Dear Clergy and Wardens in the Diocese of Massachusetts,
In January, we wrote a pastoral letter to the people of the Diocese of Massachusetts regarding sexual misconduct in the church. We noted how 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.” Stories were collected and anonymously related in a “Liturgy of Listening” at the 79th General Convention last July in Austin, Texas. These stories inspired a number of resolutions which came before General Convention, among them resolution D034 which called for a three-year suspension, from January 1, 2019, until December 31, 2021, of the statute of limitations on clergy disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct against adults.
We recognize that clergy are not the only ones who have committed acts of abuse or harassment in the church. Some who are lay staff, volunteers or parishioners have acted inappropriately. While the canonical disciplinary process applies only to active and retired clergy, our diocesan #MeToo Task Force has given consideration over the past several months as to how we as a diocese receive and respond to stories of sexual abuse or harassment committed by lay persons, or by members of the clergy who are either no longer in Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church or who are now deceased. Our desire is that our churches be safe places for everyone, environments where all can thrive in faith in God and service to their neighbors.
To support healing and create a more respectful and honest culture in our churches, the #MeToo Task Force has developed an online storytelling tool as well as a secure e-mail address (MeToo@diomass.org) through which stories of sexual misconduct in the church may be shared voluntarily. The online storytelling tool provides an opportunity for those who have experienced, witnessed or perpetrated sexual harassment or abuse to share their story and, if they wish, to receive pastoral support. The form includes a sequence of question prompts to assist users in relating their experience, but there are no required fields and users can share as much or as little as they wish. Stories may be related anonymously and will be held in confidence except where civil mandatory reporting regulations, clergy disciplinary process rules or other requirements may dictate that those names or details of the account cannot be kept fully confidential.
Several primary contact persons, each of whom brings professional expertise in responding to sexual misconduct, will be available to respond to stories whose authors provide identifying information or who wish to be contacted. In addition, our Title IV intake officers remain available, as always, to receive formal complaints of misconduct by active or retired clergy. (Find their contact information and more details here.)
The #MeToo Task Force has also prepared a poster detailing the means for relating stories. Three of these posters will be sent to each congregation, with more available upon request, and we strongly encourage their display in bathrooms, parish halls and offices. We are sending you, as clergy and lay leaders of our diocese, this link to the poster so that you may view it in advance; copies will be mailed to your congregation.
We invite your comments, questions and concerns. Please feel free to contact one of the following:
The Rev. Bill Parnell, Canon to the Ordinary: firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-482-4826, ext. 205
The Rev. Martha Hubbard, Canon, Northern and Western Region: email@example.com or 617-482-4826, ext. 211
The Rev. Kelly O’Connell, Canon, Southern Region: firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-482-4826, ext. 212
The Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, Canon, Central Region: email@example.com or 617-482-4826, ext. 213
Our expectation is that the online storytelling tool and MeToo@diomass.org e-mail address will be live and that posters will be distributed to each congregation and ministry before the end of June. Announcements will also be included in our diocesan newsletters.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
Bishop Diocesan Bishop Suffragan
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts #MeToo Task Force
The Rev. Margot Critchfield
The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman
The Rev. Mary Beth Emerson, Chair
The Rt. Rev. Carol J. Gallagher, Ph.D.
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
The Rev. Canon Martha Hubbard
The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas
The Rev. Canon Bill Parnell
The Rev. H. Mark Smith
The Rev. Leslie Sterling
The Rev. Chris Wendell