[Episcopal News Service] The standing commission tasked with considering and recommending revisions to The Episcopal Church’s clergy discipline canons released an update Oct. 12 calling for churchwide input as it discusses a range of Title IV concerns.
The Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons’ work during an in-person meeting Oct. 9-11 followed parallel calls by the church’s presiding bishop and House of Deputies president for a new examination of those Title IV disciplinary canons amid growing scrutiny of several cases involving bishops.
“The issues we face arise in part because of the language and structure of Title IV,” the standing commission said in its update. “They arise as well from the manner in which the church implements these canons, the tension between transparency to build trust and confidentiality to protect participants, and the culture of the wider church.”
The standing commission added that the goals of its deliberations are to ensure rules that “work well in practice to protect people from misconduct; resolve complaints fairly, promptly, and efficiently; and screen out meritless claims.”
The update also listed at least five areas of inquiry that have been identified so far:
- The canonical role of church attorneys in resolving Title IV cases.
- The discretion given to certain individuals and bodies in resolving misconduct complaints before a disciplinary trial.
- The need to ensure churchwide consistency in the handling of such complaints.
- The “overwhelming number of people” involved in carrying out the current Title IV process.
- Similarities and differences in how the canons are applied to bishops and other clergy.
The commission, which is composed of 10 laity, five clergy and five bishops, regularly re-examines the Title IV canons on the church’s behalf to consider updates. The disciplinary canons apply to all clergy, though critics say the process for receiving and responding to complaints against bishops has not ensured equal accountability.
The renewed attention to that process follows House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris’ Aug. 30 letter to the house revealing that she had been the complainant in a Title IV case against an unnamed retired bishop, alleging he “physically overpowered” her during a July 2022 incident at the 80th General Convention. The bishop was later identified by others as former Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny, who has denied engaging in any misconduct.
That case concluded at the end of July 2023 with a “pastoral response” but no discipline for Konieczny.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who chairs the House of Bishops, followed with a video message released Sept. 5 asking the standing commission to examine Title IV as it pertains to bishops, including “to listen to the concerns and hopes of the laity, clergy, and bishops of this church” and “to recommend to the General Convention needed canonical and procedural changes in ecclesiastical discipline of bishops.”
The 81st General Convention will convene in June 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky. The standing commission was one of several of the church’s interim bodies that met in person this week at the Maritime Conference Center near Baltimore, Maryland, as they prepare to file reports and resolutions that will be considered by the 81st General Convention.
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.