How Episcopal Leaders Made a Deal with the New York Post to Misreport on Sexual Miconduct
Note: this essay contains references to sexual assault and gender-based violence. Last update: January 7, 2016.
Starting in 2011, a pastor, now a priest, named Ginger Strickland, and her bishop, Pierre Whalon, as well as a number of other Episcopal Church officials, tried to cover up a sexual misconduct case in Paris and New York, in which I was the victim and which I originally brought to light. They used every tactic they could: invoking lawyers, pressuring newspapers, shutting off contact with me, physically barring me from church buildings, publishing false stories, emotional bullying, gaslighting, and so forth. These machinations may have, indeed, typically worked, 25 years ago, to suppress priest misconduct allegations. But nowadays we have the Internet, which allows most anyone to publish anything to the world. So, powerful people cannot cover things up the way they used to — and you, and I, and the rest of us regular people, are all the better off for it.
This is the story of the case and the cover-up. It is all very important, because Episcopal priests have recently been in the news for systematically covering up the alleged sexual abuse of dozens of children at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. And St. George’s is not an isolated case. Many times, Episcopal bishops and priests have tried to hide sexual abuse allegations from the public. The story you are reading goes into great detail about how they go about suppressing this information.
We all have the power to work together to stop sexual assault and rape victims from being blamed, ignored, or falsely discredited, and ensure that organizations like churches, schools, and businesses have transparent and fair procedures and documentation about sexual abuse. In order to stop this, we first need to know exactly how it is done. But we rarely do know, because these institutions — in this case, the church — have communications staff, lawyers, risk management specialists, and so forth, whose job it is to keep such stories from going public. They certainly made my job hard.
I’d like to add, on a personal note, that writing this is difficult, because I’m describing the most painful events of my life, by far. They took me through sadness, guilt, anxiety, and loneliness so profound that many friends and family felt helpless in trying to alleviate it. I’ll try to articulate it as best I can, but no words will ever capture how black the darkness was during my particular night of the soul. There are also some happy moments, and I’ll have to use some humor, just as a mechanism to cope with what I saw and felt.
What makes my case so interesting is that it is well-documented. The Episcopal Church has brand new and mostly untested relatively new rules in place for dealing with sexual misconduct reports. These procedures, called “Title IV” should, at least in theory, create a written record of what happened. In reality, a lot of the wheeling and dealing by organizations like the Episcopal Church and the New York Post did not occur on paper, but in private conversations, some of which we can piece together by other evidence, but others of which are lost forever to time.
By the way, I actually have no idea what the right way to tell this story is. We’re dealing with a complex, 5-year psychodrama, and my writing isn’t perfect, and sometimes, perhaps, repetitive. Apologies for that. Anyway, for lack of an obviously better structure to this essay, let’s go with a timeline. Despite its length already, this essay is incomplete; there are still many omitted details that would flesh out the story further. However, authors have no choice but to make cuts. I just hope that the main points get across.
* * * * *
December 12, 2010 – April 12, 2011
MY PASTOR COMES ON TO ME. REPEATEDLY.
Ginger Strickland, pastor at my church, the American Church in Paris, France, made advances over and over again in counseling and volunteer contexts. She was a candidate, at the time, for ordination into the Episcopal Church, first as a deacon, and then as a priest. We weren’t friends first. I asked her to keep our relationship formal, but she kept on crossing professional boundaries. She’d make sexual innuendos in otherwise professional email exchanges. She kept on asking me out; I kept on turning her down.
But at a certain point, I started to accept her behavior. I’d grown up Roman Catholic and never been a member of a Protestant parish before, so I guessed that I must have been misjudging the church culture. Maybe, I thought, she was just being friendly.
She hired me to work at a youth campout without checking my references. She had me sleep, the only adult, in a tent with young boys. This is a huge violation of child safety rules (see left), and if I had been a certain sort of evil person, it might have turned out horribly. Luckily I wasn’t. In the meantime, I missed a red flag about Strickland: instead of being troubled by her negligence, I was flattered that she didn’t feel the need to background check me, thinking that she believed I was a great and trustworthy person. In fact, Strickland told me I was so talented at ministry that I should consider going into it professionally. Strickland talked to me as if I were special among the parishioners, saying that I was smarter, more stable — in her words, I was “so winning.” She’d joke about the rest of the congregation, saying how many “crazy” people there were. She and another minister would play what Strickland called a “game”, about the church members, called “Guess the Mental Illness.” That’s professionalism, eh?
I’ll get back to the narrative in a few paragraphs, but first I have to say this: I think Ginger Strickland is a good person. I’m not just saying that as a buffer, because I’m about to mention many of the unwise actions — and inaction — that she took. The Ginger Strickland I knew, before she made advances at me, had a strong handle, intellectually, on the best of the Christian ethics that she stood for; she could articulate the values of compassion, patience, and generosity. Ginger Strickland did good things in her prior profession, as a social worker; she probably did good things as a pastor; and she will probably continue doing good things wherever she ends up working. And that makes me happy. However, until she acknowledges that she broke the rules — and apologizes — we have no reason to believe she won’t do something similar again. I don’t need an apology for my own ego; I forgave Strickland a long time ago. We all need her to say sorry publicly, so that we can be sure that she will not break similar rules and endanger people in the future.
Her silence, however, is typical. Perpetrators of sexual boundary violations — rape, sexual assault, child abuse, professional exploitation, etc. — often don’t admit fault, so that they can deflect blame on victims. Perpetrators conspire with other people in power to make victims seem like liars, out for retribution, money, attention, or out of mental illness or other unrelated emotional instability, or for some other reason…“You dressed provocatively and he couldn’t help himself.” “You’re a slut, so of course he thought he could rape you.” “You’re just crying sexual assault because you want to get back at him.” “She’s a good person (she’s a pastor!), you said you loved her, so she couldn’t have exploited you. Something’s wrong with you.” I’m not saying that false allegations don’t exist — they do — but they’re rare, and what is several orders of magnitude more common is for a perpetrator and his or her allies to twist things around to discredit the victim.
Most victims, by the way, are women. They have been dealing with victim-blaming for thousands of years. I didn’t care about this particular issue, until it happened to me. That’s kind of sad. Men need to be much more aware of these dynamics of victim-blaming. But we’ll get to that. In any case: I was blamed, repeatedly, by strangers, friends, family, and worst of all, the church.
