Safeguarding, Storytelling and Atonement

Safeguarding, Storytelling and Atonement

The Very Rev. Bernard J Owens

Lent is a season of fasting and penitence, both as individuals and as a community. We often fall short of who God created us to be, and by failing to honor the divine image in one another we have sometimes caused great pain. We seek penitence as a foundation towards healing and reconciliation.

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church gathered last summer for its triennial gathering, deputies and bishops heard voices from throughout the church who spoke of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse from church leaders – in particular from members of the clergy.  These stories were deeply personal and are leading us as a church to “examine our history and come to a fuller understanding of how we have handled or mishandled cases of abuse.”[i] 

The #MeToo movement has much to teach us about the stories of women who have been diminished, dismissed, or even abused by members of the clergy.  We know also that sexual and emotional abuse can happen regardless of gender.  As a church we are called to a season of atonement, not just so that survivors can experience healing and wholeness, but so that we as a church can say with integrity that the church can be a place where all can flourish, and where the truth will set us free.

To this end, the General Convention voted to suspend the statute of limitations on initiating cases of sexual misconduct against adults until December 21, 2021. (There is no statute of limitations on alleged abuse against those under the age of 21).  If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual misconduct by a member of the clergy – regardless of when this happened – you may bring that case forward during this window of time. The Diocese of Ohio has designated Intake Officers to receive confidential complaints regarding clergy misconduct. They are Mr. William F.B. Vodrey and Ms. Marie B. Curry, a member of Trinity. William can be reached at intakeofficer@dohio.org or 216.385.8511. Marie can be reached at  intakeofficer2@dohio.org or 330.990.3092. 

  Though we cannot erase the wounds of the past, we can honor our baptismal vows before God and one another by working to create an environment where each person is valued, respected, and safe.  This is of particular importance for a Cathedral church in an urban setting, where we serve as a crossroads for a great many people. One way we do this is by embracing, as a whole community, the work of Safeguarding God’s Children, in which we all take part in training that allows us to notice and even prevent abuse of both children and adults. The Diocese of Ohio strongly encourages ministry leaders and church members alike to attend this important training once every three years so that we as a whole community can cultivate a church where all the people of God can thrive.  If you would like to know more about Safeguarding God’s Children, please contact either Ginger Bitikofer at 216.774.0407 or Kate McFadden at 216.774.0478.

 Our work as a church is bear witness to the presence of God in a broken world. Sometimes that means we must confront that brokenness in ourselves and in the communities that surround us. I believe that the hard work of #MeToo, of listening and responding to claims of gender-based harassment and exploitation, and of safeguarding God’s children is ultimately the work of healing, and speaks of the reconciliation to which all Christians are called. This is how we proclaim with integrity a message of welcome, equality and wholeness.

 

[1] This is from a letter in Advent 2018 by The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies.

The Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens