Termination of DioVA Search for Bishop Provisional Underscores Problems in Diocese

By | December 11, 2018

As members of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia know, the diocese recently announced that it has ended its search for a bishop transitional, or interim bishop to serve for a three-year period following Bishop Shannon Johnston’s retirement. For those of us who have been following events, the announcement is far from unexpected.

As I have said many times, there have been signs for many years that, while Bishop Johnston may have been the right bishop for the years of litigation against the CANA crowd, he was a hot mess when it came to leadership and organizational dynamics. This conclusion is evinced by:
  • The allegations that Bishop Shannon covered up the sexual harassment of a female church employee who had filed a Title IV case against her alleged clergy harasser, including his failure to provide any effective pastoral response to the complainant.
  • His repeated violation of church canons and failure to address my complaints about Bob Malm’s misconduct, including his false statement that the matters complained of had been “investigated and resolved long ago,” and his statement of support for Bob’s misconduct.
  • His utter screw-up of the sad situation at St. Thomas’ McLean, which involved a Title IV case against a much-loved parish priest. Included in this situation is the diocese’s utter failure to adequately address the pain and pastoral needs of affected parishioners. (Highlighted by the spectacularly inept decision to announce the suspension of the parish priest at Sunday Mass without prior warning. The fact that diocesan officials can’t figure out why this is a seriously bad move speaks volumes to the capabilities of diocesan officials.)
  • The abrupt resignation of Canon Pat Wingo.
  • The prior collapse of the Bishop Interim search process, when plans fell through with both final candidates. It’s called “Plan B,” kids.
  • The ongoing spat with the trustees of the funds, which is now permeating every level of the diocese.
  • The shutdown, over the past year, of thing like The Episcopalian magazine, which hasn’t been published in more than a year.
  • The utter lack of diocesan services to churches, including lack of templated resources for pledge campaigns. The diocese yammers on about parishes honoring their funding commitments, yet supplies no resources to help make this happen. Go figure.
  • Spectacularly unresponsive staff at the bloated Mayo House bureaucracy. 
  • The announcement by Susan Goff of listening sessions across the diocese — but no promise of action.
  • The decision by the diocese, which still stands under Susan Goff’s tenure, to permit Bob Malm to perjure himself in court, to try to subpoena a dying woman, and to retaliate for complaining to the diocese about his conduct.

Of course, there’s also the amusing observation by a now deceased clergy friend of mine, who famously used to say, “You know you’re in trouble when the bishop says nice things about you in public.” And so it is with Bishop Johnston, upon whom the presiding bishop heaped fulsome praise as the latter announced his retirement.

What does all this mean for Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction? Primarily that what would have been a relatively minor dispute has now mushroomed into an existential crisis for the parish, which increasingly appears to be lurching towards disaster. Indeed, had the diocese taken seriously its obligation to supervise clergy from the onset, Bob never would have gotten himself into the mess he’s now in.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Of course, a cure for Grace Episcopal’s woes at this point would involved something closer to a ton of cure, versus a pound.