My heart is so very heavy today, again. While I make no claim to speak for all Canadian Anglicans, I do feel let down by some of our leaders who have made poor decisions around intimate boundaries and relationships. The latest resignation from our National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald, and prior to that our own Territorial Bishop, Lincoln McEwen turns my stomach. So much hurt; so many relationships damaged. So much destruction. The thought of it all sucks much of my breath.
I am aware of other instances, where injurious and unjust violations of the human rights of individuals, who now suffer the consequences of violation and abuse, have occurred. Perpetrators I have known or whose stories I know well include clergy, youth leaders, musicians, cathedral deans, other bishops, charismatic community leaders, politicians . . . the list is seemingly endless. The plague is found everywhere.
Most devastating for me was the story of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche movement, who in the context of spiritual direction abused a significant number of Spirit seekers to feed his own physical hunger. Oh, I just remembered, I was a choir member under the infamous choir director John Gallienne in Victoria BC. I was never abused; thank God. Others were less fortunate. Some even took their own life.
Something in me thought, and hoped, that now in 2022 we were now in a better place as a church than previously. We certainly have a better discipline than some of our Roman Catholic friends who still attempt to cover things up and smooth matters over. To our credit, naming the abuse, and most often the perpetrators, makes relationships amongst colleagues, friends and strangers better and safer – not however safe enough, still, after all these years. I thought we valued truth-telling as essential to healing and reconciliation. I thought we had the ability to break the intergenerational cycle of abuse – that which passes from victim to offender – I thought this pernicious evil would disappear. Well I was wrong.
Beyond leadership, in every single parish I have served as either a lay or an ordained leader, I have discovered relationship abuse. I, and those working with me, first reacted, and next acted in a way that made things safer, but still not safe enough. Our discovery and response practices once absent are now present; we continue to learn to spot abuse of power and privilege; we are better at asking hard questions of ourselves – and presently we all have an opportunity to make a fearless personal moral inventory to assess the quality and activity of our own relationships, current and historic. If I have been inappropriate with any of you readers, please be in touch. Seriously!
The church is not alone in working through such matters. The local university just down the road still deals poorly with harassment issues. Have you watched the exposure of systemic harassment and abuse in the Canadian Forces and the RCMP lately? Where is Jian Ghomeshi (former CBC host) now? Cases are brought to light in education at all levels, in non-profits and charities, in situations at times private, and at other times, in very public contexts.
I know former Archbishop Mark well – we have worked together; I worked with former Bishop Lincoln for one year. I know the stories of parishioners in many different settings. I have tremendous respect for those perpetrators who have worked to move into a better life space, for those who have made amends. I hope the opportunity will appear for healing and reconciliation in every abuse discovery. In Mark’s case I am moved by his letter to Indigenous leaders, communities and persons:
Today, my failures eclipse anything that I have done – they are all that I can see – especially the ways I have hurt people personally. I ask your forgiveness and God’s but will try to live so that there is some repair. Whatever may be the grace of God in you is not even slightly dimmed by the failings that plague me.
I cannot imagine the sense of confusion, loss and anger that will be felt by many in local Indigenous communities. They have been here before, let down, again and again and again, and recently. That is however their story to tell, their pain to share.
What I can say as a cis-gendered white, privileged male, as a priest of the Church, is that in the present era where Christianity is given short shrift, where we often find ourselves pushed to the sidelines of popular culture, damn it, these things just don’t help those of us who try, even daily, to preserve what is best in our tradition, to reform and revitalize what is recoverable and to be faithful and fruitful followers of Jesus. Am I angry, yes; am I sad? Yes; Now retired I won’t have to reflect on such matters from the pulpit as my working colleagues must. Peace and strength be with you my friends.
I will continue to pray for the Church; I will pray for those who have been wronged; I will pray for those who must provide just and compassionate leadership in this awful moment; I continue to pray for those in Ukraine and those dispossessed and for the disempowerment of Vladimir Putin and his ilk; I will continue to pray for those who are affected by extreme weather events urged on by rapidly increasing climate change.
I will pray, though let down, again, and always.