Thursday, March 22, 2018

March for Our Lives and a Message from the Diocese of New York

Speak Out on Gun Violence!
March With Your Fellow Episcopalians in the NYC
March For Our Lives.
This Saturday, March 24

Meet at 9 a.m. inside the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

at Poets Corner (on your left as you enter from Amsterdam Ave ~ please tell Cathedral Visitors' Service that you are there for the march).

March 16, 2018

Our Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Three days ago you received a letter from your bishops regarding the issues of gun violence in America which have been raised with fresh urgency by the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.  In that letter we invited wide participation in the March for Our Lives demonstrations that will happen in Washington D.C. and across our country on the 24th, and we published the statement on gun violence issued by the House of Bishops in our meeting last week at Camp Allen, Texas.

In this letter we want to publish the second statement by the House of Bishops, regarding Sexual Harassment and Abuse.  That letter announces the intention of the House to offer opportunities at the coming General Convention for women and men to bring forward their own accounts of the events of harassment or abuse which they have suffered, particularly when that has come from those in power.  We believe that such a listening event, happening at the opening of the General Convention, has the potential to shape the work of the Convention in a spirit both of greater openness and trust, and of appropriate repentance.  Certainly it is imperative that the church and its leaders receive the witness of the abuse and violence which has been visited upon so many women, as well as men, within the communities and structures of the church. 

But we are also convinced that the bringing forward of so many personal stories, often at personal risk or cost, requires of us that we revisit the practices of our own Diocese of New York to guarantee, as we are able, that the church will be a place of safety and of integrity for all people, and that in all we do we renew our commitment to "respect the dignity of every human being." 


Last Fall, at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement in America, three priests in our diocese made it known on Facebook that they had been the victims of sexual harassment in the context of their ordination process.  As each of them had been ordained by me (Bishop Dietsche) in my time as Bishop of New York, this was alarming news.   I reached out to each of them, and in very preliminary conversations they let me know something of the context in which the offenses took place.  For the specific circumstances of their situations there are remedies and preventions which can be put into place and they are being so.  But the personal, shocking realization for me was that these abuses had happened "on my watch."  They had been visited upon women whom I had invited into the process of discernment, whom I believed in, and it was in that process that they were victimized.  That was a sad and sober learning, and one which was and continues to be an occasion of my own repentance.  I am profoundly sorry. 

But their accounts gave a glimpse into the larger dynamic of power and vulnerability in the church, and how the authorities given to leaders at every level of the church to support and nurture health and strength and life and possibility, may be twisted to violate and humiliate and degrade, and to impose shame and silence upon the innocent.  This is the insidious and corrupting dimension of human sin:  not just that human beings do wrong, but that we are all far too ready to corrupt and bend the good gifts of God into tools for the control and abuse of other people.  This is destructive of the church;  it is undermining of the gospel;  it blinds us to the possibilities of God in one another and in our world.  "Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?"  "Do you renounce all evil desires that draw you from the love of God?"  We renounce them.  God help us.

The first sin of Eden was jealousy for power, and the challenge of the church in every age, and in our own, has been to overcome the desire to place one person over another, and to use other people to serve our own needs or desires or satisfactions.  The stories which have come before us in the #MeToo Movement are new to our ears for many of us, but we hear in them the ancient, even biblical, strains of sin and suffering and ruin.

One of the personally troubling things for us as your bishops in these last months has been the realization that while a great weight of personal accounts by victims has come forward in these months, only a very few of them have been told to us directly.  It has been a reminder to us that we are the inheritors and bearers of the authorities of the church, and of its powers, and that we carry the responsibility for the failures in our structures which have allowed these abuses to take place.  It has been a reminder that by virtue of the offices we hold, many women and men who have been abused may not believe that it is safe to tell us their stories.  We understand that some fear punishment, reprisal or consequence just for speaking up.  This realization has been humbling, and because we love you, it has broken our hearts.  We are remorseful, and we are sorry.  As your bishops we see that we have responsibility for the problem, and we must lead this our beloved community to healing.

We cannot say that what we propose in this letter is comprehensive.  These are first steps, and we invite constructive comment and reflection:

I (Bishop Dietsche) am going to create a Chaplain to Postulants and Candidates.  This is not intended to be a staff position, but will carry some modest compensation.  Recognizing the special vulnerabilities that people in the ordination process live with, this Chaplain will stand outside the structure of power and decision-making which makes coming forward so risky for aspirants to ordained ministry.  When it is appropriate that the accounts of aspirants be brought forward to me or to our intake officer, the Chaplain will serve not only as pastor to the aspirant, but as advocate for her or him.  
I am also going to create a position apart from the intake officers, not unlike the position above, for clergy and laypeople across the diocese who have a story of harassment to tell, but who are not ready to bring that story directly to me or into the formal disciplinary processes of the church.  And again, when it is appropriate that a story be brought forward, this person will serve not only as pastor, but as advocate for her or him.  Both of these new roles will carry the highest expectation of confidentiality for the person bringing their account.  
We will create a process this year to review the materials and forms by which we offer and require Safe Church training in the diocese, that that training may encompass the learnings and reflections of the #MeToo Movement, and that that training be as comprehensive and as effective, and as holy, as possible.  
Finally, we will invite a small number of ordained and lay people from the diocese to help us create a process by which clergy and lay people with accounts of harassment and abuse by clergy or lay people may safely tell their stories and have them respectfully heard.  That we may listen and learn.  That we may all of us "go and sin no more."  

May God equip us for the challenges and opportunities of this work.  May God make us brave and strong and faithful to be open and truthful and wise with one another.  May we never forget that everything we do that is worth doing is done to the glory of God and not our own. 

You may, if you like, follow this link to the sermon Bishop Dietsche gave on Ash Wednesday at Trinity Parish and in our Cathedral, in reflection on the story of Tamar, daughter of King David. 
Below you will find the statement of the House of Bishops.

The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York

The Right Reverend Allen K Shin
Bishop Suffragan of New York

The Right Reverend Mary D Glasspool
Bishop Assistant of New York

*  *  *  *  *

Episcopal Church House of Bishops
Statement on Sexual Harassment and Gender Bias
March 7, 2018

This is the first time the House of Bishops has met as a body since the #MeToo movement began last fall, bringing to light the reality of sexual harassment, gender-based violence, and the cultural stronghold of gender bias and inequity. We continue our own work of reconciliation within our branch of God's Church, honoring what we have learned and accomplished, as well as acknowledging the distance we still must travel. Reconciliation is the long work of healing offered by the Spirit, made possible by grace, which requires our truth-telling and repentance.

Many of us have experienced sexual harassment and perhaps sexual violence. Bishops who are women know the "me-too" experience. Some bishops who are men know it as well. We live with different experiences of the cultural endowment of power. We know the Church has fallen short of our responsibility to listen and respond. In this time of heightened awareness it is with greater intention that we now invite the church to a deeper examination of what God intends for our relationships.

This work will take courage. As many women and men bravely come forward to speak the truth of their experience, courageous men and women will listen, where appropriate repent, and take an active role in repairing the brokenness, working to change the culture of our church.

We will offer a listening process in an open meeting at General Convention to hear more fully the stories of those who have been victims of sexual harassment and violence in the church. The date and time is July 4, 5:15 pm to 7:00 pm in the House of Bishops convention meeting space. The design of this process is being developed. Further details will be posted via social media and through Episcopal news outlets.

Together women and men can form partnerships for reconciliation.  We seek a more faithful, just and holy life together. We welcome the Spirit's renewing work among us as we seek faithfully to walk in the way of Jesus.

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