We should add that people accused of sexual boundary violations — like Ginger Strickland — also face stigma. For this reason, it’s very important that organizations develop strong and fair complaint and discipline protocols — and to get to a solution as soon as possible. That never happened here. Strickland was not offered those protocols. The Episcopal Church and American Church in Paris failed to carry out justice systematically or efficiently, and as a result, it seems, Strickland and I were traumatized more than necessary. I’m going to put the following sentence in italics because it’s super-important and not obvious: Episcopal officials, in trying to cover up this case, ignoring much of Title IV, and ordaining Ginger Strickland a priest while she faced sexual misconduct allegations, have hurt her more than helped her in the long run.
In the face of the church’s failure, Strickland has had
two five years in which she could have taken a strong, independent stance, and helped clear the record. She could have responded publicly to the charges against her. Or asked for a private reconciliation. Or worked through a third-party mediator. She did none of these. Maybe she’s said something to her current parishioners; I don’t know. But Strickland’s obedience to her superiors — and her silence — has wounded me, and a lot of other people, more than her original actions. Because she or Pierre Whalon, her bishop, refuse just to reconcile thoughtfully, lots and lots and lots of other people have had to get involved in the case, to try to achieve some semblance of justice. Someday — I must admit I dream about it — Strickland may finally choose to do the right thing.
OK from here on in, I will be giving a more general description here of what happened, than was presented in the written case presented to Episcopal officials. There are very specific details about sexuality that I’d prefer to leave out here for privacy reasons. But if enough people feel that they need those details, in order to understand the nature of the abuse, I’ll find a way to provide that documentation.
April 13 – June 19, 2011
I CAVE INTO MY PASTOR’S ADVANCES.
Pay attention, because now we’re getting to the details that the Post and the church fudged.
She kissed me in the church house lobby. Within a week, she said she loved me. Within 10 days, she was talking about marriage. I thought I’d found the love of my life. She told me that God brought me to her. She said that long before she’d gotten to know me, she’d referred to me as “the future father of my children”. She said she was taking a job in the United States the next fall, either in Washington, Houston, or New York, and I told her I’d follow her. “Next time, I’ll follow you,” she said.
Strickland took the job occupied at the time by her former Yale Divinity School roommate: the New York position, a prestigious Assistant Ministership, with a huge apartment at the landmark-preserved Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue. She still lives and works there. [Update, February 24, 2015: As mentioned above, Strickland has now left the Church of the Incarnation for a parish in the wealthy suburb of Ross, in Marin County, California. One thing to add at this point in the story is that back in Paris, Strickland expressed to me a reservation about taking the New York job. It was that she was concerned about working with the Rector, Douglas Ousley. Her former roommate, Strickland said, had told Strickland that Ousley was difficult to work with — that when someone said something he didn’t like, he “pretended not to listen”. That’s absolutely consistent with my experience with Ousley, who later ended up ignoring my emailed attempts at reconciliation, telephoning me only to leave one-way messages, and accosting me angrily on the street in front of his church.]
If you look at emails between us, they’re extraordinarily loving and Christian in tone, on the whole. Spoken words were sometimes less so. But this was, literally, April in Paris. I certainly believed I was in love, and she may have believed she was in love. The issue is that the church was an improper context to try to develop this kind of love. Even when we weren’t physically on the grounds of the church (although we often were), the social or professional framework did not change. She couldn’t just snap her fingers and stop being a minister.
The inherent pastor-parishioner power differential would end up pitting my genuine love for her ministry against my own self-repect and autonomy. This dynamic is almost unavoidable when a minister initiates — or consents to — a relationship with a congregant. Strickland had learned this in seminary, in a course called “Preventing Ministerial Misconduct”. I’d never even thought about such things; I grew up Roman Catholic and had never had a pastor who was either female, or even around my age. She knew that. And I was never briefed about this danger. And the church has clear rules to avoid it.
Hence I do not consider myself, now, to have consented to the sexuality, because my consent was not informed. Strickland never told me that a sexual misconduct policy even existed, much less that what was happening was possibly a violation. As I later would learn, lack of informed consent is at the heart of many cases of professional exploitation. And, as RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network has pointed out, professional exploitation is a form of abuse. Before all this happened, I wouldn’t have used that word to describe it. But now that I have experienced the traumatic psychological aftermath — hugely disproportionate to a romantic heartbreak (I’ve had them) — I think abuse is absolutely the accurate term. These events would not just mean the end of a relationship, or the loss of a lover. They almost completely destroyed — I’ll say destroyed — my ability to practice my spiritual tradition, they cut me off almost entirely from my faith community, and made me the target of heteronormative, sexist bigotry on the part of certain family, friends, and fellow Christians. So even if you have trouble seeing what happened between Strickland and me as abusive, it’s impossible to deny that the church’s subsequent reaction was.
In other words, you might think this was all fun, that I got to date my good-looking pastor. On one level, it was fun. But something else was deeply, deeply wrong.
Starting the night we kissed, I couldn’t sleep properly. I didn’t know what was happening to me. This mix of sexuality, Christian symbolism, and religious hierarchy was disturbing at the level of my soul. Because she was my minister, a figurehead in my spiritual tradition, brilliantly charismatic and the longest-serving member of the church’s pastoral staff — and I was a pretty religious guy; I went through a formal discernment process for the Catholic priesthood — Strickland had this built-in power between us. It’s hard to know how much that matters, until you’ve gotten stuck in such a dynamic, and I don’t blame people who don’t understand it.
To explain: Strickland had unnecessarily fast professional access to my most private personal information and vulnerabilities, and because she was practically by job definition a representative of Christ (and hence God), she garnered from me a natural deference. She was able to use that to gain sexual access as well, and this made me feel both artifically honored and remarkably anxious at the same time. When you can’t sleep, it all becomes worse. Every fear becomes stronger, every burden heavier.
The same community I went to for prayer and support was suddenly the place where I had to hide the most disquieting events in my life. She was asking me to sneak out the back door of the clergy’s residence in the mornings, so that people wouldn’t know I’d spent the night. I wasn’t allowed to talk to congregants about us. The theater of our “relationship” was the church complex; you could see the stained glass windows from her bedroom across a courtyard. She told me all kinds of secrets about being a pastor, and shared with me all the ugliest church politics. She was a genius of image management.
