[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Prince Singh resigned Sept. 8 as bishop provisional of the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, the day after he was restricted in his ordained ministry amid a disciplinary investigation into domestic abuse allegations by his two sons and ex-wife.
The Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan standing committees, speaking jointly, announced Singh’s resignation in a message to the dioceses, saying they had “reached a mutual decision” with Singh to step down “allowing him to focus on the next phase of the Title IV process, his family, and his personal well-being, and allowing our dioceses to step ahead in forward-thinking mission together, focused on our collective ministry and ongoing discernment.” The standing committees will assume the role of ecclesiastical authority of their dioceses.
Singh, in a message included with the standing committees’ announcement, asserted that his resignation “is not an admission of guilt but intends to remove the distraction from our discernment in these dioceses.”
“I have seen the amazing things you are already doing and see on the horizon amazing opportunities for missional effectiveness through potential juncture,” Singh said, referring to the possibility of the two dioceses formally merging. “I am sorry for the impact this Title IV situation has had on our work and for any harm this situation may have raised out of past traumas of individuals and communities.”
The Episcopal Church’s Title IV disciplinary canons apply to all clergy, though they have drawn renewed scrutiny in recent weeks over concerns that the process for investigating complaints against bishops has not ensured equal accountability. Singh is one of at least three Episcopal bishops to face Title IV complaints this year. Confidentiality in the early stages of the Title IV review process makes it difficult to determine if other complaints have been made.
A potential Title IV inquiry has been pending against Florida Bishop John Howard since late last year based on allegations that the Diocese of Florida, under his leadership, engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against LGBTQ+ clergy and those who disagreed with the bishop’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Church leaders so far have not publicly acknowledged any Title IV proceedings against Howard, who reaches the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72 on Sept. 8. Under church canons, he could remain in office up to three months, including through the diocese’s upcoming convention on Sept. 30.
And House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris revealed on Aug. 30 that she had filed a complaint against an unnamed retired bishop alleging he sexually harassed her in July 2022 at the 80th General Convention. That case ended in a “pastoral response” but no discipline for the bishop, who was later identified by others as former Oklahoma Bishop Ed Konieczny.
After Ayala Harris’ shared general details of her case, a group of female bishops from western United States dioceses drafted a letter asking that the issue of bishop discipline be added to the House of Bishops’ Sept. 19-22 online meeting to address growing perceptions and concerns that “bishops get a free pass on behavioral issues.”
The bishops’ letter, which was signed by dozens of its authors’ peers, lamented “several recent high-profile cases in which bishops were accused of improper behavior, and many in the church believe those bishops received few or no consequences.”
That letter did not identify a particular case, though its language echoes concerns raised by some making Title IV complaints against bishops, including Singh’s sons.
Singh, a native of India, was ordained as a priest in 2000 in the Diocese of Newark, in New Jersey, and in 2008 was consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, in New York. Documents obtained by Episcopal News Service from his tenure in Rochester indicate that he was beloved by many in that diocese but that he also fueled tensions with others who objected to his management style.
Those tensions came to a head in 2015, prompting The Episcopal Church’s Office of Pastoral Development to assign an outside bishop as mediator in an attempt to mend relations between Singh and others in the diocese, particularly a group of clergy who called themselves “The Advocates.” That clergy group disbanded in 2017 after issuing a report saying that Singh and the diocese had taken only “preliminary steps toward building trust and reconciliation.”
In July 2021, Singh informed the Rochester Standing Committee that he intended to resign. He later said in his September announcement to the diocese that it was “time to say goodbye,” without elaborating on his reasons for stepping down, effective February 2022.
At the same time, the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan had been without a bishop since Presiding Bishop Michael Curry suspended the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hougland Jr. in June 2020 over Hougland’s admitted extramarital affair. Hougland had led both dioceses for less than a year through a partnership agreement between the two dioceses. When Hougland completed his one-year suspension in June 2021, the two standing committees chose not to accept him back as their bishop.
Hougland, after serving as transitional director of the Diocese of Ohio’s Bellwether Farm, is now interim rector at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago, Illinois.
In August 2021, the Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan standing committees began interviewing three candidates for their next bishop provisional. One of them was Singh, and in September, while Singh was telling the Diocese of Rochester of his plans to resign there, leaders in Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan prepared to announce him as their nominee for bishop. He was elected bishop provisional of the two dioceses in October 2021 and took office the following February.
Singh, however, also faced growing family strife. He and his wife, Jebaroja Suganthy-Singh, finalized their divorce in April 2022, and in December, his sons, Nivedhan Singh and Ekalaivan Singh, and their mother contacted Curry to say they felt shunned by the church and to reveal what they described as a history of abuse by Singh, according to a website they launched to detail their complaints.
In June 2023, the two sons went public on social media with their allegations of physical, verbal and psychological abuse dating back decades against them and their mother. At that time, Singh said he welcomed a Title IV investigation of the matter, and he was allowed to remain active as a bishop while the case proceeded.
Since then, the sons have intensified their calls for the church to respond to the allegations against their father, and they have accused Curry of not adequately addressing the matter.
As is consistent with the private nature of Title IV cases, Curry and other churchwide leaders have said little publicly about the case, and it is unclear where the investigation is in the process outlined by the church’s Title IV canons.
In a case involving a bishop, much of the initial work is completed by an entity known as the Reference Panel, while a separate entity, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, exercises “original jurisdiction over matters of discipline.” The disciplinary board is made up of 18 elected members, a mix of bishops, other clergy and lay leaders. The Reference Panel includes the presiding bishop, the intake officer and the president of the disciplinary board.
On Sept. 7, The Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs announced that Curry had recused himself from the case and assigned the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III to fill his oversight role. That same announcement said Daniel, a former bishop of East Carolina and former dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, imposed a restriction on Singh that applies to “all aspects of ordained ministry – in The Episcopal Church or in any other church,” according to the church’s one-paragraph statement. The restriction “will remain in effect until further notice.”
In a email to ENS after Singh’s resignation, his sons and ex-wife said they “are grateful for this progress and look forward to the Title IV investigation bringing further justice,” though they expressed continued concern that the church would “sacrifice Bishop Singh in order to deflect attention from the system that both empowered him and allowed him to stay in power for over nine months after we disclosed abuse.”
“Until we are willing to hold those we love accountable for causing harm in positions of power, [the church] will not substantially change,” they said.
Because Curry has recused himself, Daniel is presumed to have taken his place on the Reference Panel in this case. The Reference Panel, after reviewing the intake report and potentially gathering additional information would have several options, ranging from closing the case with little more than a “pastoral response” to advancing it for consideration of disciplinary action against Singh.
With Singh agreeing to resign, the Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan standing committees said in their Sept. 8 statement they will seek an assisting bishop “to offer pastoral presence for our diocesan and parish leaders on a temporary basis,” and they are likely to launch a new search for a bishop provisional. Meetings with clergy and lay leaders are scheduled Sept. 19 to discuss the latest developments.
“We prayerfully recognize that this situation is complex and this news will be received in many ways within and beyond our dioceses,” the standing committees said. “We have tread in these waters before. We have learned much from our previous experience of bishop discipline, both about our imperfect and beloved church and about our resilient and courageous dioceses. We have grown in relationship and in trust of one another across our leadership. We have taken on big questions and come out stronger together on the other side.
“We will address this new challenge with careful stewardship of our body, compassion for one another, and faith in the One who loves us infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.