What Constitutes An Offense

The following information is for educational, overview, and “best practices” purposes. Only the Canons offer a thorough review of what constitutes an Offense and who is accountable.

Title IV Canon 1 states “by virtue of Baptism,” all members of the church are accountable to one another. However, there are no members of the laity who can be disciplined under Title IV. Both the laity and clergy can participate in a Title IV procedure as Complainants, members of the Disciplinary Board, attorneys, conciliators, Advisors, witnesses, and pastoral care providers. Only the clergy can be Respondents to a Title IV complaint. The members of the clergy are deacons, priests, and bishops.  The term “cleric” is another term for “clergyperson” or “Member of the Clergy.”

 In addition to their baptismal vows, the vows of ordination set clerics apart to follow a higher standard of accountability as defined in Title IV. Canon 1 continues, “This Title applies to Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountabilities for doctrine, discipline, worship, and obedience.”

The magnitude of the sacred vows is perhaps only fully understood by those who answered the call to be ordained. The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, who is the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church, explains the ordination vows and their similarities to the vows people voice at marriage. 

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

Author, theologian, and academic dean Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett has taught and advised thousands who have sought ordination. As a student and professor of canon law and theology, she sees the vows of ordination as a powerful commitment to God.

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

Just as Canon 1 clearly states that the vows of ordination set the clerics aside and accountable to Title IV, Title IV.1 and Title IV.4 succinctly state what constitutes an Offense.

While exact and binding language is found in the Canons, this summary of canons 3 and 4 states clerics are subject to a Title IV-level process for violations or attempted violations of the Constitution or Canons of a diocese or the Church, bringing false accusation, making false testimony, and failing to cooperate or to advance information in a Title IV proceeding.

Therefore, under Title IV, a cleric must bring forth information concerning another cleric about an apparent violation of the canons of the Church. It also can be a Title IV-level Offense to bring false accusation. As the President of the House of Deputies, The Rev. Gay C. Jennings understands and witnesses the responsibility that the canons place on the clergy. Nearly one half, or almost 450 members, of the House of Deputies are priests and deacons. She says clerics must understand that bringing information one believes is true is done for the sake of the church as a whole and those who are members of it.

The Rev. Gay C. Jennings, President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

Additionally, clerics are accountable for any breach of the Standards of Conduct, which are defined in Canon 4.  Among others, the breaches include violations of confidentiality, not conforming to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, holding or teaching doctrine contrary to the Church, not abiding by the vows of ordination, accords, orders or Pastoral Directions, and not safeguarding church assets. 

Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban of the Diocese of Connecticut trains both laity and clerics in Title IV Canons. She has also written a training manual for the House of Bishops. In her training, Canon Hammeal-Urban discovers clerics often have questions about canonical standards of conduct and questions about the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. She offers a detailed explanation about being accountable to the standards of conduct defined in Title IV.4.

Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban, Esq. Diocese of Connecticut Canon for Mission Integrity and Training

Title IV gives significant attention to Offenses in the area of sexual misconduct. Diocese of Connecticut Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban continues, describing what constitutes a Title IV-level Offense and who is accountable.

Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban, Esq., Diocese of Connecticut Canon for Mission Integrity and Training

Another area of restraint identified in the canons that may lead to a Title IV-level Offense is engaging in secular employment without the consent of the bishop. With more and more part-time and bivocational clergy persons, all need to be aware of their obligation to seek permission before becoming employed in a secular setting.

Canon Hammeal-Urban fears that this will be a more frequent Title IV-level Offense in the modern church model of clergy employment. Clerics are not canonically restricted from secular employment, but must have permission from the bishop.

Canon Robin Hammeal-Urban, Esq., Diocese of Connecticut Canon for Mission Integrity and Training

The canons continue with additional areas of restraint. They include being absent for more than two years from the diocese of canonical residence without bishop consent, criminal acts, negligence in the ministerial office, and conduct unbecoming to a member of the Clergy.

 

The clause conduct unbecoming to a member of the clergyis difficult to define and is often misunderstood. The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny says it points to the high standard of conduct that sets an example to others.

The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma

The Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Georgia, The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, says while the phrase is somewhat vague, people usually know conduct that is unbecoming to a cleric when they see it.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Georgia

Title IV charges may also be brought forward for abandonment of the communion of The Episcopal Church. Bishops, priests and deacons are all subject to charges of abandonment.  In addition, clerics may be subject to Title IV provisions for renunciation of the doctrine, discipline, or worship of the Church or admission into a religious body not in communion with The Episcopal Church.

It should be noted that Title IV is not just written for Offenses that have caused widespread harm or endangerment. It can be used to prevent greater harm if a pattern of potentially serious Title IV-level behavior has been detected. Through the structure of the Title IV process, there is opportunity to present, examine, and remedy a situation in the best interest of all in a short period of time. By using the Title IV procedure to create a plan of correction, such as issuing a bishop’s Pastoral Direction, there is an opportunity to mandate changes in behavior or the righting of an infraction. Failure to follow the steps of correction can become another Title IV Offense.

Long-time priest, seminary dean, and canon to the ordinary, The Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, has worked with hundreds of new clerics in formation. She notes that Title IV may provide an effective procedure to correct Offenses before they become increasingly damaging.  Additionally, she reiterates the concept that Title IV has the ability to help a cleric understand the need to modify behavior for the sake of themselves, the Church, and before others are harmed.

The Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Utah

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