It was never clear whether an interaction between us was supposed to be pastoral or sexual. One one hand, she’d sit down with me somewhere in the church complex, listen to me speak about my deepest anxieties, break out the Book of Common Prayer and pray “for” me in the way that a priest prays for a penitent. I spoke about my mother’s cancer, my confrontations with death as a medical student, and my fears about not living up to my family’s professional expectations. In one particular conversation I choked up and told Strickland how nervous I was to be moving back to New York, because I’d be stepping back geographically into family dysfunction. “All shall be well,” she intoned, quoting St. Julian of Norwich, “and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” So I looked at her, half-relieved to have a sympathetic ear, half-frightened that, as it seemed to be with every interaction between us, the transferred empathy would lead to her to transfer sexuality. And it did. If I didn’t capitulate, I might have been sacrificing the pastoral support. The two felt contingent upon one another. This would become worse over the summer, when Strickland repeatedly requested our conversations take place over Skype videochatting when, she wrote, “there should be nudity.”
I would clearly state what physical barriers I did not want to cross, and she’d suggest pushing past them with her usual polite phrasing: “we can revisit that.” Her whole attitude toward sexuality in Christianity mocked these barriers, reframing them as overmodest. “Ah, the Anglican Church,” Strickland wrote, “the last bastion of repression and prudery.” As for her sexual misconduct training at seminary, she nicknamed it (as the Post pointed out), “Don’t Do the Pew” — while she was, in fact, doing the pew. I’d ask for a regular conversation between us, and she’d reply, “feeling concupiscent?” — a Roman Catholic theological term for lustful. Everything was couched in language by great Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Alisdair MacIntyre. When I expressed my worries, Strickland wove together clerical, Christian, and sexual terminology, using the religious concepts ingrained since my childhood as a tool to constantly intensify the physicality between us — and, perhaps more damagingly, my emotional dependence. The answer to every objection was, but this is Christian love, this is miraculous, a wonder, God keeps his promises. This graduate of Yale Divinity School, this winner of the Morehead Scholarship, was using her brilliant theological skills to abstract out and divert attention from a dangerous violation of sexual boundaries.
Of course, I thought, this is totally cool, because I’m a grown adult male… I’m a Stanford grad… I know what I’m doing. If I can’t sleep, it’s my fault. I must be just neurotic about relationships. Or maybe it’s just love. And I knew the extra challenges that Strickland faced, as a female pastor — the sexism that still pervades church and society. I wanted to be as accomodating as possible to that. Given her status and her clear psychological astuteness, every time things felt uncomfortable, I’d ask myself what mistake I had made. I masked my insomnia with over-the-counter sleeping pills, which became less and less effective.
She was ordained a deacon at the American Cathedral in Paris on June 4, 2011 in an elaborate — really almost royal — ceremony. Just to be perfectly clear for all you non-Episcopalians out there: a deacon is a clergy member in The Episcopal Church, not a layperson. Indeed, her Bishop, Pierre Whalon, gave an ordination sermon in which he said that the most important ordination in the Episcopal Church was to the deaconate, not to the priesthood. I’m pointing this out, because this is one of the details that the Post misreported, and it was confusion about this point that Whalon would use to try to insist that this wasn’t technically sexual misconduct. Frankly, I don’t think it matters whether she was formally ordained or not when she made advances at me; she was a powerful pastor before she took her vows, and the ceremony did not suddenly change that fact.
That Sunday night, Strickland was having one of many ordination parties in her apartment. As usual, I didn’t know if I was allowed to tell anyone there what was happening between us. I got sick during that party, and went in the back bedroom to lie down. A couple hours later I went back to the party and said, “listen everyone, I’m sick.” And they got the message and went home. Then, I told Strickland: Something is wrong. I don’t know who I am anymore at this church. And she said, in essence, you’re right.
On June 16, 2011, I went to the doctor, who prescribed me very strong sedative called Klonopin. I took it, and had a bad, intoxicated, reaction. Sleeping for 17 hours straight, major personality and behavioral changes, and a some degree of memory blackout for the following three days, called anterograde amnesia. I don’t know what Strickland and I did during this time, but I do know it was sometimes graphically sexual, and took place in her bed in the clergy’s residence. The medication was sitting on the nightstand the whole time. She knew I took it. For three days I was in her apartment, three days when she knew I was having a bad reaction to a psychoactive medication, three days when she could have called a doctor, a pastor, a help-line — anything. I could have died. Even kicking me out of the apartment might have been useful — someone else might have spotted me and helped. What did Strickland do? Nothing. Perhaps because if she let the cat out of the bag that I was there, she could have gotten in professional trouble.
When I “woke up” from the medicine’s intoxication, I felt strange — creepy — as if I’d been vaguely violated in some way, physically. Strickland blamed me for it. “Do you know how badly you behaved!?” she yelled at me. What for? — according to her, for behaving strangely while under the medication’s influence. And I — cowering in fear and basically susceptible to any description that anyone might have thrown out about the previous three days — believed her.
“I love you, and I forgive you,” she said — successfully twisting the narrative, so that I was to blame for the trauma and sense of violation I was feeling. I then thanked her for forgiving me, when she had been the one who broke rules and left me in danger. Strickland had turned the tables, and her timing was perfect. Two days later, I’d be flying from Paris to the US to work for there for the summer. I didn’t have the chance (or energy) to figure out what had actually happened, and she’d probably never get caught for misconduct that happened on French soil.
[Update: January 18, 2014:
Was I victim of a sexual assault? Those two words have been perhaps the hardest for me to use since the whole ordeal began now some two-and-a-half years ago. When I originally registered my complaint to the Episcopal Church, I did not call this a sexual assault. But now, after years of counselling, learning about gender-based violence, and advocacy work on behalf of survivors, I believe “sexual assault” may accurately describe the events of June 16-18, 2011, and am not afraid to say this out loud.
Interestingly, in November 2011, I reported by phone what had happened to the US Embassy in Paris, and the consular officer wrote that it sounded like a possible case of sexual assault (click on the image to the right). He encouraged me to report it to the French police from the US if I wished — which I didn’t, because it would be a bureaucratic nightmare, and because there was little that French law enforcement could do about it, given that both Strickland and I were no longer on French soil. But I wasn’t ready, at that point, anyway, personally — on the inside — to admit to myself that I might be the victim of sexual assault.
Sexual assault survivors often take years before realizing they have been assaulted. Not wanting to admit to oneself that one is a victim is one of the reasons. But there are others. Assaults often don’t happen the way that most people imagine they do. Until these events, I thought of a typical sexual assault as a man aggressively, physically attacking a woman whom he barely knows, usually after a party, or perhaps in a dark alley — you know, something that looks something like a regular assault by a stranger, except motivated by sexual aggression. But in fact, only a small percentage of sexual assaults are anything like that.
It’s important to note that sexual assault is a term which is used with different definitions in legal and non-legal contexts, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The USDOJ definition of sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient; RAINN’s definition is broader, calling it “unwanted sexual contact“; French law has its own definition, of course. I want to make it very clear here that I am not saying that Strickland broke any law, French or otherwise. I don’t know these laws well enough to claim this. But in non-legal use, I believe our society should be employing an increasingly expansive definition of the term “sexual assault”, and I’ve published an article largely on that topic. I’ll explain a bit more here.
Women (or people who self-identify as women — it’s important to be inclusive of various gender identities when we’re considering this issue) can sexually assault men, as well as other women. This happens all the time, although victims of sexual assault by women tend to report it less frequently. That’s probably because people are unlikely to believe them. Or, they might not believe it’s possible for a woman to sexually assault a man, which is an opinion I have encountered in some people who haven’t developed a certain level of sensitivity to issues of gender-based violence.
The bottom line is, I was unable to give explicit consent — meaningful consent — to the sexual contact with Strickland, because I was intoxicated (and dangerously so). The fact that she didn’t intentionally intoxicate me doesn’t matter. Neither does the fact that we claimed to “love” each other, or that I had slept in her bed before. Sexual assault (and rape) occur all the time in the context of intimate partnerships. Even rapists often believe they are in love with the people they rape.
But one of the things that I have learned as a student of medicine is that you can often diagnose an illness by the signs and symptoms it produces. If an intoxicated person is sexually active with another person, and shortly thereafter falls into a suicidal depression, you’ve got a pretty good sign that there was a lack of consent. If you put this event into the bigger context of Strickland and my own “relationship”, which explicitly broke the professional standards — which made me unable in so many different ways to give meaningful consent — then the seriousness of the violation begins to really stand out like a shaded mountain on a relief map.
I also use the word “sexual assault” now to describe what happened, because only this term seems to communicate unambiguously to the general public how strong and hazardous the violation was. If you say, “sexual misconduct” or even “sexual abuse”, most people don’t quite know what to imagine. They don’t necessarily see the connection between the act, and the outcome — prolonged, intense, suicidal suffering over the course of almost two years, suffering which still manifests itself as diagnosed post-traumatic stress in my life, which requires medication, and probably will for years to come. I’m incredibly lucky that I survived, and now am able to function normally:
I live in Manhattan, study biomedical sciences at Columbia, travel to developing countries on medical volunteer trips, and work in an emergency room. I’m now getting my MD. The anxiety disorder has taken some toll on my grades, but my life is back on course, after a one-and-a-half year detour. This is all thanks to the direct, personal help I got from organizations like The Hope of Survivors and from an amazing doctor in Manhattan. I may very well have committed suicide if it were not for their aid; they literally saved my life.]
June 20 – August 9, 2011
I END UP SUICIDAL.
After the intoxication incident, my insomnia grew worse. I was sleeping 1-2 hours a night. I couldn’t perform in my job as a teacher working at a summer camp run by Johns Hopkins University. On my 35th birthday, July 6, 2011, Hopkins fired me.
Strickland told me she thought it might have been because of my “behavior”. (Hopkins didn’t say so.) In Paris, Strickland said, I had seemed — here comes the stigma — “a little manic”. As in… manic-depressive. This was the moment that Strickland started seriously to gaslight me.
I would later hear the stories of many, many survivors whose assailants told them, after the assault, that they were crazy. Women have been dealing with this for years: men calling them “emotionally unstable” or “difficult” or “crazy”, as these same men around them create a culture, sometimes called “rape culture”, which creates conditions in which sexual assault is common and incredibly difficult to report or prevent. It’s a Catch-22; men have been playing this card for centuries; and in this case, the genders were reversed.
It was a very, very bright thing to say, another brilliant diversion. Because with that five-letter label, “manic”, Strickland bought herself time — months, in fact — the time it took me to learn that she was wrong.
I originally believed her, because:
a) She was a social worker. She had the professional ability to spot that kind of thing.
b) She knew I had a strained relationship with my family. They wouldn’t object to putting a clinical label on me.
c) I was in psychological crisis, didn’t understand why precisely, and would look for any reason to explain it.
It would not be until November — when she was already entrenched in a new congregation and about to be ordained a priest — that doctors would come to see my crisis a case of professional exploitation, not a “manic” episode. A lot of damage was done in the meantime.
Anyway, I then became suicidal. The Skyping continued. It reached a breaking point. On August 7, 2011, I told Strickland, who was still in Paris, that I was “breaking up” with her. (Scare quotes on “breaking up” because I don’t consider professional exploitation to be a “relationship” in the first place.) She cried and cried and told me to go see a doctor and a Christian counselor. After two days of indescribable guilt and sleeplessness, I tried to hang myself in the bathroom of a friend’s apartment in Queens.
August 10 – November 19, 2011
WHOA. THIS WAS SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.
The doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital labelled it a suicide attempt. I stayed there for 3 ½ weeks. Strickland came to the hospital. She told the doctor that my behavior in Paris was manic. “And,” she said, “Erik, I’m sorry I never told you this, but my friends said you were, too.” The doctor had little evidence about me besides what Strickland told him — and what I said she said. So he put me on lithium, the standard drug for potentially manic patients. I didn’t really feel any better, but it did give me a tremor so strong that I couldn’t write by hand.
[Update, June 21, 2013: In what seem to be some pretty amazing coincidences…
Exactly one month after this article was published, and exactly two years after I flew back from Paris, Strickland appears to have chosen to deliver her monthly sermon this weekend on… mental illness. It’s called, “Crazy?” (and probably has nothing to do with the fact that her parishioners might read this article and think Strickland is incapable of using her professional authority to misdiagnose someone to her own advantage).
I’m wondering what answer will follow Strickland’s question mark.
Incarnation’s bulletin links to an article by David Murray, a professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. That article was — like this — written as a response to my outstanding Patheos colleague Adrian Warnock’s invitation to blog about religion and mental illness.
Medicine, meanwhile, seems to be on the minds of the Incarnation clergy. Rector J. Douglas Ousley (who refuses to talk to me) preached two weeks ago on how religion can step in when secular medicine fails. Vice versa too, right?
Plus, it was precisely two weeks ago that I started my first job in clinical medicine — as a Research Associate at nowhere else but… New York Presbyterian Hospital (albeit a different location).
