Thursday, February 6, 2014

Of defrockings, rosters, and resignations

The Roman Church is in the news again with many large dioceses publishing their full records concerning clergy sexual abuse charges. It's all so sad. And yet it is refreshing that they are finally just putting the records out there: at least people will know the reasons why Father X was suddenly no longer a priest.

There are a host of lessons to learn here - but let's take just a small one about church administration. When a clergyman commits a grave sin that should bar him from the ministry - and so many do revolve around the 6th Commandment - the great temptation for the overseer of his ministry (whether a presbytery, board of deacons, bishop, or district president) is to ask him to resign quietly. And so a letter goes out: "I know that you know that I can prove you committed adultery/beat your wife and kids/are drunk 7 days a week/stole from the offering plate: so sign the enclosed resignation letter and get yourself some help."

And it's signed. But then what? What are the parishioners to think? Father X resigned - why? "Personal reasons?" Well, will he be back when he has that sorted out? What happens to the overseer's reputation when Father X insinuates that really, it wasn't his fault you know...bad old bishop/deacons/DP ran me out for no good reason...but I'll just go quietly, martyr that I am.

And then he bides his time, gets a day job, moves a few hundred miles away.....and a few years later he starts to slide back into churchly things....some folks know what's going on, and some don't. So Father X, now Mr. X, get a speaking engagement here and a writing gig there and maybe even a volunteer role in a parish that would never, ever have been offered to him had folks known why exactly it was that he resigned. Would you take advice on marriage from a man who left his wife and kids for a sexual adventure with another man's wife? Would you let an accused child molester volunteer as a lay youth worker? Would you let a raging drunk and gambling addict volunteer to serve as parish treasurer?

And yet those who know what Father X, now Mr. X, is all about feel muzzled and chained because....well, because of fear. Fear of libel lawsuits. Fear of shouts of, "What about the 8th commandment?" or "What about forgiveness?" Fear of confrontation. Fear that the overseer won't back them up.

So these quiet resignations are a very bad thing. Better to be open. Better to say at the very least, "Father X has resigned his ministry because he has failed to live a morally upright life. For the sake of all involved, I'm going to leave it at that. But there is no denying that this is the case, which is why he agreed to resign rather than force me to put him through our discipline/defrocking/removal process."

One would hope that basic decency would tell these former preachers to live out a quiet life of repentance and not try to weasel their ways back into ministry and para-ministry. But the possession of basic decency is not why they left the ministry, I suppose.

Well, may God grant wisdom to all overseers of ministers. It's not a job I would want.

+HRC

39 comments:

  1. I know you're speaking of circumstances where the resigning pastor/priest *is* guilty of that for which he is accused. However, it's all to easy to read this article as saying the resigning pastor/priest is *always* guilty of that for which he is accused. Some of us were/are. Some of us weren't/aren't. And what some consider a moral failing worthy of expulsion, others might consider an error in judgment that might be resolved with a confession and the forgiveness which Christ calls upon us to speak to one another.

    Black and white? Meet grey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! That's why the guilty should not be allowed to resign quietly: it smears the reputations of those who really are resigning for personal or other non-offensive reasons.

      +HRC

      Delete
    2. Brother Eckardt wrote an excellent article a while back--I think it was in the journal, not on the blog--about not resigning. I wish I had read it before matters came to a head with my previous congregation.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A layman who lives in repentance remains a member of the royal priesthood whose task it is "to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light." No layman in any circumstances is commanded to be silent when it comes to fulfilling the common task of the baptized priesthood. And grace shines all the brighter against the backdrop of failure, sin, and subsequent repentance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Certainly. But that does not mean that every layman is fit to teach Sunday School, or write for a denominational press, or speak at a theological conference, etc., etc. And part of fitness is certainly character and reputation - both of which are indicated by and affected by previous grave sin, even where it is repented of.

      +HRC

      Delete
  4. Ah catechesis... why have we abandoned thee?

