Clergy Disciplinary Process
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2009 revised the canons known as Title IV to make clergy discipline first and foremost a process of discernment, mediation and pastoral response rather than one that is legalistic and judicial. The process now models those used in the medical, legal and social work professions. The revised canons went into effect on July 1, 2011.
Canon 1 of Title IV sets the theological context for the process: “By virtue of Baptism, all members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another. The Church and each Diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation among all involved or affected. This Title applies to Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountabilities for doctrine, discipline, worship and obedience.”
An overview of the process
Before July 1, 2011, clergy disciplinary matters were brought to the bishop or the Standing Committee of the diocese. Effective July 1, 2011, under the revised canons, all matters will be reported to an intake officer (find contact information below). Matters might then be resolved through pastoral care, mediation, an agreement with the bishop, an investigation or any combination of these. An investigation may result in formal mediation, and, if necessary, a hearing.
The process now allows for resolution through whatever means will move those affected toward justice, restitution, amendment of life, repentance, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. This can include a variety of interventions for all involved and, if necessary, the suspension or removal of the cleric from ordained ministry.
The Title IV canons as a PDF are available here.
An outline of Title IV standards of conduct for clergy, also courtesy of the Diocese of Connecticut, is available here.
In the fall of 2010 the Annual Conventions of Dioceses of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont each approved an agreement to form a joint Disciplinary Board of six priests or deacons and five lay people to address matters of clergy discipline. The Disciplinary Board is effective beginning July 1, 2011. A copy of the agreement may be found here.
Clergy standards of conduct:
Members of the clergy should:
- Maintain confidentiality
- Safeguard property and funds of the church
- Conform to the canons of the Episcopal Church and the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer
- Abide by ordination vows
- Obtain consent of the bishop before engaging in secular employment
- Obtain consent of the bishop to be absent from the diocese for more than two years
Members of the clergy should not:
- Engage in sexual misconduct (includes sexual behavior with: a member of the congregation; employee; volunteer; person in high school; person under 18 years of age; person legally incompetent; someone with whom the clergy has ever had a pastoral relationship)
- Hold or teach any doctrine contrary to that held by the Episcopal Church
- Commit criminal acts
- Engage in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
- Habitually neglect public worship, Holy Communion
- Engage in any conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy
Contacting the intake officer:
Anyone may contact the diocesan intake officer to report concerns about the behavior of a member of the clergy (priests, deacons, bishops). This initiates a process to hold clergy accountable for their behavior.
The Rev. Canon Michael Ambler is the intake officer for the Diocese of Maine.
The intake officer will:
- Listen with respect
- Offer pastoral care and response
- Create a written report regarding the concern(s) presented
- Answer questions about the process
Please note: Effective July 1, 2011, members of the clergy are required to report to the intake officer anything that may constitute an offense and to cooperate with the clergy disciplinary process.
Many thanks to the Diocese of Connecticut and the Diocese of Massachusetts for sharing their materials and language.