In the meantime, a number of readers of this article have told me that they were traumatized (sexually or otherwise) by an Episcopal priest, and then, when they complained about it, the priest suggested they were crazy, needed to see a doctor, and cut off contact. See the comments below. (There’s a good example of Ousley’s point about religions stepping in when medicine fails, right?) One reader calls the strategy “professional malpractice”. Is this a modus operandi among clergy? Or just a part of the professional culture so unspoken that they aren’t even aware that they have a pattern of doing it?]
I left the hospital, enrolled part-time at school, and wasn’t doing well.
Strickland was officially installed at the Church of the Incarnation on September 25, 2011. She’d arrived in New York about a week or so prior, and immediately started at least informally getting to know the church. In New York, we met three times for long walks. After all this trauma, I told her, I was going to do everything I could to make sure nothing like this ever, ever happens again.
By our third walk, I’d almost entirely stopped the lithium, and was feeling somewhat better. I told her that the doctor had based his diagnosis on what she’d said in the hospital. “I don’t want that kind of power!” she exclaimed. She started apologizing to me, but didn’t explain precisely what for. I’d begun to sense that she’d done something very wrong. She didn’t let me meet her anywhere near the church, lest people see us together. She asked me if I was OK. I said no. I asked her if she needed space. She took it.
I spoke to a pastor friend about what happened. “Professional exploitation”, were the words that came out of his mouth. The label seemed immediately, and intuitively, correct. I googled the church’s sexual misconduct rules, and for about two weeks I studied them, using materials at the library of Union Theological Seminary, attached to Columbia. These included the Preventing Minsterial Misconduct textbook, works on clergy sexual misconduct by, among others, the leading thinker in the field, Marie Fortune, and the Diocese of New York’s 1994 recommended protocols on pastor-parishioner relationships.
I counted that Strickland had broken church policy 11 times, give or take a few. And she was scheduled to be re-ordained to the priesthood in a month.
What do I do? Do I tell someone? Wouldn’t it be easier to drop it? But what if she did this again as a priest? What if worse things had happened? Could I handle it emotionally? I was still in severe depression. Another person had accused Strickland previously of breaking church rules — and she responded by saying he was mentally ill, and calling the French police. Would she call the police on me, too?
What would family and friends think if I told them I’d been in an abusive relationship? “But you said you loved Ginger!” Well, yes, but many, many victims believe they love their abuser. I did still think I loved her, and that would make telling authorities even worse. Even to this day, there is a part of me that still thinks he loves her, despite two years of emotional distance and a full understanding of the abuse, and that part of me still feels guilt about having reported it. [Update, January 7, 2016: It is now almost five years on. What is the status of my feelings now? They fade with time. For about a year, I did not read this essay, and tried not to think about these events. Now, as I look back on them more dispassionately, I realize only more and more how serious and irresponsible the actions were of Strickland, Whalon, and the church. A lot of the dynamics in the attempted suppression of this case mirror those of the St. George’s child abuse cover-up. This only strengthens the position that Strickland, and Whalon, have some serious apologizing to do.]
I decided to ask officials for an informal, private conversation about what happened. I sent a short, gentle email to Gregg Foster, President of the American Foreign and Christian Union, which funds the American Church in Paris. It included a two-sentence description saying that I thought Strickland and I had badly crossed pastor-parishioner boundaries. Foster responded four days later.
AWARE OF HER MISCONDUCT, THEY MAKE HER A PRIEST.
Date: Sun, 20 Nov 2011 From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: Erik Campano <email@example.com> Subject: Re: American Church in Paris
I have no assistance to offer you other than what you have already included in your note.
OK. Right. What if I was going to report child abuse or something? He didn’t answer follow-up emails. Shouldn’t he at least talk to me? Foster’s reaction was the very first stumble of a long moral decline that would eventually lead to the deal between the church and the Post.
So I emailed the one of the heads of the lay council of the American Church in Paris, Anne Jones* (name changed), asking what steps I should take. No answer. So I asked the American Church in Paris if it had a sexual misconduct policy. “We have no sexual misconduct policy per se,” they replied. “For pastoral staff we defer to the denominational authorities by which they have received their ordination.” In other words, the Episcopal Church.
So I wrote to Whalon. I told him I wanted a private conversation — please, not an adversarial disciplinary case, because I didn’t want to have to keep rehashing the memories of what happened. He played a naive game of email tag for over a week, until telling me that the case was under the jurisdiction of… the American Church in Paris.
From: Pierre Whalon <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: sexual exploitation Date: Mon, 5 Dec 2011 09:01:14 +0100 To: Erik Campano <email@example.com>
The behavior that you allege took place happened while Ginger Strickland served as a youth pastor, a lay employee of the American Church in Paris, before she was ordained.
Whoa. Wait. No. She was a deacon, at least for part of the time.
Of course, there would be consequences for Rev. Strickland should they find any evidence of what you allege.
I don’t want “consequences”. I want a private discussion and to prevent this from happening again.
What have you heard from the ACP?
They said that it’s under your jurisdiction!
That was Whalon’s last communication to me with any substantial content. Ever. The same day, I received an message from Anne Jones:
Date: Mon, 5 Dec 2011 07:20:46 +0100 Subject: Re: inquiry about poor judgment in pastor-parishioner relationship From: Anne Jones To: Erik Campano <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Mr. Campano,
After receiving your message below, and given that I had no knowledge of a relationship such as you describe with a past member of the ACP clergy, I consulted Senior Pastor XYZ and ACP Council Moderator XYZ (I am vice moderator now) on how to appropriately take forward your inquiry.
Pastor XYZ was aware of your relationship with Ginger Strickland, but said he had no indication at the time that any aspect of the nature of your relationship with her was inappropriate. Further inquiries in this regard have been made to both other clergy and staff who were aware of your relationship; the consensus supports no evidence of inappropriate behaviour on Ginger Strickland’s part.
The “consensus”? You didn’t ask me what happened!
The fact that child abuse prevention guidelines were glossed over alone was reason for us to have a conversation. Take out everything that happened between me and Strickland; the American Church in Paris and I still should have talked.
Please know our prayers are with you for God’s peace at this time.
Yours sincerely, Anne Jones
What on Earth was going on? I thought that these churches that I loved would react a bit more responsibly to the possibility of sexual misconduct. Did they do the same thing to other complainants — busy parents, people who couldn’t speak English, that other guy who had said that Strickland broke the rules? All my life, I had fought to stay Christian in the face of embarrassment about sexual abuse scandals — and now my own religious leaders were confirming the worst public fears. I had already lost so many things: my happy life in Paris, my job, almost $10,000 (to hospital bills, and from unearned wages), my good academic record — and now I was losing my faith community. The suicidality started to return.
