Got news? Pedophile Priest? Did Jefferts Schori Know?

A story that has been hotly discussed among my Episcopal and Anglican friends has received, near as I can tell, almost no mainstream media coverage. And I have no idea why. But it’s been going on long enough that it certainly deserves a “Got news?” post.

It all begins with a sad story in the Kansas City Star by Judy Thomas.

It seems that a former Roman Catholic monk, a Benedictine, who directed a boys choir in Missouri admitted he’d had “inappropriate” sexual relations with members of the group. I’m not really sure what would make for appropriate sexual relations, but there you go. One of the “five or six” members of the choir that Bede Parry admitted being involved with filed a lawsuit against Conception Abbey, alleging that the abbey knew that Parry had abused others but covered it up. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Parry, not a target of the lawsuit, copped immediately and said he feels bad but that most of the “inappropriate sexual contact” was with adult males over 18 and only two were with males aged 16-18.

The twist is that Parry became an Episcopal priest in 2004 and has worked for the past 11 years at All Saints Episcopal Church in … Las Vegas. That’s a strong news hook because that would be in Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s old bishopric.

And so this story is not just about how the Catholic Church handles sex abusers in its midst but the Episcopal Church as well.

Parry resigned from his parish and is in the process of attempting to resign from the priesthood. The story in the Star, for what it’s worth, did a great job of explaining that distinction. Here’s an interesting section:

After the plaintiff reported the abuse in 1987, Parry was sent for three months of treatment at Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico. Then he stayed in the Southwest, working at Lutheran and Catholic parishes.

In 2000, the lawsuit says, Parry underwent psychological testing because he was considering entering another Catholic monastery.

“The results of this testing revealed that Fr. Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors,” the lawsuit says.

The results were provided to Conception Abbey, the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and the Episcopal bishop for the Diocese of Nevada, the lawsuit says. Yet from 2000 until Thursday, Parry was employed by All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas.

So the lawsuit claims that “the Episcopal bishop for the Diocese of Nevada” was given information that Parry was a “sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors.” Parry tells the reporter he talked with Jefferts Schori about an incident of sexual misconduct he was engaged in. He says she told him “she’d have to check the canons, and she did.”

The reporter called up Jefferts Schori’s office but was told that her staff members wouldn’t comment on lawsuits or allegations.

I’ll say it again, this is a very solid and thorough initial report. However, it’s really surprising to me that the story hasn’t spread beyond the Kansas City Star, given the personal involvement of the head of a church that the media normally love reporting on. (Here’s another interesting story from a few weeks ago about how she lacked precision, shall we say, in her resume.)

Rest assured, however, that Episcopalians and Anglicans are discussing this case, though, and there’s even a bishop in Pennsylvania who says this is just the tip of the iceberg and that Jefferts Schori threatens bishops not to reveal multiple sexual abuse cover-ups. For those interested in that angle, there’s more on him here.

Meanwhile, there are other interesting news angles that have been unexplored outside of the blogosphere, too. Here someone explores how new disciplinary canons would come into play:

Today, July 1, the changes to ECUSA’s disciplinary canons (Title IV) go into effect at the national level. (The text of the new Title IV may be downloaded as a .pdf file.) Let us take the example of the violation of the ordination canons apparently committed by the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as the Bishop of Nevada in 2004, and use that as a test case to see how the new process would work at the highest level.

So help me out here. What prevents this from being a mainstream news story? Why aren’t the major media outlets interested in this story about the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church’s role in a sex abuse scandal? Isn’t the Episcopal Church based in New York City?

That second picture is from Virtue Online and shows Parry (on the far right) taking part in a Mass after being received into the priesthood of the Episcopal Church by Jefferts Schori.

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  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    It was considerably before Jefferts-Schori’s tenure, but concomitant with the media baying after “pedophile Catholic priests”, that Episcopal Life felt compelled to run coverage of a particularly lurid scandal in the Diocese of Long Island. (This while we were being assured by the punditocracy that if They ordained women and/or married men, such things would never ever happen.)

    The Episcopal Life editorial voices, struggling for a way to acknowledge that something was wrong without risking their PC credentials by criticizing homosexuals, wrote that the allegations were of “indiscriminate sex”.

    I was and remain bouleverse’ by this, which shows the incoherence of the “new morality”. It is usually possible to tell if one is committing fornication (unless, perhaps, one is Bill Clinton). But how in [expletive deleted] do I know whether or not I am being “discriminate” enough?

