Ecclesiastical vs Secular

Those new to the Episcopal Church’s Title IV procedure often compare it to a proceeding in civil law, with which they may be more familiar by training, previous experience, or television shows. Attorneys, Investigators, Disciplinary Board members, and even the media covering a Title IV proceeding that has reached a public stage may be new to this ecclesiastical process and must take care to respect its unique character.

Indeed, many people probably have learned disciplinary process from watching popular television shows about law, courts, and criminal investigation. Noted theologian and seminary professor Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett says that a television-watching background does not prepare a participant for Title IV. She continues that a serious, profound, and healthy experience may emerge from a theologically based disciplinary process instead of an adversarial one.

Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Author, Theologian, Former Academic Dean

The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church, explains that the big difference between theologically based Title IV canon law and civil law is how the church responds to a complaint. Instead of a “who did it?” response, the church is challenged to respond more deeply, engaging the rich theology of the Christian faith.

The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church

Executive Council member Dr. Steve Nishibayashi of the Diocese of Los Angeles participated in Title IV procedures as a former Intake Officer. He sees another major difference between Title IV and secular law in that pastoral care is fundamental to the church process. This care reaches across all sides of an incident or issue. Such regard for the “other side” is not afforded in secular law.

Dr. Steve Nishibayashi, Executive Council of The Episcopal Church

The pastoral elements of the process also make its outcomes more broadly defined than those of secular courts. The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas of the Diocese of San Diego can compare the two systems from her valuable perspective, having served as a lawyer in a city attorney’s office and now as a diocesan officer.

The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas, Esq., Canon for Spiritual Formation, Diocese of San Diego

Of course, those who have worked on the refinement of Title IV over the years and those who work within the framework as officers say there are profound consequences for any inappropriate action or behavior. It is the remedy for those consequences that may be different from secular law. The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development for the Episcopal Church, provides responses for the Office of the Presiding Bishop in Title IV cases involving bishops.

The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop for Office of Pastoral Development, The Episcopal Church

Attorney Sally Johnson currently serves as Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies. She was one of the church leaders who guided Title IV processes from their earlier foundations in civil, and later military, justice procedures to the theologically based foundations of today. She compares secular and theological systems in an overview. She starts by answering the question, “Is Title IV like the civil or criminal court system?”



Sally Johnson, Esq., Chancellor to the President of the House of Bishops

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