I sent emails to various people in the Diocese of New York and Episcopal Church denominational offices. The New York diocese said the case was under its jurisdiction, and requested a formal detailed complaint, which I sent — 11 pages, excruciating to write. No answer. Nobody would take responsibility for the case. I was so angry that I told Whalon I’d give him a year-and-a-half, before getting him fired. (I would later apologize for this.)
I then received a call on my mobile phone from the Rector of the Church of the Incarnation, Douglas Ousley. He said, almost verbatim, “Erik, I am sending you a message and then hanging up. Ginger is in a lot of trouble. You are not to contact her again. I’m hanging up.” And he hung up before I could respond.
What kind of trouble? Emotional? Professional? I was worried sick. Strickland’s behavior was wrong, but that didn’t mean she was a bad person or deserved to be in some kind of ambiguous trouble, and I still cared about her and her welfare. The goal here was not punishment for Strickland. The goal was to have a conversation, to prevent such great suffering from happening again.
Whalon ordained Strickland a priest, on December 11, 2011, in a dual-choir ceremony at the Church of the Incarnation. The Diocese of New York then wrote to me and said that the case was under Whalon’s jurisdiction.
Ginger Strickland was ordained a priest while facing official charges of sexual misconduct. Bishop Pierre Whalon of Paris ordained her. I will make sure that these facts are recorded, before the world, permanently. Why? Because people who do these sorts of things need to be held accountable. This all raises an interesting theological question of whether she is, in fact, a priest. Numerous Episcopal clergy have insisted to me that she is; that all that is necessary for her to become a priest, is that a bishop laid his hands on her and pronounced her one. I don’t agree. Let’s take that argument to an ad absurdum. What if someone goes through an ordination ceremony, but the night beforehand had murdered 20 people? Is that person a priest? Isn’t part of the ontology of priesthood living up to the ethical vows one takes? If not, then what meaning does the priesthood have? I refuse to refer to her as “Reverend Strickland”, because I do not revere her. Worse, I will not refer to her as “Mother Strickland”, as Bishop Dietsche, among others, have done, quite rudely to my face, and also in published documents about our case.
I should say that I knew the morning of this ordination, that someday this set of events would become a piece of journalism. I was watching something extraordinary here: the early stages of an attempted concealing of alleged sexual misconduct. I would follow it through to the end, and then make sure that it was very well-documented.
December 12, 2011 – May 20, 2012
CHURCH OFFICIALS FLOUNDER; I STOP FUNCTIONING.
I then filed a formal complaint against Whalon with the head office of the Episcopal Church. It alleged that he tried to suppress a sexual misconduct case pending Strickland’s priesthood ordination. What followed were six months of church officials bumbling my case. They passed on responsibility for it, didn’t answer emails, intimated that I was crazy, threatened lawsuits, said Strickland’s family said I was on a “smear campaign”, and left me ominous, ambiguous phone messages about Strickland’s condition. All the while, she seemed to be serving normally at the Church of the Incarnation — at least according to their website, she appeared to be performing all her regular duties.
To this day, I do not know if she was ever disciplined for what she did, and she has never spoken about it, either publicly, or to me. That’s despite about half a dozen requests, over one year, in various forms, to have an informal, private, conciliatory resolution with either her or Whalon. All I wanted to know was that such a thing wouldn’t happen again.
The story of the bumbling is really pretty incredible. But I don’t have the space to write it all here, so instead, I’m attaching a copy of the final appeal in the Whalon case, under the Episcopal Church’s Title IV disciplinary code, which had been voted on by international clergy and lay delegates in 2009 and which went into effect in July, 2011 — right in the middle of the misconduct. For those interested in Episcopal Church politics, or in how churches cover up sex abuse, this is fun reading. Ultimately, the Presiding Bishop’s office of the Episcopal Church — the international denominational headquarters — took control of the case.
On February 12, 2012, I wrote to Whalon apologizing for saying I would get him fired. He responded, cc:ing the church attorney, “Since I do not know what you refer to below, there is no need to apologize. However, ending your communications with me would be welcome until such time as this situation has been resolved.” I did what he said.
Through all this, my own life deteriorated. I stopped out of school, because I couldn’t concentrate on it nor afford it. My mother wouldn’t accept my story about Strickland (“Ach,” she’d say in her German accent, “I don’t want to hear about it!”), and eventually things got so bad between me and my mom that I had to move out of my parents’ house. For about two months I was legally homeless — I spent a night in a shelter and one in a train station — and was eating in a soup kitchen in Stamford, Connecticut. There were doctors who would treat me for free without medical insurance, but you had to wait, again, two months for an appointment.
I told John Osgood, the Canon to the Ordinary (Bishop’s Assistant) of the Diocese of New York, that I was homeless and needed pastoral counselling — at least pastoral counselling? He told me coldly that there was “nothing further we can do for you here in the diocese of New York” (but, of course, he said I should go find a doctor if necessary). My local Episcopal church in Connecticut, however, St. Mark’s, did give me counselling and even a little financial help. I’ve always been grateful to St Mark’s for that — for welcoming me in, when their colleagues in New York and Europe were freezing me out.
Perhaps half a dozen times, I attempted suicide — that is, got to the point where I had a noose around my neck or was standing at a skyscraper window, trying to get myself to jump out. My anger moved from being directed toward myself (the guilt that so many abuse survivors and reporters feel) to the church (for stringing me along in a kangaroo court of a disciplinary process) to my family and friends (for not believing me). Otherwise well-meaning people would say, move on, Erik.
“Move on” is one of the worst things you can say to a traumatized person. It’s like telling someone who broke their leg, “walk!” You can’t walk until it heals, and by advising someone to walk prematurely, you’re a) not honoring the severity of their wound, and b) asking them to re-injure theselves.
I began to doubt, as so many survivors do, that what I’d experienced was sexual misconduct. So I sent the anonymous details to two national organizations which specialize in evaluating sex abuse cases, the Faith Trust Institute and The Hope Of Survivors. Both called the case clergy misconduct and a violation of sexual boundaries, and passed their appraisals onto the Presiding Bishop. All Strickland’s actions — not checking references, making advances in professional settings, the quick talk of love, the you should be a minister, the hiding things from the congregation, divulging of secrets, and, of course, the sexuality under involuntary intoxication — were hallmarks of clergy sexual misconduct.
