Saturday, October 26, 2013

Do the Job: "Bishop" Means "Overseer"

Years ago, under the administration of a previous bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars were spent for consultants to help the bishop do his job. The faithful, lay and clergy alike, were increasingly outraged. The word "bishop" stems from the Greek word "episcopos," which means oversight. It seemed that the bishop himself was unable to perform the essential functions oversight, and thus, non-ordained outsiders had to be brought in to coach him in doing his job.

Fast forward to the current mess over the repeated mishandling of instances of clergy misconduct by top officials in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Following the example of successful damage control in at least six other Roman Catholic dioceses, the Archdiocese is hiring outside consultants to review the files of all its "active" clergy to ascertain that any allegations of misconduct are being handled more appropriately than in the past.

Consultants shouldn't be necessary for common sense to be exercised by leaders. A priest who attracted repeated police interventions through cruising known gay hook-ups spots very obviously shouldn't be allowed to work in a parish without at least alerting lay leaders and staff members to their priest's particular failings, and requiring that priest to undergo massive therapeutic interventions and intense supervision. Duh. The consequences of this lapse in obvious common sense: two boys of a parish staff member were abused, and the perpetrator is now in prison. Kevin McDonough, first appointed by Archbishop Harry Flynn and key player in making this absurd judgement call, deserves major opprobrium for it, because this particular instance of abuse was so easily and obviously preventable.

Then there's the case of the popular priest who, at minimum, had an intense emotional affair with a minor, and allegedly some inappropriate physical contact, as well. Post-investigation recommendations that this priest not be permitted contact with young people needed to be followed. Duh. But what was this priest's assignment? Campus minister at a college, where his duties included private counseling with students and leading overnight student retreats, both locally and abroad. The obvious common sense recommendations were not followed. So to establish credibility, the Archdiocese needs highly-compensated consultants to examine the files and ascertain that no further idiocies like these are being committed.

Showing the door to overly-troubled clergy and guiding reasonably-healthy clergy are essential functions of oversight. If a particular bishop's administration is so fundamentally--let's not mince words--screwed up--that it can't make these obvious judgment calls correctly, it's time for a drastically different network of oversight to be substituted. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the average pewster will not be terribly impressed with new actors simply being placed in old roles.

The mysteries of a supposedly-universal charism of priestly celibacy are admittedly beyond the ken of this Episcopalian (i.e. American Anglican) writer. But my deepest hunch is that this dual-headed problem of sexual misconduct and horribly-skewed oversight would mostly disappear if clergy were permitted to marry and if women were welcomed into the ranks of the clergy.

More than a few folks have asked me why I bother with so much concern about a denomination not my own. The answer is that all of us Christians are in this together. A lack of credibility in one part of the Church Universal affects every other part. We don't each, separately, need to reinvent the wheels that carry us towards a more perfect Church. Experience in one part of the body can and should benefit another if we can offer and accept it non-triumphally and non-defensively. There are many, Many, MANY things this conservative Episcopalian admires about the Roman Catholic Church and wishes her own denomination would emulate. When it comes to handling clergy misconduct well, however, I do think that the Episcopal Church, while not enjoying a perfect record (as recent news stories reveal) is further down the holy path of common sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment