To be published in every congregation of the diocese not later than Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019
February 20, 2019
Dear People of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts,
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings issued a call in January 2018 to The Episcopal Church to “examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years.” They invited voices from across the church to help determine how to proceed in both “atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”
Thankfully, many of those voices have been heard over the past year. Stories were collected and anonymously related in a “Liturgy of Listening” at the 79th General Convention last July in Austin, Texas. They also inspired a number of resolutions which came before General Convention, among them resolution D034.
This resolution called for a three-year suspension of the statute of limitations on clergy disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct involving adults. (There is no time limit on reporting clergy sexual misconduct against children and youth under age 21). The adoption of this resolution lifts the statute of limitations, providing an opportunity for those injured or affected by sexual misconduct by Episcopal clergy to relate their stories, as well as a vehicle for the church to respond with disciplinary processes for the clergy responsible for these acts and with concrete actions toward the healing of individuals, congregations and, in some cases, entire dioceses affected by abusive actions.
As your bishop, I invite prayers from all of our clergy, lay leaders, and congregations for all who have been victims of clergy sexual abuse, harassment, or exploitation. And for those who have been affected, I encourage you to speak the truth of your experience. For too long, these stories have existed in the shadows. As painful as it may be, it is time to bring them to light and to repent for the failings of the Church and to pursue appropriate discipline for those who have committed acts of misconduct and to seek healing for victims and their loved ones who have affected by these actions.How does one go about reporting these incidents? Our diocesan Title IV Intake Officer is the Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm. Those coming forward with a complaint can be assured that their identity will be held in confidence until and unless they agree that it may be revealed to others. The Episcopal Church’s clergy disciplinary process can be reviewed here.
I realize that merely raising these issues can cause pain and hurt among our members. I know and trust you to be pastorally aware – knowing as I do that silence is complicity, but that speaking the truth is never easy. As leaders, ordained and lay, you are in my prayers as you offer love and support in the name of Jesus to all who have been hurt in our diocese.
We take this work of safeguarding God’s people seriously. When trust has been violated, God’s people and God’s mission suffer. Our Fall Clergy Day, on Thursday, September 26, 2019 will be devoted to Safe Church Training and Updates on Title IV. All clergy will be required to attend this training as we continue to do this work that God has given us to do, toward God’s mission of mercy, compassion, and hope.
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher
IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts