[Episcopal News Service — Salt Lake City] The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, meeting here June 25-July 3, approved several Title IV revisions, including adding sanctions for those who may attempt to delay or disrupt the disciplinary process and allocating money to produce training videos and manuals to help streamline proceedings.
The Standing Commission on Constitutions and Canons (SCCC), one of the church’s interim bodies that worked throughout the triennium and reported its recommendations to General Convention, had proposed some 25 resolutions that were meant primarily to clarify language in the church’s clergy disciplinary canons known as Title IV.
But some significant changes also were approved, including Resolution A127, which added a new section to Canon IV.5 “to provide express authority for the imposition of sanctions upon a party for disruption to the Title IV process.”
Convention approved another resolution, A150, and allocated nearly $340,000 to develop churchwide training materials to assist in informing and streamlining the process plus another nearly $225,000 to translate those materials into Spanish and Creole. Convention passed a budget for the 2016-2018 triennium that includes $300,000 for training. Money for translations of work done by the church’s interim bodies that meet between convention was budgeted in a lump sum.
Diocese of Utah Chancellor Steve Hutchinson, vice chair of General Convention’s Constitutions and Canons legislative committee that oversaw the bulk of Title IV resolutions, estimated at least $1 million had been spent unnecessarily responding to Title IV issues “that would not have been spent if people within the structure of Title IV in different dioceses had this training.”
Title IV complaints involve clergy disciplinary actions covering a broad range of offenses, including financial abuse, sexual misconduct, heresy, violation of ordination vows and other behaviors unbecoming a member of the clergy.
The 78th General Convention changes are intended to provide a speedier, more pastoral and accountable process for all parties affected by Title IV actions.
According to Resolution A127 approved by convention, sanctions may be imposed upon a respondent, the respondent’s attorney or church attorneys for conduct the hearing panel deems disruptive or contrary to the integrity of the proceedings. Sanctions imposed are to be proportionate to the misconduct and may even include disqualification of counsel. Sanctions may be appealed to the disciplinary board within 10 days of being issued.
In other significant action, convention agreed with the SCCC-proposed churchwide training (Resolution A150) after conducting a 2013 survey of bishops, chancellors and others, soliciting feedback regarding 2009 Title IV amendments. After studying more than 100 Title IV issues, the commission “quickly and repeatedly discovered that a steady theme permeated its work — an acute and immediate need for comprehensive training,” according to the commission report to convention.
Survey results indicated that the process “often takes too long and costs too much money; that church officials are often uncertain of their authority and duties; and that respondents are often permitted to disrupt and delay the process, causing significant pastoral harm to complainants, injured parties and entire congregations that are held in limbo without effective resolution and closure,” according to the report.
In most cases, the commission determined that the problems described “were the result of inadequate training in the Title IV process, not in the canonical process itself,” the report stated. Training materials would include online modules and offline written material for clergy and all persons holding Title IV offices and others in the church community who have questions about Title IV.
“A poorly handled Title IV matter can cause unnecessary – and often irreparable – harm to both relationships and reputations of all parties involved,” according to the commission. “The church has a responsibility to remediate any unnecessary costs, both relational and financial. Consistent and quality upfront training can greatly assist in this regard. More harm to the church can flow from the mismanagement of a claim than from the misconduct itself. The training should be viewed as an investment in a savings plan rather than an unwanted cost.”
In other action, convention approved changes to:
• Canon IV.6.3 (Resolution A128) clarifying diocesan bishops have “an affirmative duty to forward information to the intake office.” The changes addressed complaints that previously the canon could be interpreted that bishops “could bypass or misuse the Title IV process by selectively withholding information that should reasonably be the subject of the more objective evaluation of the complaint in the Title IV process,” according to the resolution’s explanation.
• Canon IV.6.9 (Resolution A132), imposing a 90-day deadline for action in a referral to a diocesan bishop for an agreement. “The change will ensure that the complaint does not languish and that the Title IV process stays on track for a prompt resolution,” according to the resolution.
• Canon IV.7.4 (Resolution A133) clarifying terms of compensation for clergy involved in Title IV actions in a way that attempts to be pastoral to both clergy and the congregation involved.
A proposed change to Canon IV.19.4 (Resolution A144) clarifying time limits (statute of limitations) for bringing a complaint regarding physical violence, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation against a person under 21 years of age “does not apply to complaints asserted against the actual perpetrators and any clergy who aided and abetted the conduct” was referred back to the committee for more work.
Additionally, General Convention approved a measure (Resolution D076) to direct the SCCC “to study the need to collect information relating to all Title IV proceedings, identify the information to be collected, the methodology to collect and report the information, and the person or office responsible for administration of the process.”
The information collected would help to “provide a missing link,” according to Hutchinson, creating an entity to oversee information to help identify additional areas for training, allocation of resources and further revisions.
—The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team reporting about the 78th General Convention.