Clergy accountibility and discipline for standards of conduct set out in Title IV of the Canons of the Episcopal Church.
By their ordination vows, members of the clergy (deacons, priest, and bishops) accept accountability for standards of conduct that are set out in Title IV of the Constitution and Canons for the Government of The Episcopal Church ("Title IV"). Title IV represents an additional layer of discipline over and above the diocesan Safeguarding policies, which apply to both lay and ordained ministers in the Church. Not all Safeguarding violations by members of the clergy rise to the level of a Title IV offense, and not all Title IV offenses are addressed by the Safeguarding policies. The Title IV canons for “Accountability” and “Standards of Conduct” are summarize below. Title IV in full can be found here.
Purpose of Title IV
Title IV seeks to address clergy misconduct in a manner that promotes justice, restitution, amendment of life, repentance, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation among all involved or affected. It is a process of discernment in which the Church seeks enough clarity about what has happened to take action in the interest of justice, healing, and wholeness for all involved or affected. Throughout the process, pastoral care is offered to everyone involved, including any injured party, the member of the clergy who is the object of the complaint, and other affected individuals or communities. Advisors are also provided to help the parties navigate the Title IV process.
Nature of Title IV Proceedings
The clergy disciplinary process is similar to that used in licensing other professions, such as doctors and lawyers, in that it is distinct from both civil and criminal proceedings. A Title IV proceeding does not take the place of a criminal proceeding, and Title IV does not preclude anyone from pursuing either a criminal complaint or a claim for civil liability. The Diocese of Texas cooperates fully in criminal investigations and does not hesitate to involve law enforcement when required by law, when someone has been harmed by criminal behavior, or when someone is believed to be in harm’s way.
Offenses under Title IV
In order to be subject to a Title IV proceeding, any of the offenses described below must be material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church.
- Knowingly violating the Constitution or Canons of the Church directly or through acts of another person
- Failing without good cause to cooperate with proceedings under Title IV
- Intentionally and maliciously bringing false accusation or providing false testimony or evidence under this title
- Intentionally omitting any material fact from an application to ordination, reception from another church, or nomination as a bishop
- Discharging, demoting or retaliating against anyone who opposes misconduct or reports information regarding an Offense or participates in any Title IV proceeding
- Any breach of Standards of Conduct in IV.4 (listed immediately below)
All members of the clergy are required to:
- Respect confidences (except when pastorally, legally, or morally required to disclose)
- Conform to rubrics of Book of Common Prayer
- Abide by Ordination Vows
- Abide by terms of discipline issued under Title IV
- Safeguard property and funds of Church and community
- Report offenses to Intake Officer
- Faithfully exercise their ministry as described in the Book of Common Prayer
All members of the clergy must refrain from:
- Sexual misconduct
- Holding or teaching doctrine contrary to church
- Secular employment without consent of Bishop
- Being absent from canonically resident diocese for two years without Bishop's consent
- Criminal acts reflecting your honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to minister
- Conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
- Habitual neglect of ministerial office, public worship, or Holy Communion
- Conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy
Process under Title IV
Stage 1: Intake and Preliminary Investigation
The process begins with a complaint being made to an Intake Officer of the diocese. The two Intake Officers of the Diocese of Texas are the Canon for Wellness and Care The Rev. Canon Lisa S. Hines and the Canon to the Ordinary The Rev. Canon Christine Faulstich. A complaint may be made either orally or in writing to either Intake Officer by an injured party or by anyone with knowledge of the misconduct. Members of the clergy are required to report any offenses of which they are aware and to cooperate in any proceedings.
The Intake Officer is charged with listening to the complaint with respect, offering initial pastoral care and response, and answering questions about the process. The Intake Officer conducts an initial inquiry and creates a written report of the complaint.
If the Intake Officer determines that the complaint, if true, amounts to an offense under Title IV and that such offense is also material and substantial or of clear and weighty importance to the ministry of the Church, the complaint is then referred to the Reference Panel. If not the Intake Officer may dismiss the complaint. In either case, the Intake Officer then notifies the member of the clergy of the complaint.
