Sexual Misconduct Is A Social Disease

“In 1995 the Diocese of Iowa adopted Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct. The policy was the attempt to prevent the occurrences of sexual misconduct in the first place and to ‘ensure that where allegations of sexual misconduct are made the response to any allegation or instance will be just and compassionate, and so may allow God’s grace to work redemptively.'”

“The new policy met the Church Insurance Company requirements and all vestries and bishop’s committees were then required to accept them formally on behalf of the local congregations.” (from A Beautiful Heritage: A History of the Diocese of Iowa 1853-2003; page 123)

I was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa at the time these policies and procedures were hammered out and put in place. The quotation above highlights several things: First, our document provided detailed definitions of such terms as “sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse.” This was intended to have a proactive dimension helping people understand just exactly what constitutes such behavior and alerting many for the first time about just how unwanted and sometimes unintentional such actions may be.

There was also clarity about the role that power differential plays in sexual misconduct and the unliklihood that “consent” is even possible when a person in a position of power over another (employer/employee, doctor/patient, clergy/parishioner) acts in an exploitative manner. This took a lot of education, but gradually our people began to see the logic.

The document was published in the diocesan newspaper for all to read, was discussed and voted upon at Diocesan Convention, and became a published part of the Constitution, Canons, and Policies of the diocese brought out in a new edition each year. Specific procedures were outlined for those filing allegations of sexual misconduct as well as the steps which would be followed in investigating such allegations, seeking to insure the confidentiality and privacy of all.

Because it was made crystal clear that such allegations would be taken seriously and that (usually) women who brought such complaints were — in the first instance — presumed to be telling the truth, there was a good bit of resistance on the part of some clergy who feared false allegations.

This was an understandable concern. However, in the perhaps half dozen allegations I received during my time as bishop (and the two ecclesiastical trials which stemmed from them) never were the women found to be making a false allegation. And the priests were held accountable.

Finally, although I wish these policies and procedures had been put in place because of our compassionate sensitivity to the plight of abused and exploited women, the truth is we were motivated to work on this issue in the 1990s because of pressure put upon us by the Church Insurance Company which had been forced to pay out millions of dollars in the 80s because clergy were not trained or sensitive to the tragedy of sexual misconduct in their ranks. Therefore Church Insurance threatened to stop covering the clergy for such violations unless training, policies and procedures in every diocese were put in place.

Nevertheless, I am proud that The Episcopal Church was “ahead of the curve” on this issue and that a high level ecumenical meeting was held at our Church Center in New York some years later in which representatives from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and other denominations consulted with us as they worked out their own policies on sexual misconduct on the part of clergy.

Perhaps the entertainment industry; local, state, and national governments; the Congress of the United States; and even our Presidents should take a look at the current iteration of The Diocese of Iowa’s Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct.

They are on our website http://www.iowaepiscopal.org/safeguarding-gods-people.html

 

 

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