The Episcopal Church Reveals Clergy Misconduct Cases Involving Nominees for Presiding Bishop - Word&Way

The Episcopal Church Reveals Clergy Misconduct Cases Involving Nominees for Presiding Bishop

(RNS) — Two of the five bishops being considered for the top leadership role in the Episcopal Church are currently subjects of church discipline investigations, the denomination disclosed Thursday afternoon (June 13).

The Rev. DeDe Duncan-Probe, from left, Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, and Bishop Robert Wright. (Courtesy photos)

Those two nominees, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York and Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, who leads the Diocese of Pennsylvania, also both had previous complaints dismissed, as did a third nominee, Bishop Robert Wright, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.

The announcement comes less than two weeks before the election of the next presiding bishop at the denomination’s General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Over the past year, many bishops, other clergy, and laypeople have called for greater transparency in our processes that address bishop misconduct,” said the announcement, which was written by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Vice President of the House of Bishops Mary Gray-Reeves, who is acting as presiding bishop-designate in some church investigations. “As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we know that the call to lead comes with an extra measure of accountability, and we believe that balancing appropriate confidentiality with appropriate transparency will help increase trust that our church is a safe place for all of God’s children.”

Title IV of the Episcopal Church’s bylaws governs how the church responds to allegations of misconduct against clergy, including bishops. Under Title IV, clergy can be held accountable for a range of offenses, including violating church bylaws and ordination vows, failing to cooperate with Title IV proceedings or to report matters that could constitute a Title IV offense, not safeguarding church property, teaching doctrines contrary to those held by the denomination, acts of sexual misconduct, criminal acts, neglecting aspects of their ministry or committing any conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy.

A report published on the Episcopal Church’s website showed that from August 2023 to February 2024, 34 complaints about bishop misconduct were made to the denomination’s Title IV intake officer. Of them, seven were dismissed, nine were sent to a panel for more investigation, and 18 were still at the initial inquiry stage. Since then, according to a denominational spokesperson, some cases have moved further along in the Title IV process as other cases have surfaced.

The process has been criticized as too complex and ineffective.

Of the current nominees for presiding bishop, Duncan-Probe was the subject of an anonymous report in early May alleging she publicly misrepresented her academic credentials, according to the announcement. The matter was referred for investigation later that month.

In an update sent to her diocese, Duncan-Probe said she believed the claim had to do with her degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation, which her online biography says was completed at Oxford University.

“Be assured that, in response to the Title IV complaint, I have provided these documents substantiating my Ph.D.,” she wrote. “It is my full expectation that this Title IV will soon be completed and dismissed.”

Gutiérrez is the subject of an investigation regarding complaints that he mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct against a priest in his diocese. Religion News Service reported in December that a parishioner who reported abuse allegations against a priest in Gutiérrez’s diocese found the church investigation disorienting, disempowering, and at times combative. The complaint against Gutiérrez was referred for investigation on June 11.

In an email sent to clergy in Gutiérrez’s diocese, the bishop said he had not been informed “of any specific act or failure to act that, if proven, suggests a violation of our canons.” He also said that in the matter under investigation, he was in the difficult position of providing pastoral care to both complainant and respondent.

“I want to iterate that it takes courage to come forward and report misconduct,” Gutiérrez wrote. “We have an obligation to ensure protection for anyone who has been harmed by the church. And, we have an obligation to the truth.”

Thursday’s announcement also listed three additional reports involving nominees that were dismissed: a December 2023 complaint against Duncan-Probe regarding her refusal to permit a ministerial candidate from continuing the discernment process; a May 2024 complaint against Gutiérrez charging him with resolving a clergy misconduct matter with a written resolution the complainant said was too harsh, and for reportedly providing insufficient pastoral care for the parish involved; and a December 2023 complaint involving Wright, for “allegations of ageism, ableism, microaggressions and abuse of power,” per the announcement. In the cases involving Gutiérrez and Wright, the dismissals were also accompanied by “pastoral response.”

Curry and Gray-Reeves noted that while church bylaws don’t require these disclosures, they are permitted when pastorally appropriate. Sharing this information publicly, the church leaders said, “protects the integrity of the presiding bishop election.” They added that those facing Title IV allegations are “presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”

The denomination is drafting proposed changes to the Title IV process in response to concerns raised by both clergy and lay Episcopalians. Those proposals are being considered by a subcommittee that will make recommendations on the proposals that are considered at the church’s General Convention. In February, Curry, who is also the subject of a Title IV complaint related to his response to reported bishop misconduct, announced steps to make it simpler to report bishop misconduct.