Presiding bishop announces Title IV transparency webpage detailing cases against bishops

Move follows calls by fellow bishops for renewed scrutiny

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 22, 2024

The House of Bishops poses for a photo at its March 2022 meeting at Camp Allen, near Navasota, Texas. After some bishops joined other church leaders in calling for greater scrutiny and transparency in disciplinary cases involving bishops, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his designates have authorized the release of chronologies in six such active cases. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church, on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s direction, updated its website to launch a series of informational resources Feb. 22 intended to increase the transparency of pending disciplinary cases involving bishops while also making it easier for the public to file complaints and navigate the church’s inquiry process.

The new webpage on episcopalchurch.org includes chronologies for six active cases involving bishops under the church’s Title IV disciplinary canons — including two newly revealed cases against retired Florida Bishop John Howard. The webpage also shares statistical information on all complaints against bishops received in the past six months, data that will be updated at least once a year. And a blue “report misconduct” button was added to the top-right corner of all pages on the church’s website linking to the new Title IV page.

Until now, details about Title IV cases have mostly remained confidential unless they are referred to a hearing panel, the equivalent of a trial. Church canons require the release of information in hearing panel cases, though most cases are resolved without a hearing. Curry, as presiding bishop, has broad discretion under the canons to make some information public if he deems it “pastorally appropriate” to do so. Curry and, in some cases, bishops he has designated to act on his behalf are now exercising that discretion to release timelines and status updates in select cases when the “matter becomes public.” Church leaders are continuing to protect the identities of complainants and withhold other details about the allegations.

“Experience over the past several years with Title IV matters involving bishops has given rise to calls for more transparency in the process,” Curry said in a letter introducing the new online resources.

“Given the current atmosphere, I have chosen to exercise my canonical discretion to adopt a general protocol for transparency in Title IV matters involving bishops … while also appropriately protecting privacy,” he added.

The Title IV canons apply to all clergy ordained in The Episcopal Church. Their application to bishops has drawn renewed scrutiny, especially since House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris revealed publicly in August 2023 that she had been the complainant in a harassment case that ended in no punishment for the bishop.

Several other cases involving bishops made public last year prompted some church leaders, including fellow bishops, to call for an examination of the church’s disciplinary canons to ensure bishops are held to the same standards as other clergy and to consider possible canonical reforms. Curry and Ayala Harris both urged the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to study the issue and possibly propose resolutions for consideration this June when the 81st General Convention convenes in Louisville, Kentucky.

The newly released chronologies for six specific Title IV cases involving bishops include some information that already had been released by the church’s Office of Public Affairs, and much of the rest of the information was already publicly known through other sources, as reported by Episcopal News Service.

The release, however, confirms publicly for the first time that Howard is the focus of two Title IV investigations, one alleging discrimination and the other for financial matters. The new information also identifies a second case pending against former Rochester Bishop Prince Singh, in addition to the previously known domestic abuse complaint filed by his family.

The chronologies also include a brief timeline of the Singh family’s Title IV case against Curry and Bishop Todd Ousley, who leads the Office of Pastoral Development. Singh’s ex-wife and two adult sons allege Curry and Ousley did not properly or promptly respond to their allegations against Singh. That Title IV case appears to remain in an initial phase.

In the past, the bishop in charge of the Office of Pastoral Development had been assigned by the presiding bishop to serve as intake officer for complaints involving bishops. Last year, Curry chose to reassign that function to a newly created position on his staff. On Aug. 1, the Rev. Barbara Kempf took over as “the primary contact for receiving allegations of misconduct by bishops,” according to a news release announcing her hire.

Since then, Kempf has received information on 34 potential Title IV matters, according to the newly released statistical information, which does not specify how many individual bishops were named. Of those matters, Kempf concluded that seven did not rise to the level of a canonical offense or were not of “clear or weighty importance” to pursue further.

Of the remaining 27 matters, 18 are in the initial inquiry stage, and Kempf has referred the other nine to the Reference Panel, the body that decides next steps on allegations of canonical offenses. Of those nine, the Reference Panel resolved one with a pastoral action, five were sent to an investigation and three are awaiting referral.

Ousley, though no longer serving as intake officer, told the House of Bishops in a September 2023 session that he previously fielded about 40-50 complaints a year, with individual bishops sometimes being the focus of multiple complaints. After initial review, about 95% of those complaints did not rise to the level of Title IV matters, he said. That might mean that the complainant was not alleging any canonical violation, or the matter amounted to something like a communication breakdown between the complainant and the bishop that could be resolved with a pastoral conversation.

In the newly launched Title IV resources, five of the six active cases listed have advanced to formal investigations. The Reference Panel typically requests those investigations and relies on their findings to choose from a range of follow-up options, from closing a case with no discipline to referring it to a hearing panel.

