Recently, Susie Saffelle, an active member of Grace Episcopal Church, updated her review of the church to say how positive her experience was with Bob Malm’s 30 years as rector. While I like and respect Susie, her comments are misplaced and immoral.
Susie conflates two words, friendly and faithful.
Bob Malm often can be, and is, friendly and engaging. He is good at playing the role of priest. He knows how to look like a priest. He often acts like a priest. To the average person in the pew, he is a solid priest.
But scratch the surface and you discover a very different reality. Like all narcissists, Bob’s charm, his seeming kindness, and his other positive attributes are all just an act. The real Bob, lurking right beneath the surface:
- Lies under oath, otherwise known as commits perjury.
- Tries to drag the dying into court.
- Bullies my husband out of the church, received into it just 16 months earlier.
- Ignores utter chaos, including hoarding and bullying, in the church office for more than a decade.
- Shows little use for the food pantry, the homeless shelter, or other service to those in need.
- Bullies the vestry into an outrageously generous compensation that exceeds that of even senior bishops in the denomination.
- Manipulates parishioners.
- Engages in smear campaigns.
- Refers to those entrusted to his pastoral care as “sick,” “twisted,” and dysfunctional.”
- Calls Jan Spence an “asshole.”
- Refers to Lisa Doelp as, “like a little spy.”
- Violates confidentiality repeatedly.
- Conducts a multi-year vendetta against me and my family, disregarding the effect his actions have on the church he purports to serve.
Jesus’ comments are spot on:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Nor can one ignore Bob’s actions. Jesus overturned tables in the temple when confronted with hypocrisy, and loudly criticized the Scribes and Pharisees. People like Susie, however, turn a blind eye, and thus are complicit in Bob’s misconduct. And those who provide financial support to the parish are endorsing Bob’s actions. Nor is there anything “sacred” about a parish that condones such actions.
Here is what abuse expert Dr. Diane Langberg says:
And below is an example of the results of Bob Malm’s thirty years of “ministry,” posted by a now college-aged member of the parish:
Nor am I the only one to have these experiences.
In closing, note Susie’s use of the phrase, “At the helm,” which reflects the rampant clericalism of the parish. Bob should not be regarded as being “at the helm.” As a priest, Bob is there to serve the parish community, not the other way around. It is time for members of the church to take responsibility for the bull crud that goes on in the parish and address these matters, versus turning a blind eye on the basis that they are the rector’s responsibility, then invoking the notion that “we all have our faults.”
Grace church is a toxic church, and it is toxic because people allow it to be toxic. That is the bottom line.