  • Bram

    “What makes this not a news story? Why aren’t the major media outlets interested in this story about the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church’s role in a sex abuse scandal?”

    What makes this not a news story, what makes it a story of no interest whatsoever to major media outlets, is exactly, precisely that it is a story about the (liberal) Presiding Bishop of The (liberal) Episcopal Church’s role in a (homosexual) sex abuse scandal.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    The weak point I see in the story is that there is (thus far) no evidence that there was ever any problem with Parry in Nevada. So from a pragmatic, canons-be-damned POV, KJS took a risk with the fellow that appears to have paid off. If victims from Nevada appear, then I think things might change very quickly, but at the moment this is turning into an internal church discipline issue, and I suspect that the media are bored by that.

  • Elijah

    Like Mollie, I am also a bit suprised by the lack of interest in this story and in the er, inaccuracies in her resume. Maybe folks are getting bored with the Episcopal follies? Bishop Marshall’s account of being cajoled into keeping things quiet may generate some interest – nothing like a good cover-up.

    Will, that is too funny. In a sad and ironic way, of course.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    C. Wingate,

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there has been a problem with Parry in Nevada. I mean, no one would be surprised if there was one, but no one is making such a charge.

    The question is whether Jefferts Schori followed the proper canons regarding acceptance of a priest with a problem past.

    When we see stories about institutional corruption relating to priests, it’s really about how churches handle priests with known problems. Not just about whether they strike again or not.

  • Martha

    It’s a dreadfully tangled story, in that I can’t make head nor tail out of when Parry was laicised from the Catholic priesthood (if he ever was) or left the monastery exactly when?

    Also, he’s not quite a paedophile if his encounters were with youths of sixteen and older (which does sound like hair-splitting, but on the other hand, seeing as how the choir involved boys from ages seven up, an important detail to know).

    So is he really a “paedophile” or – in the light of no evidence of any such encounters since he joined the Episcopalians – a gay man who’s finally come out and sorted out his sexuality? Did he ever formally seek laicisation from the priesthood? When exactly did he leave the monastery and why did he seek admission to a different one?

    And yes, if he did admit that the reason he left was due to “inappropriate sexual contact”, why on earth did any Episcopal diocese think he was worth taking a risk on? That, I think, has to tie in with the paedophile versus gay element – he must have presented it as ‘I discovered I was really gay’ not ‘I had sex with members of the choir’.

  • Hannah

    Bede Parry violated RCC canons by soliciting sexual favors from parishoners.

    Bishop Shori violated ECUSA canons by knowingly hiring a felon and a person at risk of re-offending. Parry had told her about one incident in 1987. In addition, the law suit petition document (Section 28, pps 4-5) that Shori received a copy of the psychiatric examination as well.

    Evidently, pedophilia or ephebophilia and sex with parishoners are not wrong or hindrances to priesthood in Shori’s view.

    To understand of the extent of clergy abuse in the news, go to the Bishops Accountability Abuse Tracker where Kathy Shaw, an award winning journalist, runs a news feed of published global news updated all day every day, even holidays.

    Link – http://www.bishop-accountability.org/AbuseTracker/

  • Mark Baddeley

    Obviously to some degree the question is rhetorical. My suspicion is that if this involved a high-ranking Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, or generic Evangelical, it would have been news by now, and possibly dominated a whole news cycle.

    I think journalists have certain kinds of stories that they look for, and this doesn’t fit the normal paradigms. It’s not a socially/theologically conservative church leader proving to be weak on sexual protection of minors – that’s an established story that plays well. It’s not a socially/theologically progressive church leader or participant being ‘attacked’ for their progressiveness but bravely continuing nonetheless – that’s another established story.

    This just doesn’t fit any of the standard stories, and I think news items like that don’t get picked up the same way as ones that do.

    Obviously the overwhelming progressive demographics of mainstream journalism newsrooms influences that a lot, but it’d be fairly subconscious I think. My hunch is that the thinking in this case is along the lines of comment number 3 in this case, which is fine as far as it goes, but that wouldn’t be the thinking if it involved a conservative. Then the newsworthiness of the story would be seen more quickly.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Mollie, the point behind that point is that this is not the first time KJS has been accused of stepping outside the canons. The complaints didn’t take then, and I don’t think that people outside the church are really that interested in this if all it comes down to is a canonical violation. If she gets taken to an ecclesiastical trial, then I think there will be a lot more interest shown because of her position: the possibility of deposing the first female PB will jack up the newsworthy quotient a lot. Right now, in the court of public opinion, she still has the argument that she considered the fellow, decided to take a risk on him, and has been vindicated because there has not in fact been more trouble with him. It’s a lot harder to press the issue that procedures weren’t followed correctly when nothing goes wrong. It’s hard to push a charge on institutional corruption when there isn’t a systematic pattern. If Bishop Marshall’s charges get substantiated I think that will also drum up more interest.