The cases included on the church’s newly launched Title IV webpage are displayed in one of three categories: current cases, hearing panel cases and past cases. Under “current cases,” the bishops facing Title IV complaints are Curry, Ousley, Singh, Howard and Wyoming Bishop Paul-Gordon Chandler.

Two cases involving Bishop Prince Singh

When Singh’s family members went public with their allegations in June 2023, Singh was serving as bishop provisional of the dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. Curry recused himself from the case, designating his Title IV role to the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III, a former bishop of East Carolina and former dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

In September 2023, Daniel restricted Singh’s ordained ministry while the Title IV case was pending. Singh resigned as bishop provisional a day later.

The newly released chronologies, which don’t include the names of those involved, indicate that the Reference Panel referred the Singh matter for a possible accord on Oct. 18. Two weeks later, the Reference Panel referred it for an investigation instead. Since then, the family has called for an independent investigation into the handling of their case.

Much less is known about the second case involving Singh. The chronology says only that it involves alleged “improper behavior” in the Diocese of Rochester, in New York.

Singh was consecrated in 2008 as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester. 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. In July 2021, Singh informed the Rochester Standing Committee that he intended to resign.

The online chronology indicates the second case was initiated soon after the one involving his family. The last listed activity was Oct. 10, when it too was referred for an investigation.

Two cases involving Bishop John Howard

In the Diocese of Florida, some clergy and lay leaders have accused Howard of a pattern and practice of discriminating against LGBTQ+ clergy and those who opposed his stated views against same-sex marriage. Howard reached the mandatory clergy retirement age of 72 on Sept. 8 and resigned at the end of October.

The chronology of the first Title IV case against him indicates Kempf first officially received information about those allegations in July 2023 as she was preparing to take on the role of intake officer for bishops. On Oct. 19, she forwarded an intake report to the Reference Panel, which referred the case to an investigation on Nov. 9.

The second case against Howard is described only as “of a financial nature.” It was initiated on Aug. 11 and referred for an investigation on the same day as the discrimination case.

“The standing committee is aware of the complaints against Bishop Howard,” the Diocese of Florida said Feb. 22 in a written statement to ENS after the church launched the new webpage. “The diocese will fully cooperate with the Title IV process. We have been assured it will be fair and pastoral to both the complainants and to Bishop Howard. We ask everyone to keep the complainants and Bishop Howard in your prayers.”

Bishop Paul-Gordon Chandler on administrative leave

The case against Chandler was revealed in October when the church’s Office of Public Affairs issued a news release saying he had been placed on administrative leave. The release provided no information about the nature of the allegations against Chandler – identified in the new chronology only as “allegations of misconduct” – though a letter to the diocese from the chair of its standing committee cited “an alleged indiscretion with a member of our diocesan team.”

The restriction on Chandler’s ministry was enacted by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, vice president of the House of Bishops, on behalf of Curry, who was recovering from surgery. The online chronology also says that the Reference Panel referred the case for an investigation on Oct. 19. No other updates were given.

Case involving Curry and Ousley

The chronology of the Singh family’s complaint against Curry and Ousley begins on Dec. 28, when the family addressed a letter to bishops outlining their allegations, recounting their interactions with the presiding bishop and Ousley and saying they have no faith that a bishop or other clergy member could impartially investigate their complaint.

Curry recused himself from the case. Gray-Reeves initially served as Curry’s designate, but in a Jan. 10 letter to bishops, she announced she too was recusing herself. Since then, the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, retired Southern Virginia bishop, has taken her place in the matter.

Kempf also recused herself as intake officer for this case, and that role has been designated to the Rev. Mary Sulerud, interim rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, according to the church’s Office of Public Affairs.

Information on the Title IV allegations was provided to Sulerud on Jan. 18, according to the online chronology. There are no further updates since then.

Case against Bishop William Love rounds out new online chronologies

On the new Title IV webpage, the “hearing panel” category is empty, indicating no active cases facing a hearing.

There is one case listed under “past cases,” the one involving former Episcopal Bishop William Love. He led the Diocese of Albany until a hearing panel in October 2020 found he had violated church law by prohibiting clergy from using the same-sex marriage rite approved for churchwide use by General Convention in 2018. Love has since left The Episcopal Church.

The website does not include a chronology of Ayala Harris’ Title IV complaint. In July 2022, she alleged retired Oklahoma Bishop Ed Konieczny “physically overpowered her” in an incident at the 80th General Convention. Konieczny denied any misconduct, and Ayala Harris’ case was closed in July 2023 with a “pastoral response” and no further action.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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