    ReplyDelete
  5. OVER THE LINE, SMOKEY! You don't name names, but you hit a bit too close to home with inferences. I agree with Pastor Weedon. 1 Peter 2:9 is at play here. If a man is no longer a pastor, yet has much to enrich other pastors with what he has learned, let him enrich the brethren. Let him not wear a hair shirt, for he is covered in Christ's all-sufficient blood and righteous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or you are reading more into it than is there. . . .because this issue is larger than any one preacher, any one sin, or any one jurisdiction/denomination as I think I made abundantly clear.

      +HRC

      Delete
  6. Replies
    1. There are certainly also unjust actions taken by overseers. That was not what I was commenting on here.

      +HRC

      Delete
  7. I wonder if what you are saying could also apply to pastors found guilty of false teaching. Because it sounds not too unlike the defrocking that occurred in the WELS a year ago, but few WELS laymen are aware of. All the persons involved were apparently sworn to secrecy, leaving the guilty party free to broadcast his case on the internet *cough* Intrepid Lutherans *cough*, paint himself as a martyr, and take his false teaching to another church.

    Meanwhile, unsuspecting laymen are left to blame the DP, and wonder why the synod failed a "faithful pastor" so miserably. I really wish this type of thing could be talked about synod-wide, and in the open. I see it as being parallel to when St. Paul had to rebuke Peter to his face and in public when his hypocrisy was leading other Christians astray. (Gal 2:11)

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's cheeky that this "hit piece" wasn't prefaced by "Let the reader understand...wink, wink, nod, nod, say no more!" Yes, as a matter of fact I WOULD take advice from a man who had committed such sins, if I thought the advice was sound. Forgiveness is forgiveness, but talent, service, and truth come out of broken men as well as on-line editors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly Jay, and I couldn't agree more!

      Delete
    2. Or it's cheeky for you to make such an assumption. You'd be surprised what my inbox looks like, "Do you mean so and so or such and such." Different folks have read this and divined that I'm "aiming" at different people - most of whom I haven't even heard of.

      I'm sure we all know of more than one such case of a man leaving the ministry for moral failing. Since we know individuals does that mean we cannot comment on the general situation? Alas what is closest to me in this regard is actually completely unknown to you or Father Juhl or any other reader of this blog - of that I am certain.

      So take this for exactly for what this is: one man's opinion of how clergy who have left the office for grave moral failing should or should not be involved in the public life of the church after such a failing. It's my opinion and we can disagree on that in good faith - but this guessing game and reading personal axes to grind into it is unhelpful and uncharitable...and ultimately just mistaken. It's a general piece for good reason: it's a general problem.

      +HRC

      Delete
    3. "So take this for exactly for what this is: one man's opinion of how clergy who have left the office for grave moral failing should or should not be involved in the public life of the church after such a failing."

      Remind me not to seek you out as my father confessor, if this is how you truly view forgiveness. "You're forgiven, but you'll never be forgiven enough to be seen or heard." Tell me this: Who should better understand the power of forgiveness than those who have been forgiven?

      I don't know that a pastor who resigns over a grave moral failing should be able to return to parish ministry. I don't know that he shouldn't. Believe me when I say that I've wrestled with this question. But I do know that completely muzzling such people does one or both of two things: it blubts or puts conditions on the power of absolution, and/or it robs the church of the witness of those who have had the forgiveness of Christ brought to bear in their lives.

      Mercy is a wonderful aspect of our life together. It's a shame we seem to get so precious little of it from those who should be our brothers in Christ.

      But that's just one man's opinion.

      Delete
    4. Fr. Kornacki,

      Thank you for this comment - it's very constructive and gets right to the point. What is the relationship between forgiveness and temporal consequences of sin?

      My forgiveness of a drunk driver who's killed someone in a wreck does not get him out of jail, nor should it.

      My wife's forgiveness of my losing of my temper does mean that she can't wield that old failing against me and hold it over me. She let it go and it's gone.

      Those, I think, are clear cut cases. The case of a pastor who leaves office due to grave moral failing is more difficult - which is why I say that I have no desire to step into an overseer's shoes.

      But my opinion, FWIW, is as I said above: grave moral failings have temporal consequences that continue even after repentance. If a minister has embezzled church funds and has been removed from or resigned from the ministry, and has truly reformed and repented and been forgiven, I still don't think that he should put himself forward to serve a congregation as treasurer.

