Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Suffragan Mess

As a parishioner in the Diocese of Maryland, and especially as the parish delegate to the next diocesan convention, the accident in which the newly elected suffragan bishop killed a bicyclist has a double impact upon me. I have elided the bishop's name out of charity, though I will not paper over the facts of the matter by calling them allegations. The various witnesses are clear: on a Saturday afternoon, the bishop swerved and struck a man, then fled the scene. When she returned she was found to be deeply intoxicated, and was apparently texting at the time of the accident (I am unclear as to the source of this assertion); she was eventually arrested and is being held on bail. This is bad enough, but it has also come out that in 2010, while she was serving in another diocese, she was stopped by police due to her erratic driving and because one of her tires was shredded; the officer on the scene cut the coordination tests short for fear that she would hurt herself, and her blood alcohol was determined to be far in excess of the legal limit. Charges were eventually dropped on other charges of possessing marijuana, and the incident was eventually pleaded down to probation before judgement.

I am somehow managing to view the episode with an emotional detachment suitable to a Vulcan, and thus am not moved to expressions of moral outrage or judgement. It is clear, as Bishop Ihloff (MD ret.) says, that she cannot be allowed to continue as a bishop of this church; the disciplinary machinery of the church has begun to move in this direction, so we are told. Care for both the victim's family and for the soon-to-be-ex-bishop must proceed, and as I understand it, is being provided for. Justice will be done.

But what also will be done is a second election to replace her, for this diocese is simply too large to be served by a single bishop. And while I am not interested in assigning blame in the previous election, it is abundantly clear that The Process (or at least its execution) failed us. That process, at least as described in Rev. Anjel Scarborough's letter, seems to have invited someone deeply in the thrall of alcoholism to engage in a campaign of denial in order to advance her clerical career. Regardless of the conclusions of any psychological examination, any elector with full knowledge of the details of the 2010 incident would surely have to question how well-controlled the drinking was of a person who but three years before had to be pulled over before she hurt someone else (or herself, for that matter). And all the more so considering that she was not forthcoming to those electors about her situation: that should have been a red flag.

The "experts" have opined that really, nothing much more than a failure of judgement within the process was at fault. I am not convinced. And furthermore, this doesn't provide a route for correcting a patently faulty process. I'm not seeing testimony from people who are familiar with alcoholism and who look back at the older incident and say, "well, she could have been OK, from what we knew then." The testimony I have read is that everything about it, all the way to the election itself, should have told the search committee members responsible that her nomination should not have gone forward as it did.

The second search is going to have to be different. If nothing else, electors are going to have to be proactive in researching the candidates, because it is apparent that current processes do a poor job of presenting the candidates. What we had here was a situation in which someone was implicitly encouraged to hide the truth about herself in favor of presenting a facade in a few short written statements (none of them, to my mind, particularly demanding) and to show up at various public events and put on a good show. The potential for this to produce disastrously bad bishops ought to be obvious.


Unknown said...

At the diocesan meeting this evening (1/13), Bishop Sutton said that he did not want to put the Diocese thru another episcopal election, that perhaps we could do as have done before, and hire and appoint an assistant bishop.

Unknown said...

sorry, that's me. Dick Mitchell

C. Wingate said...

I can see the sentiment but I think we need to cowboy up and deal with the process problems while the incident is fresh, instead of the avoidance of putting it off.

Derek said...

My sense is that he wants to get someone in as soon as possible so they're in place before General Convention and the election of the next Presiding Bishop.

C. Wingate said...

Well, we will need an assistant as soon as possible in any case, even if we are to elect someone further along.

Anonymous said...

In the Orthodox Eastern Church, according to the ancient canons, any clergy who cause the death of another person, are to be deposed.
It would be best that she give up her clerical rank and persue a life of repentance.
I will pray for her and her victim's family.
Rdr. James Morgan

C. Wingate said...

So absolute a rule as the ancient canon would not have a chance in our church, not the least reason for which would be that it could not be argued from scripture without an appeal to the Torah which would be held to override the Council of Jerusalem.

In any case there is really no question but that she will cease to be a bishop, and it is possible (though less likely) that she will be completely defrocked. There's every indication that her situation (and that of her victim's family) are being dealt with as best we can. The presenting difficulty is that we picked her in the first place when a review of the evidence that was already out there would have said she should not have been elevated.