In my opinion, the experiences Mr. Campano describes in relation to the priest identified as “X” constitute clergy misconduct, betrayal of pastoral trust, and violation of sexual boundaries.
– Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, Founder and Senior Analyst, FaithTrust Institute
Assuming the accuracy of his testimony (which we have no reason to doubt), we believe Erik Campano is a victim of clergy sexual abuse. We encourage the church to honor its established code of conduct in such situations, not only to vindicate Mr. Campano, but to protect other parishioners from future victimization.
– Martin Weber, D.Min, Chairman of the Board, The Hope Of Survivors
I also called the American Embassy in Paris, and told the offcer what had happened. He said it might very well have been illegal, and that I should file a report with French police. However, this would have been an incredibly difficult thing to do from the United States, especially given my condition, and French bureaucracy. So I hoped that the church, instead, might be able to stand up for what’s right.
A saint of a friend eventually took me in, in California. He listened and actually believed what I had to say. For about two months, I mostly lay in his guest room, and drank. Mostly vodka mixed with something. I couldn’t afford health insurance, so drinking was the only way that I could sleep. I drank almost all day long. I think it’s fair to say that I fell into alcoholism for the first time in my life, as I waited for a ruling on the misconduct case. It came, and I stopped drinking, on May 21, 2012.
May 21 – July 7, 2012
THE CHURCH CALLS IT SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.
Bishop Dorsey Henderson officially ruled, under Title IV, that the facts of my case constituted sexual misconduct. He was clear to point out that the facts, of course, needed to be true — which they were, and backed up by pages and pages of documented evidence, mostly emails and Skype chats. Henderson was then President of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops and the church’s canonical judge on Anglican realignment cases. His writing was nuanced, humane, and smart. He stigmatized neither Strickland nor me — he wrote a positive case, based on positive facts.
The wording of the definition of “Sexual Misconduct”, to wit: “or in the same congregation”, would seem clearly to indicate that the intention of the Church is to provide a safe place for any and all persons who choose to worship in, or seek care of whatever kind, from its clergy—and not just those who meet the canonical definition of the various categories of membership. Mr. Campano’s allegations that he worshiped at the American Cathedral, and that he received counseling from the Rev’d Strickland after her ordination—if true—would seem to place him within the category of either “counselee” and/or a person with whom she had a “pastoral relationship”.
Furthermore, although the exact nature of their relationship at any given time is ambiguous at best, with the line between “personal” and “pastoral” moving and sometimes elusive, that line, and the line between Clergy and laity, nevertheless exist. The allegation that, in seeking sexual gratification via “Skype videochat” on more than one occasion following her ordination as a deacon—if true—would lead to the conclusion that the Rev’d Strickland crossed both of those lines. The allegation that the Rev’d Strickland “admits that the pastor-parishioner boundary is being broken—if true—would support such a conclusion.
– Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, President, Disciplinary Board of Bishops
The buck had stopped with Henderson.
As far as I know, I’m the first male congregant ever to have a case canonically adjudicated as sexual exploitation by a female priest. And I’ve asked around.
The next step was the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts-Schori. It was her job, along with Henderson and another Bishop named Clay Matthews, to decide how to respond to the misconduct ruling. I wrote the three a letter, saying what outcome I was hoping for:
a) that the Episcopal Church’s European branch, and the American Church in Paris, create an enforceable sexual misconduct policy
b) that European Episcopal parishioners get access to information on clergy sexual misconduct
c) that the church make it known that there was a sexual misconduct case involving a female clergy member and a male parishioner (I’d experienced so much sexism at that point that I realized that other men who have gone through what I did may be intimidated from reporting it)
d) that sexual misconduct training emphasize that former Roman Catholics are particularly vulnerable to certain kinds of exploitation (I can explain this further, if you like)
I was also waiting for a ruling on the case against the bishop of Europe, Pierre Whalon.
The church kept saying, the response is coming. But it wouldn’t come.
To this day, Jefferts-Schori has never communicated with me personally about this case — even though she would eventually sign (without comment) the final documentation. The previous December I’d told her, if you think I’m crazy, just say so, I can work with that. But, I wrote, “giving no response at all feeds public perception that the church pastes over sexual abuse.” No answer.
My brother in New York got sick, so I flew back from California to be near him, and went to live with my grandmother, in her little apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. It was the beginning of what would be one of the hottest summers ever. No air-conditioning. The sun pounding off the concrete. I was still having intense insomnia. No medical insurance. I got a doctor to prescribe sleeping pills, but ran out of them. Nothing else worked.
Still no response from the church. I was out of options. I couldn’t sue, because I wouldn’t be able handle the drawn-out emotions and retelling of the story. I couldn’t just drop it, because I’d promised to make sure that something like this never, ever happens again, and I’d been witness to serious institutional failure. One church leader told me there had been 13 cases of sexual misconduct in the Diocese of New York in 7 years — and none of them went public. But going public — well, that was the only card I had left in my deck — and I told church officials this. (No response.)
I put down a deadline. My birthday, July 6 — during the church’s General Convention, which is when Episcopalians from all around the country get together and discuss being Episcopalian.
On July 4, I went to the offices of the New York Times. They were interested in the story, but they required me to email them all the documentation, and you email somebody something and who knows where it’ll end up? So I had two choices: either the New York Post or the Daily News. And to get to the Daily News, I’d have to take a subway ride. What’s the difference, anyway? They’re both tabloids.
The talented Post reporter, Susan Edelman, welcomed me and interviewed me, and kept asking me, “how did you feel?” And so I told her: I felt betrayed by my church, which was supposed to enforce its own rules. I felt angry and ashamed and guilty and glad that Henderson had taken the thing seriously. Please mention the institutional failure, I told her, but she said, people will care about you and Strickland. She asked if she should mention the suicide attempt. Ashamed of it, I told her, just write that I considered suicide.
The night before the article went out, Edelman read me a copy to fact-check, and I thought it was OK. A little salacious (it’s the Post), but OK. Responsibly written.
July 8 – July 11, 2012
IT HITS THE NEW YORK POST.
I actually slept late the morning of the article. At 9 AM I went to the newsstand to look at it. Front page. The headline was “Urgy Clergy”. Uh-oh.
The editors had fiddled with the story overnight. They used a tricky technique of putting quotes around a word such that it appeared I said it, but didn’t. “Female Assistant Minister At Manhattan Church ‘Seduced’ Parishioner: Complaint”, it said. Um, she was in Paris, not Manhattan. And she didn’t “seduce” me — this wasn’t a romance, but a systematic case of institutional negligence. And it wasn’t a complaint anymore — it was a ruling.
