An Episcopal Story

A reader writes:

The Roman Church is very quick to protest that clergy sex abuse is not limited to their domain, and this is true, but when one compares the way that it has handled the issue to the way it is handled by other denominations, their protestations ring mighty hollow.

A singular case in point happened a number of years ago in a small town in Massachusetts. The rector of the Episcopal Church was accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old boy more than thirty years prior when the priest was serving at another parish in another state. The relationship appears to have been at least quasi-consensual (although one could argue, convincingly in my view, that a fully consensual relationship between a grown man, particularly one as influential as a priest, and an adolescent is not possible).

The priest, when confronted with the accusation, admitted that the relationship had taken place, and the Diocese of Massachusetts removed him, not only from his position as parish rector, but also from the Episcopal priesthood, THAT VERY DAY.

Even though the relationship had taken place a long time before, and even though the priest was almost universally beloved in his community and very effective at his calling, the church, understanding that in cases like these the issue is not sex but abuse of power, determined quite rightly that there should be no statute of limitations and that zero tolerance must be demonstrated.

I always think of this when I read about clergy sex abuse cases going on for five, ten, a dozen years. With regard to the people who exist within its hierarchy, the Roman church’s power is absolute. It could remove these men with the same dispatch that the Episcopal church showed if it wanted to. It doesn’t want to.