    I’m not trying to defend her at all. Personally I’m on the same boat was Haley and would love to see her put through the system she has helped to set in place. I’m just running through ideas about why this hasn’t made much of a splash. And I just don’t think a mere violation of canons is enough to do that.

  • Judy Jones

    Church cannons do not have precedence over the laws of the land. It is a crime to sexually abuse children and teens, it is also against the law to cover up these crimes and protect the predators.

    In any setting where there is an inherent power imbalance between clergy-church members. It is much like a teacher-student, or doctor-patient, or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. And for good reason: because it almost always results in devastation, with individuals and the families.

    We urge anyone, who has knowledge or may have been harmed by Parry, to contact the police, not church officials. Sex crimes, however old, should be investigated by the independent professionals in law enforcement, not the biased amateurs in church offices.

    Keep in mind your silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Also know that there is hope, help and you are not alone.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    snapjudy@gmail.com
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests” and all clergy
    http://www.snapnetwork.org/

  • Bram

    As an addendum to my earlier post: The MSM aren’t interested in the sex abuse here for the same reason they aren’t interested in sex abuse in the public schools, which is much more prevalent than sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church — to wit, that the MSM aren’t interested in sex abuse *per se* but only in sex abuse the exposure of which serves to damage public relations for groups of which the MSM disapprove, like the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical churches, the Republican Party, et al.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    I think people are forgetting the enormity the situation in the Archdiocese of Boston. Cardinal Law let things go on for decades, deliberately moving priests around in order to conceal criminal activity. There’s no evidence thus far that KJS did anything contributing to the abuse of a single person.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    That curriculum story is interesting. Even politicians get into deep trouble for getting ahead with lies. It’s pretty bad when religious leaders bamboozle the public more than pols.
    And like most commenters above I agree that the MSM is really only interested in embarrassing stories about religions that have a male, celibate clergy. How dare any Church want to only ordain those who are willing to give every fiber of their being, their whole heart, soul, and mind in service and worship to God, Our Father.

  • david clohessy

    Shori also lets a convicted, defrocked priest lead retreats at the Episcopal House of Prayer in Minnesota. He’s Lyn Bauman. Check him out at BishopAccountability.org

    We’ve contacted Shori and other officials about this dangerous situation a number of times over the years, with little response.

    David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

  • Vada Lavina

    “Parry, not a target of the lawsuit, copped immediately and said he feels bad but that most of the “inappropriate sexual contact” was with adult males over 18 and only two were with males aged 16-18.”

    This would not be a “pedophile,” but a homosexual predator.

  • JWB

    The KC Star story would have done readers a service by linking to a copy of the actual legal document (which is out there on the internet, http://andersonadvocates.com/Files/497/Petition-John-Doe-181-V-Conception-Abbey-INCpdf but you have to poke around a bit). Among other things, it does not allege that any of the prior “inappropriate” sexual relationships of which the guy’s superiors were supposedly aware involved contact with choir members, and it does not directly allege (although it certainly tries to insinuate) that any of them involved underage persons or persons over whom the guy had some sort of supervisory authority. The obvious point that *all* sexual relationships by monks are “inappropriate” is not inconsistent with the notion that not all of them are red flags for future misconduct with minors. OTOH, the guy’s own (alleged?) admissions suggest that there was more there than the plaintiff’s lawyers had initially dug up?

  • Elijah

    The story refers to Parry not as a ‘pedophile’ but as a ‘serial sexual predator’. Seems quite accurate to me. It is a small point, but to the vast majority of parents who read articles like this one, sexually molesting anyone under the age of 18 will earn one the label “pedophile”.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Pedophilia refers to a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It’s a clinical term with a specific profile and prognosis. Reporters should note that difference because it makes a huge difference in addressing the safety of children and well-being of young adults.

  • Elijah

    I agree with you, Passing By, but you will no doubt agree that this is a clinical definition of not much consequence to the parents of children (that is, youth under the age of 18) who have been taken advantage of sexually.

    But I’m not at all sure it makes a whit of difference in protecting anyone’s safety from someone described as a “serial sexual predator”.

    Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this issue since it seems to be a fine point of weaselly denial among certain congregations/churches. That is, they deny that a priest or pastor was a “pedophile” because many or most of the abused were above the age of 15 (or something like that). Serial sexual predator says it all.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    How the story is developing: We now have a statement by the present bishop of Nevada concerning how Parry was accepted in the the Episcopal ministry. He disputes the existence of the psychological profile and leans on precisely the point I anticipated: that there haven’t been any further problems. It seems pretty clear that even as a church matter this isn’t going anywhere. And BTW the only coverage I could find was this article on the Christian Century website.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    C. Wingate,

    Thanks for the udpate. I still find it curious that we’re getting these updates on blogs and denominational press.

  • JWB

    The statement by the current bishop adds the interesting new fact (if true . . .) that the police were notified at the time but no charges were brought. The Christian Century piece quotes a SNAP spokesperson as complaining about the coverup of Perry’s “crimes.” Now, there are lots of types of sexual misconduct that are not crimes subject to prosecution in the secular courts but perhaps ought to be be the subject of church discipline, maybe quite serious discipline, if committed by a priest, but a good journalistic detail might have been to address whether it was likely that Perry had, in fact, committed a crime. Did the police let it slide because they were trying to hush up scandal on behalf of the church (as has been alleged in other places) or did they determine that, however icky, the conduct was not actually criminal? What was the relevant age of consent in Missouri at the relevant time (it’s apparently 17 now but one would need to do a little more digging than I have done to know if it was the same in ’87), and how old was the boy at the time? I would think a good journalist on the courthouse/police-blotter beat might have figured out the answer to the first question and pressed someone about the answer to the second. We’ve got from various sources “adolescent,” “young man in his late teens,” “16-18,” and “a minor.” A moderate amount of skepticism/cynicism about lawyers supports an inference that if the legal document alleges that the plaintiff was a “minor” but doesn’t specify his age more precisely, that’s because greater precision would have made the case seem weaker. But a reporter could call up the lawyer on the phone and just ask for clarification. Or a reporter could note that everyone seems to be hiding the ball on a potentially significant fact and that is itself newsworthy.

    The other missing piece in the follow-up is that Perry was quoted in the earlier story as saying that he had told the Diocese of Nevada about the 1987 incident but had failed to disclose various earlier incidents of sexual conduct that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with his monastic vows. The bishop’s latest statement says nothing about that. A journalist could press the Nevada people as to: a) whether they feel angry/deceived about that lack of disclosure; and b) whether the failure to learn of those earlier incidents reflects any shortcoming in their investigation.

  • Mark Baddeley

    There’s also a report in the Church of England
    newspaper
    .

    Putting these things together, there are a number of discrepancies in various people’s stories that I would have thought should be interesting to journalists:

    +Bishop Edwards denies any psych report was sent to the Episcopal Diocese, and any report that had been done two decades ago wouldn’t have been reliable anyway in predicting likelihood of reoffending. But the suit says the report was done in 2000 and was sent to the Diocese – which then received Parry as a clergyman a few years later.

    There’s a muddle in an important detail in a public statement designed to protect the institution. It needs interrogation.

    +Apparently church canon requires a clergyman being received from Roman Catholicism to not have left over incidents unfavorable to moral or religious character. Did the Episcopal Diocese talk to their Roman Catholic counterparts in vetting him – especially as they admit they had some knowledge of his previous behavior? Why wasn’t the canon followed here – the Bishop acknowledges that Parry’s previous behavior was of a serious moral nature?

    +If the psych reports that the Episcopal Diocese received put Parry in the clear, why was there a restriction on his involvement with minors? (And for the journalist with an eye for the religious dimension to this issue, and not just the legal – Is it normal practice to employ people as clergy with restrictions that they do not work with minors – does that reflect TEC’s view of the priesthood?)

    +Bishop Edwards says that the incident in Missouri is ‘alleged’ – why use that language when Parry himself has confessed to it? Is that language an indicator of an attempt to cover things up/focus on damage control for the institution?

    +Bishop Edwards states that the restriction on working with minors and the reasons for it was communicated to those people who supervised Parry’s work. But the Church of England article reports that the Rev Lovelady, Parry’s supervisor at All Saints, had no knowledge of his previous actions.

    There could be innocent explanations for all these things, but I think under other circumstances, this would be enough for many editors to be saying, “There’s gold in them thar hills” and sending some good investigative journalists out to start digging and sifting.


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