Just before Christmas, St. George’s School in Middletown released a report concerning numerous cases of sexual abuse at the school in the 1970s and 80s. The findings of the report have been widely reported by the media. St. George’s is an Episcopal school and I serve as an ex officio member of its board. For that reason, I want to speak to you about the role of the diocese in responding to these events.
As of this morning, two Episcopal priests and a third person who has worked in Episcopal congregations have been named in the ensuing media coverage of the report. One of the priests allegedly committed abuse and the other allegedly failed to report allegations of abuse made against a St. George’s employee as mandated by state law. The third individual is alleged to have committed abuse.
I have been in touch with bishops in whose dioceses the three men reside, and am currently working with other church leaders to make sure that appropriate disciplinary proceedings are initiated in the case of the clergy named.
As has been reported in the media, the Rhode Island State Police are conducting a criminal investigation into episodes discussed in the report. I have been in contact with the State Police and I am following their direction as the investigation is being carried out. I can say little more at this point about the situation, but I want you to be aware that you may have people in your congregations or in the communities you serve whose lives have been touched by the terrible events at St. George’s, and that you may be called upon to respond to them with the utmost pastoral sensitivity.
When the sacred trust to care for and respect the dignity of the people of God is violated, it is our duty as ministers of the gospel to repent of any culpability in this violation and to strive for the healing of those who have been harmed, and for reconciliation, if they desire it, with the community that abused or failed to protect them.
The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island makes every effort to deal responsibly and responsively with complaints and allegations of misconduct, which includes making reports to the appropriate authorities when child abuse is suspected. All of our clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children are required to go through a program called Safe Church Training.
Sexual abuse in any form is repugnant in any community; when that abuse occurs within the church or an affiliated institution, it is especially painful. The church must be a place where people can come with the deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe. Our churches must be places where children are nurtured and respected and cared for and never harmed or abused in any way.
I encourage you to be particularly attentive to anyone in the diocese who may have deep wounds that are reopened because of this public news. If there is any way my staff can be of assistance in helping you, as clergy, in this situation, please contact my office. I encourage you to be particularly mindful of the need we all have to keep the children committed to our care safe from all harm, and to remember that the Church particularly stands with the victims as they seek healing.
We cannot undo the harm that is described in the report, but we can work to make certain that the victims and survivors are treated fairly and compassionately, and that the church and its affiliated institutions are committed to the safety and well-being of all those who attend our churches, schools and programs.
The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island
Sent to clergy, diocesan leaders and the media on January 6, 2016