      Christ's grace and power can conquer all sin and reform any sinner - even a horrible sin like child molesting. But I still don't think that a man who left the ministry because he molested children, and later truly repented and reformed, should be able to lead a youth group as a layman.

      "Above reproach"....."good reputation with outsiders."

      +HRC

      Delete
  9. Yes, sin does have temporal consequences. But it seems--correct me if I'm wrong--in not letting the embezzler later serve as treasurer, you've also said he should not be allowed to speak about how a congregation safeguards its finances in the future; in not letting a professor back in the classroom after he commits a sin having nothing to do with what happens in class, you would also not let him write in the Witness or submit Bible studies to CPH. There is still a place in the Church for such people to serve, often with more wisdom than the 99 who have never gone astray.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this is an important point, and speaks to the complexities of this issue.

      Many (if not most) of my parishioners are former Roman Catholics. Many of them initially left because of the scandals and the way the bishops handled it. What role do such men, defrocked priests, have in the church? It's complicated, but I don't think absolution is a ticket back into the office.

      Should the RC Church use these defrocked priests as sort-of "consultants" to learn how best to protect children? I think that would be helpful and perhaps even therapeutic to the men involved. But the problem might be if a man who was defrocked for child abuse were to, say write devotions for an equivalent of Portals of Prayer or teach Bible classes only to adults. Even running a soup kitchen and being honored in a diocesan newspaper would be pretty rough on the families who were hurt. There are variations like this in the RC church as it wrestles with how to deal with this issue.

      Maybe they should allow these men to help the church in a behind the scenes way for the sake of the victims. There are a lot of victims out there who say nothing publicly, who have left the church because of the pain, and who bear the scars to this day. There are men still serving whose abuse hasn't come to light, and maybe never will. But the pain they cause is horrific.

      At the end of the day, the church must balance mercy and forgiveness with justice - as well as protect not only young people but also the church's reputation. At least in my area, the RC church, while culturally powerful, is the butt of jokes because the bishops erred too far in the direction of grace (ironically enough) and overlooked the unintended consequence of the appearance of toleration of abuse. I don't think most bishops want to excuse child abuse, but how does the church, who is in the forgiveness and mercy business, balance these two?

      A bishop may genuinely be motivated by grace but it is seen as toleration of abuse. Or a bishop may be genuinely trying to protect the prophetic voice of the church but it may be seen as a lack of the gospel.

      I think we pastors run into such things on a smaller scale when we have a divorce in the congregation and both parties wish to remain in the congregation. These are not easy issues. I think those of us in the office must fear God and take sin very seriously as we reflect on the sobering words of 1 Tim 3. Lord have mercy upon us!

      Delete
  10. That's the point in question, yes. And there are many considerations. You show an admirable desire to let mercy prevail for the repentant former pastor - but let us also remember those people hurt by the former pastor's grave sin. What are the people of St. Mungo's Lutheran in Ottery-St. Catchpole to think when they see an article in the Witness by Mr. X on some whitebread topic unrelated to how he tore their parish apart with his [you fill in the blank: embezzlement, molestation, infidelity, etc].? What is the cuckolded husband, or the parents of the molested child, or the parishioners of a school that is in disrepair because the building fund moneys were stolen to think when they open up their church's magazine and see so and so's name in lights talking about evangelism, or exegesis, or history?

    What about Paul's concern for the a "good reputation with outsiders" when it comes to the church's public face?

    The case is very different if one of these fallen and restored men were to write a piece talking about how he fell into sin and warning others to avoid it. I agree that such writings about reconversion are very moving and can only be written by those who have undergone the experience.

    But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the case of men who have committed grave public sins that cut a wide swath of pain through parish, family, etc. reappearing on the scene as "just another layman" being given positions and assignments of responsibility and trust in the church's public life. I think such cases cause a scandal in the church.

    +HRC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your scenario is changing...or at least, you didn't state it clearly in the first place. It started out as simply a pastor who "committed a grave moral sin." Now it's a grave moral sin that "cuts a wide swath of pain." So let me state outright that I am not insensitive to the fallout, the pain of victims, the long-lasting effects. Having been forced out of my parish with the help of an ecclesiastical supervisor for what was NOT a grave moral sin, I (and, not incidentally, my wife and family) am still dealing with the effects nearly a decade later and probably will for the rest of my life. That being said, I don't think that congregation should be excommunicated or forced never to do evangelism or anything else. There is still a place for them, and even a leadership role for them. God grant them such a role, even though I want no part of it.

      As for such pastors in the scenario you describe...well, maybe they should just leave the Church. At least in Islam they know there's no second chance. But seriously, I wish we had the joy on earth that the angels in heaven have over one who repents. Maybe they'll tell us what to do. Otherwise these men will only ever be allowed to be the diseased boil on the tuchus of the Church.

      Delete
    2. I've actually stuck with the examples I used in the original post: infidelity, theft, and molestation. No moving the goal posts here. Furthermore, grave moral sin always cuts a wide swath of pain.

      I don't know how to make an effective argument against a child molester, repentant though he be, leading a youth group. It just seems axiomatic to me that he should not. I can't imagine that it seems less axiomatic to you.

      That is the most highly charged example I chose, of course. But the principle seems to me to apply across all these grave moral sins. One of the temporal consequences of such failings is a greatly damaged reputation and; another is the fall out from the pain caused to others. It just seems axiomatic to me that this combination will place limits on the public role someone will be able to play in the church.

      +HRC


      Delete
  11. I know pastors who cut wide swaths of pain every time they open their mouths or put their hands to a keyboard. It doesn't take grave moral sin to cause enduring pain.

    You keep going for the worst case scenario, and that's fine. But again, not every case is so black and white. While one must not be insensitive to the pain of those legitimately hurt by a grave moral sin, one *can* rehabilitate one's reputation. My pain may last a lifetime, but that doesn't mean those who hurt me with their actions deserve a life sentence.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Good post, HRC, and the comment stream here is a reminder for us all to pray for our ecclesiastical visitors. This is but a small sample of their life, and I would not want it either.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Having read through the responses, I am brought to mind of an assignment I had as a high school freshman in an art class, to draw the rear wheel of a ten-speed bicycle. My circles fell far short of being circular and I resorted to a celebration of the wobbly oblong. It wasn't horrible, if you like that sort of thing.

    Oh, and on the radio I remember the song that was playing: "You're so Vain (You Probably Think This Song is About You)"

    The sketch was not brought home, it really wasn't good, and I've no idea what happened to it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My only answer to this parable can be John 32:29-30.

    29 His hearers said to him, “See, now you are using figures of speech, and not speaking plainly! 30 Now we are sure that we have no idea what you're talking about, and everyone should question You. By this we believe that we have no idea where you're coming from.”

    ReplyDelete
  15. What does any of this have to do with "Gottesdienst?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The whole Faith flows from and back to our worship. Gottesdienst has always had a strong interest in all things Church and Ministry.

      +HRC

      Delete
  16. Could the words of James apply here regarding the harsher judgment received by those who fill the Office of the Ministry?

    Also, I can resonate with the comments above that are sympathetic to someone who has fallen, and then repents and with God's help amends his sinful life. In such cases, we should celebrate repentance, and perhaps after a period of time, a person can begin to assume greater responsibility in the church, provided that there is no offense caused to former victims.

    However, suppose there is ongoing pain being caused, without the knowledge of the broader public? What then? No one is perfect, of course, and fruits of repentance will never be perfect either. But I have heard of the devastating effects of sin on the part of a pastor in a congregation. I know what Pastor Curtis is talking about. In the case I am thinking of, those who thought that it was a one time deal thought that the pastor was being treated unfairly, heavy-handedly even. They were ignorant of the extent of the circumstances. Forgiveness was given, but there were, as Pastor Curtis mentioned, temporal consequences. For him to go on serving, or remaining in that congregation as a layman would have caused unfathomable pain to the victims.

    Life in a fallen world, even in a Church of redeemed sinners is difficult. It is complicated. It is not always cut and dry. Luther, if my memory serves me right, recommended that a divorced husband and wife move to different towns and be members of different parishes (Not sure of the reference). Sin is messy. While focusing on forgiving the sinner, we should also be mindful of the victims and the ongoing effects of sin on them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is a little bit of this in Chemnitz' Loci on Marriage - you might be thinking of that as the reference.

