silence and the subsequent uproar comes as the Church’s new disciplinary canons came into effect on July 1, making her liable for ecclesiastical discipline for her actions as Bishop of Nevada. It also raises questions about the fairness of the clergy sexual abuse rules, as the canons presume that change of life and rehabilitation are impossible for those who have committed sexual sins.

Last month Fr Parry (69) resigned as an assistant priest on the staff of All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas. On 23 June he was named as a sexual predator in a lawsuit filed by a Missouri man against Conception Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery and seminary.

The lawsuit, filed in Nodaway County Circuit Court in Missouri, alleges that Fr Parry abused a teenage boy attending a choir camp at the abbey in 1987. The boy’s parents complained to the abbot and Fr Parry, who had previously confessed to four earlier incidents of abuse, was suspended and sent to a church-run clinic for sexual abusers in New Mexico. Upon completion of his treatment Fr Parry worked as a church music director in the Southwest and in 2000 applied for admission to another monastery.

The Missouri lawsuit contends that a psychological profile administered in 2000 by the monastery “revealed that Fr Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors.”

Fr Parry began work as music director at All Saints in 2000 and in 2004 was received into the ministry of the Episcopal Church by Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Joseph Paul Smith, an attorney for Fr Parry told CEN his client “has been open since 1987 about his involvement in the misconduct. Fr Bede went to church-prescribed treatment and has obtained treatment on his own since that time. There have been no episodes of misconduct at all since 1987.”

When he applied for reception Fr Parry “did inform” Bishop Jefferts Schori “of the incident in 1987 and his subsequent treatment,” Mr Smith said, adding that “Fr Bede has not been guilty of or participated in any misconduct during his tenure as an Episcopal priest.”

At the time of the 1987 incident, Conception Abbey notified the police of the abuse and “participated and fully cooperated” in their investigation, Mr Smith said, rejecting suggestions there had been a “cover-up”. “The District Attorney at that time made a decision to not prosecute,” he noted.

However, the Diocese of Nevada’s October 2003 Manual of Policies and Procedures Concerning Sexual Misconduct states: “There shall be no ministerial or pastoral role within a congregation for any professional … with a civil or criminal record of conviction of sexual misconduct.”

The diocesan manual further states: “There shall be no interaction with children and youth by anyone with a civil or criminal record of child sexual abuse or who has admitted prior sexual abuse.”

Canon lawyer Allan Haley finds the Presiding Bishop violated the national Church’s canons when she received Fr Parry. The canons governing the reception of Catholic clergy require a certificate “that the departure of the person from the Communion to which the person has belonged has not arisen from any circumstance unfavourable to moral or religious character.” The canons further require background checks and a psychological evaluation.

Mr Halley noted the “questions of what Bishop Jefferts Schori was told, what information she had available to her in the 2000 report, and any subsequent updating of it, and as a result of the background check done on Parry, thus become key to evaluating her decision to allow him to become a priest under her jurisdiction.”

“But her spokesman” he observed, “says only this: ‘We do not comment on lawsuits or allegations’.”

However, Bishop Jefferts Schori was not being asked to comment on lawsuits or the allegations, Mr Haley stated, but to explain her “overriding of the highly disturbing conclusion supposedly reached by the 2000 report: that Father Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to re-offend with minors.”

“The report was sufficient to keep Father Parry out of a Catholic monastery. Was it not also sufficient to keep him out of a position as an Episcopal priest? If not, why not?” Mr Halley asked.

Asked “who was harmed by Bishop Jefferts Schori’s casual reception of a paedophile,” Mr Halley stated: “Surely the other clergy in the Diocese of Nevada have a right to expect that their bishop would adhere to a standard that a candidate for orders in the Church who is caught in a lie about his background would not be accepted? And do not all Episcopalians have cause to be concerned about the adverse publicity that would come upon the Church once the facts came out, as is happening now?”

“How can any Episcopalian,” Mr. Halley asked, “be assured that their newly ordained/received priest is not an admitted paedophile?”

The Bede Parry saga takes a further unusual turn critics note, as it is the Presiding Bishop who has stonewalled the investigation, while Fr Parry has freely confessed his guilt and tendered his resignation from the ministry. His attorney told CEN Fr Parry had resigned as “he did not want this scandal to further harm the Church or its important work. He didn’t want the allegations to harm anyone else and did not want to be a distraction.”

At the height of the Roman Catholic clergy abuse scandal in 2005, Cardinal Avery Dulles writing in First Things argued there are times when priests can not only be forgiven of sin but rehabilitated and, with prudence, returned to public ministry: “Permanent exclusion from priestly ministry is the spiritual equivalent of the death penalty.”

Mr Smith sees the Parry case in this light. “It is a rather unfortunate event that some 24 years of good, even exemplary service, are wiped out and an otherwise good priest is given the ‘spiritual equivalent of the death penalty’,” he observed.

The Rev Ed Lovelady, Fr Parry’s former superior at All Saints told CEN his assistant was “faithful to his priestly ministry, a wonderful pastoral presence to me and to members of the parish, and a friend. I never had even the smallest hint of any kind of inappropriate behaviour, or any inclination to such.”

While he was not aware of his past actions, they would not change his opinion that that Bede Parry is a “true and valued friend and fellow priest.”

“I agree that priests should be entitled to the forgiveness and reconciliation in the Church that we preach about during Lent,” Fr Lovelady added. “We, as the Church, are in the forgiveness business.”

This one has legs on it.

1 Comment on “One Canon Law for the powerful, another for the Orthodox

  1. The Roman Catholic Church isn't 'Orthodox'? And Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr et all seem pretty powerful to me.

    (It should go without saying but: of course ++Katherine should face the highest form of discipline if she's guilty as charged)

    More generally, do you have an opinion on the legitimacy of trying to rehabilitate priests with sexual offences? My last evangelical church had a speaker who was a convicted murderer, and one time the head pastor spoke (the tumbleweed was striking admittedly…) on how the church should be trying to do more to forgive and readmit sex offenders into the church life.

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