Stage 2: Referral to Reference Panel
The Reference Panel consists of the Bishop Diocesan, the Intake Officers, and the President of the Disciplinary Board (which consists of 3 lay and 4 ordained members elected at Diocesan Council). Depending on the complaint, the Bishop may issue a pastoral direction, restrict the ministry of the member of the clergy, or temporarily place the member of the clergy on administrative leave until an investigation can be completed. The Reference Panel considers the complaint and the Intake Officer’s written report and may take any of the following actions:
- Conclude that no action is required other than appropriate Pastoral Response (a Pastoral Response does not result in “terms of discipline” under the provisions of Title IV.
- Refer the complaint for Conciliation (led by a person skilled in dispute resolution).
- Refer the matter to the Bishop for possible agreement with the member of the clergy on terms of discipline.
- Refer the matter for further investigation. (When the investigation is completed, the matter comes back to the Reference Panel to consider one of the other outcomes listed. If, for example, the investigation shows that no material or important violation has occurred, the Reference Panel may determine that all that is needed is a Pastoral Response.)
- Refer the matter to a Conference Panel made up of members of Disciplinary Board.
Stage 3: Conference Panels and Hearing Panels
Conference Panels and Hearing Panels are both made up of members of the Disciplinary Board, and both are charged with ascertaining the truth of the complaint and seeking an appropriate resolution of the matter. A hearing before the Conference Panel is the step following the work of the Reference Panel.
Conference Panel hearings are informal and conversational. Participants include an attorney who represents the interest of the Church (“Church Attorney), the subject member of the clergy (the “Respondent”), and the Complainant. The Respondent and Complainant may also be accompanied by their respective Advisors and by counsel if they choose. The Conference Panel will give all parties an opportunity to tell their stories.
The possible outcomes of a Conference Panel hearing are:
- Reaching an agreement among the parties on terms of discipline
- Dismissing the case
- Referring the matter to a Hearing Panel
- Referring the matter for Conciliation
- Issuing an order imposing terms of discipline that, if refused by the member of the clergy, sends the matter to a Hearing Panel
A matter that is referred to the Hearing Panel results in something very similar to a civil trial, with discovery, rules of evidence, and a standard of proof of “clear and convincing.” All parties may have counsel, a record of the proceeding is kept, and documents filed in the matter are made public. The Hearing Panel may either
- Dismiss the matter and exonerate the Respondent, or
- Issue an order imposing terms of discipline that goes to the Bishop Diocesan, who issues a sentence (which may not be more burdensome than the one recommended in the Order).
Confidentiality at the beginning stages of a Title IV is very important to a fair investigation and to protect the reputation of a member of the clergy who has, in fact, not committed misconduct. Even more importantly, confidentiality protects the privacy of any persons injured by the member of the clergy. Confidentially can help to create a space that allows for and incorporates healing for all parties. Once the facts have been established, the Bishop determines the appropriate level of confidentiality, weighing the critical importance of transparency and accountability in the Church against the injured party’s desire for privacy and other pastoral considerations. However, the Bishop will not permit the desire for confidentiality to hide or excuse harmful behavior for the sake of avoiding negative publicity or to avoid criminal exposure.
When a member of the clergy has agreed to terms of discipline with the Bishop or has been disciplined by Order of a Conference or Hearing Panel, the fact of the Title IV proceeding is no longer kept confidential. Notice of the proceeding and the Title IV provision violated (although not the details of the misconduct) are sent to every member of the clergy and every vestry in the Diocese of Texas, along with the Diocesan Council Secretary, and Standing Committee. It is also sent to the Presiding Bishop and all bishops of The Episcopal Church, and to certain officials of The Episcopal Church, including the Church Deployment Officer. It becomes part of the permanent record of both the diocese and the greater church. Any bishop of any diocese who is considering allowing a member of the clergy to be active in the diocese may inquire to learn the details of the misconduct.
Disciplinary Consequences to Member of the Clergy
In addition to the notice of Title IV discipline that is disseminated as described above, a wide variety of terms of discipline can be involved, depending on the offense(s) committed. They can include anything from completing a course of counseling, acknowledging misconduct to affected persons or communities, or making reparations, to temporary restrictions on ministry or a temporary administrative leave, to a complete surrendering of Holy Orders (popularly known as “defrocking”).
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations under Title IV varies according to the offense, ranging from two years for certain violations (like violating the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer) to ten years for most other offenses, with notable exceptions. Among the exceptions is that there is no statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a child or for violence. In 2018, the Presiding Bishop temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for sexual misconduct with an adult if the misconduct took place after January 1, 1996 and the proceedings are initiated before the end of 2021.