      +HRC

      Delete
  17. I wonder if we might do well to, first, stay clear of assumptions about "who" this piece is about. What does it matter who it is about? If what Pr Curtis says is valid, then it is valid no matter who the former pastor is. If he is wrong, then he is wrong, period.

    Second, I think key to these situations is exactly what Pr Curtis says is at the root of the problem: "quiet resignation". If a man is removed from office for molestation the congregation should at least be made aware that he was living an immoral life. Forgiveness should not be denied him. But if he moves 500 miles away and begins anew at a new congregation as a laymen, he should also be open and honest with his new pastor about the nature of his resignation. Then this new pastor can make informed decisions about how much involvement this layman should have in the congregation.

    It is very hard to make a black and white distinction here, but at the very least the defrocked/resigned pastor, now a layman, should be honest with his pastor and the leadership of the congregation, so that they know the situation and can make informed decisions with all the facts, including the fact that this man is forgiven in Christ, yet remains a sinner here in this fallen world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Pr. Theilen: that's an apt summary of what I was getting at.

      +HRC

      Delete
    2. Re: Fr. Theilen's comments

      If the "quiet resignation" is the root of the problem, then perhaps its gnarled trunk is a failure to secure, at some personal level, a "quiet acceptance."

      The failure to fully wrap one's brain around the notion that one's sin can have deep consequences, consequences which extend far beyond the self, is common because we all have flesh. At some point, we creatures of Potter's clay become convinced ... to the point of quiet delusion ... that we are altogether indispensable for the fulfillment of God's will on earth. 'Fess up: we are all inclined to this, are we not. I mean, we're rascals, even if we're baptized rascals. "Listen buddy, don't forget I had to show up in order for God's baptism to work!" "Verily, verily, Herr Doktor ... but in your case, you had to be carried in while kicking and screaming."

      But I digress.

      See, Peter did not molest a child or sleep with another's wife; he did deny his Lord, however. He was restored to a princeship to be sure; but to speculate, this forceful fellow and natural leader ("I'm going fishing;" and so his companions quickly acquiesce, rather agreeably), but there's nothing in a post-Resurrection text to suggest that he was not fully resigned to life as Popeye the Sailor. Christ had different and specific plans for him, entailing the task of pastoring, but that was Peter, not Bunyan's Every Man. It was finally a matter of the hovering of the Holy Spirit over the waters of Peter's soul, and God's grace in the person of His Christ. Judas, exposed and labeled by the Apostle John as a thief, did not make the final cut ... although he too may have wept bitterly.

      Joseph Barsabas, the one surnamed Justus, met all the stated criteria for becoming an Apostolic witness to the Resurrection (Acts 1:22). God did not choose him, even though to all appearances he was "blameless." From all inspired evidence, he did not spurn a quiet acceptance or violently force his way into the kingdom. Far less a claim of a position within that hierarchy of service, have those who fail the inspired criteria of Titus Chapter 1. Yes, they are the stringent criteria of one who was, in effect, a murderer (I Tim 1:15). But it was a murderer who was directly blinded by God, and to whom was revealed many things, personally, by our Risen Lord. Few of our contemporaries, among us sinners, can honestly claim a similar experience.

      For the fallen clergy, I'm really thinking that the laitical life is not necessarily less rewarding, or more demeaning, or less filled with meaning, period, than that of the ordained. There is a certain virtue and dignity to a "quiet acceptance" of the truths of a letter written to a Cretan pastor, and the behavior of a-likely-once-disappointed St. Joseph Barsabas.

      Of course, there is also certain virtue to a "quiet silence," which is why I'll shut up now.

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor

      Delete
    3. Dr. Anderson--

      No one with any sense would say that laypeople lead a less rewarding life or that it is in any way demeaning to be a layperson per se. However, no one says laypeople have to hide themselves because of their sins. But a defrocked pastor apparently has to keep his mouth shut, his pen still.

