Risk Management

In their decades of study, the General Convention committees framing Title IV deemed risk management to be an important step in preventing Title IV offenses and managing the Title IV process when offenses occur.

Steps to risk management may be individual to each diocese and congregation. However, there are best practices that apply to all dioceses and congregations. Often such steps are also imperative to institutional ministries, such as camps, schools, and chaplaincy programs. These steps include:

  • Maintaining adequate insurance. This should include considerations for umbrella, employment practices, and directors’ and officers’ liability insurances.
  • Maintenance of Title IV records. The bishop is canonically responsible for the records of Title IV proceedings.
  • Stewardship of church property. Such stewardship of property is especially important as Title IV cases of abandonment may involve church property.
  • Counseling awareness. Having windows in the doors of any room or office where pastoral counseling might take place is an important best practice.
  • Background checks for employees. Background checks may discover patterns of inappropriate conduct.
  • Avoidance of conflicts of interest. Frequently, people in the Title IV process are familiar with or attend church with other participants directly involved in a Title IV procedure. There are also conflicts of interest that come from being present in the same neighborhood or workplace with other participants.
  • Accounting practices. Responsible financial accounting practices must be observed in consultation with diocesan chief financial officers.

A resource for information on how to achieve these best practices is the Manual of Business Methods in Church AffairsClergy should also refer to the Human Resource Manuals/Policies for their respective dioceses. 

Title IV goes beyond the pain, suffering, and disruption of ministry. It can be costly both financially and spiritually. It also can lead to legal action under secular law. Often this comes in the form of lawsuits.

The Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church, the Rev. Geoffrey Smith, says risk management is about planning, not just to protect assets, but to protect the mission of the church.

The Rev. Geoffrey Smith, Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church

Another best practice in risk management is the proper training of clergy in the canons and procedures of Title IV. All clerics are expected, by having taken their ordination vows, to conform their behavior and conduct their ministries in accord with the canons. All clerics should therefore be trained in the canons, as there may be a lack of consistency of knowledge and understanding of them. 

It is best practice that bishops, priests-in-charge, and their congregational leaders monitor the establishment of risk management plans.

The Rev. Geoffrey T. Smith says a risk management assessment with Title IV parameters in mind is an opportunity to address consequences of everyday operation of a specific ministry.

The Rev. Geoffrey T. Smith, Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church

Even if unintentional, financial impropriety can be a Title IV level Offense. Diocesan and The Episcopal Church's canons require the reporting of financial information from congregational ministries. Improper documentation, incomplete audits, or incomplete record keeping are all potential evidence of financial impropriety recorded in annual and parochial reports. It is the cleric’s responsibility to ensure that financial records are kept properly, and it is the cleric who is subject to a Title IV action permitting or engaging in improper record keeping.

Bishop Ed Konieczny says best practices start at the congregational level in dioceses. It is imperative that clerics and congregational leaders have specific plans about how to transact business and about proper documentation procedures. Often issues arise in unrecorded reimbursements.

The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma

Risk management also involves the best practice that clerics keep good records of pastoral calls and other interactions with the public, especially in vulnerable situations. Best practices that help reduce the risk of accusations and Title IV-level Offenses may involve meeting people in public places, having witnesses, and taking notes of encounters. Risk management best practices are offered for various ministries in our church in the Priests and Deacons topic on this website. Such risk management is especially needed as the church opens its doors wider to embrace new and less-defined ministries outside of congregational work.

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