      Let me give you an example. Anyone can baptize a child in an emergency, right? Well, when I was on Restricted Status, I couldn't--not without permission from my DP.

      And no, I wouldn 't place myself or any pastor on the level of Peter the denyer or Paul the Persecutor and accessory to murder in that sense. But that doesn't mean there is nothing in the church for these defrocked men to do.

      Herr Sinner

      Delete
    4. Dear Rev. Kornacki,

      I agree most heartily that an absence of extra-Scriptural, "personal" communiques from Lord Christ does NOT mean that there is absolutely nothing for the defrocked gentleman to do, just as it is an absurdity to claim that there is nothing in holy Church for a layman to do ... or even for the infirm, or for the aged, as God permits. One can pray mightily, often with sorrily enfeebled brains or limbs, that God's will be done, for example. Speaking rhetorically, that's really not keeping the mouth shut or the pen quiet, as I see it. That's servicing both man and God, and it isn't trivial, whether or not another human happens to spot you behaving in such fashion.

      I admit to having no easy solutions, or any abilities to determine, for that matter, what limits of service exist for the defrocked.

      That said, that mind-boggling dictum of the Donatist Potentate, regarding the matter of an emergency baptism, is yet another reason why the millstones are best left to Lord Christ, "a Victim Pure" who sees us all as victims bonded by chains and demons galore. This letting go must be done for our own sanity, ultimately, and to better scourge our own dark-side desires to flick the flagellum on anybody but ourselves. Here I'd be inclined to employ the personal singular, sure, but frankly it hurts too much.

      Pax et Gaudium (Take that and that and that!),

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor

      Delete
  18. One solution for a man who has been defrocked to contribute to the spiritual and intellectual life of the church would be to write anonymously. In this day and age, such works can easily be published via blogs and in book form through lulu.com.

    This allows the work to go forth while avoiding scandal and offense. I think the problem is a lack of clear lines

    For example, a single man could certainly allow his girlfriend to crash on the couch overnight without breaking the 6th commandment. But if it were to cause a scandal (especially if a pastor were to host his girlfriend overnight at the parsonage - not pointing to anyone, this is a hypothetical), it would be unwise. The gospel would better be served by discretion and clarifying the lines rather than by pushing into the gray area.

    Or a woman could wear an alb and stole at the altar (as is done in the LCMS) and it breaks no "letter of the law" according to the commandments, but it certainly gives offense and sends a confusing confession. Is it really worth whatever service this renders to do so at the expense of sending such a blurry message?

    And this is the heart of the issue.

    Public teaching is one of the duties of the pastor. Of course, lay people also publicly teach in some capacities as well. So there is a gray area. Should a defrocked pastor assume a public teaching role, is he carrying out a pastoral function (for which he was trained) or is he a lay-theologian doing what any Christian can (and should) do?

    Other gray areas might be a defrocked clergyman wearing a clerical collar in public, or an unrostered pastor wearing an alb to assist with communion in the chancel (as men and women do in the LCMS), or serving on the board of (lay) elders and assisting with the holy things at the altar.

    I think one of the most loving things a man who has been removed from office (for cause) can do is to voluntarily refrain from such gray areas, and seek ways to serve that won't blur lines and cause unnecessary scandal.

    In my own parish, a beloved pastor decades ago (long since deceased) was removed with cause for office because of a scandal that became known. It devastated the parish. Even though we're talking about events of nearly half a century ago, there are families that were lost to our congregation and church because of it - and I mean generational losses. People in my parish are still troubled by these events, even though they have become "ancient history" at this point. The former pastor's elderly wife is still alive (though she has moved away) and loved to this day by many. There is a very good reason why 1 Tim 3 sounds so harsh, even "legalistic" to our evangelical ears concerning pastors being "above reproach." The bar is set extremely high for the reason that the gospel is at stake, people's faith is at stake. This isn't theoretical textbook theology, but rather the real-world faith and life of real people and generations who follow. There are indeed hurtful long-term consequences, and I think it is loving and honorable to consider those who have been hurt by opting out of the gray areas.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Latest Automotive Information with Pictures, latest speedy cars, top vehicles
    TopAmazingCars.BlogSpot.Com

    ReplyDelete