The article played right into the narrative that stigmatizes so many people who report sexual boundary violations — rape, sexual assault, child abuse, professional exploitation — the stigma that they had made the abuse up, and that they were seeking retribution or money or attention or something.
And the church stoked this. Whalon set the flame when he logged onto the comments section:
The victim in this story is in fact the Rev. Ginger Strickland. It is unfortunate that neither the reporter nor The Post bothered to do any fact-checking before publishing this attack on a fine young priest. The article presents allegations as fact. Susan Edelman bases her piece on false information and inaccurate reporting. As the Rev. Strickland’s bishop, I will be writing to the reporter and the Post’s editorial staff with the real facts. A press release will also be forthcoming.
– The Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, Bishop-in-charge, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
Very convenient for him. Actually, Whalon, the story was also about you — your failure to monitor Strickland and to respond to a sexual misconduct report. It was really Whalon’s picture that could have been on the cover of the Post. And that press release? It never happened.
Blogs took the story viral, or at least quasi-viral. It ended up in The Blaze, The Hinterland Gazette, Virtue Online (a breakaway Anglican site), and The Gothamist, among others. Thousands of people commented. I’d say the comments were about 40% on Strickland’s “side”, 25% on my “side”, and 35% other. I never wanted this to be a he-said-she-said affair, but the Post and the church turned it into one.
And though some commenters were thoughtful, the article brought out society’s worst strains of sexism and secondary victimization. All kinds of tasteless comments on Strickland and my appearance and sexuality. People telling me I was a whiner, a vengeful ex-boyfriend, out for money or fame or whatever. Saying that she was promiscuous. Calling me pretty much every slur you can think of, and some you can’t think of. Insulting our family backgrounds, my ethnic heritage, our professional choices. Calling for both of our careers to be destroyed.
The worst, most sexist of all was a “feminist” former Labour member of the British parliament named Jane Griffiths. She bought the narrative hook, line, and sinker, all the same time claiming the article was false, and labelled me the “accuser of Ginger Strickland” (if the article was false, how would she know that?) doing her personal part in setting back the cause of actually getting people to report sexual abuse. None of these bloggers ever contacted me to find out if the Post story was kosher.
I started going into panic attacks. I didn’t want to tell my 93-year-old grandmother what was going on, and there wasn’t anyone else around to lean on. The apartment didn’t have an Internet connection, so I had to go to the local Starbucks to check and comment on article updates.
Then the Bishops of New York published a letter online, addressed to the entire diocese, expressing “unqualified support” for “Mother Strickland”, and saying that she “broke off” with me prior to coming to New York (false), she was a “lay minister” during our “relationship” (partially false and incredibly misleading), and that the diocese (which, remember, didn’t have jurisdiction) conducted a “preliminary investigation” (unbeknownst to me) and found that she wasn’t at fault. They used my name three times, but without any sympathy; they expressed no regret for the vitriol launched at me and my loved ones, or any of the church’s failure to handle the case. These bishops, whose job it is to stand up for truth and peace — Mark Sisk, Cathy Roskam, and Andrew Dietsche — all signed off on a false statement about sexual misconduct, none ever having communicated with me once. Sisk, Roskam, and Dietsche worked in concert to tacitly permit the public browbeating of people reporting sexual misconduct. I think I’m not going too far when I say that in practice, the response system to sexual abuse within the Episcopal Diocese of New York is broken.
Sisk, Roskam, and Dietsche played right into the “sexual abuse complainants are liars” stereotype. Griffiths would later use the bishop’s letter to claim (falsely) that several panels of Episcopal officials had cleared Strickland of wrongdoing. The bishop’s letter was, at most charitable, extremely misleading, if not downright defamatory. But their behavior would get worse.
Suddenly (coincidentally?), Jefferts-Schori issued her response. Her panel “took official notice” that Strickland was receiving “attention regarding appropriate relationships and essential boundaries between laity and clergy”. And her office (generously) offered me almost $10,000 worth of therapy.
Henderson ruled on Whalon the same day. He said that Whalon’s actions contradicted Episcopal Church sexual misconduct disciplinary policy. But he cleared Whalon of a full policy violation, on the grounds that if he found him guilty, then, after what had happened (i.e., the media circus), a guilty verdict would have not led to the reconciliation that Title IV aims at. Henderson also gave some other skeletal reasoning that Whalon didn’t deserve to be found guilty. But I wonder, to this day, if Henderson would have ruled otherwise, had the story not gone public. Henderson also admonished Whalon for not having better trained Strickland.
It is puzzling that Bishop Whalon at least seems, by his actions, to have contradicted the jurisdictional limitations upon one in his particular ministry, which he has acknowledged by his legislative efforts to modify or eliminate those limitations. …
As to the allegations that Bishop Whalon “was negligent in properly forming or monitoring a Candidate for ordination…”, I take official notice of Mr. Campano’s companion complaint.
– Henderson, on the Whalon Title IV case
Fascinating here is the parallel to the St. George’s school abuse case. In the case of Bishop Whalon, after months and months of radio silence, church officials only made a (largely face-saving) public ruling after the allegations went to the press — and then, within two days. In the St. George’s case, Bishop Audrey Scanlan only suspended accused child molesting priest Howard White after his alleged complicity hit the newspapers. That’s despite the church knowing since 1974 that White had admitted to sexual misconduct with three boys, at least according the Providence Journal. The lawyer for the victims said that another priest, the school’s former headmaster George Andrews, did not fulfill his mandatory obligation to report suspected abuse in 1988. The attorney says the school tried to “silence victims” to “prevent a scandal”. (Sound familiar?) It is almost as if the Episcopal church conducts public disciplinary procedures as a form of PR damage control, rather than in order to do the right thing.
Anyway, I gave the rulings to the Post, and they published a new story, but again, it wasn’t about Whalon, only about Strickland. At that point, I hadn’t slept for three nights, and I was starting to believe that I’d made the worst mistake in my life by going to the Post. My grandmother described me as “shaking like a leaf”. On the Post’s website, I wrote a letter to the entire Internet saying that I didn’t intend these consequences, and that I was checking myself in.
I then had my dad take me back to New York Presbyterian Hospital. An old friend of mine took the letter off the Post’s website, but not before Griffiths copied it onto her blog, saying it was my mistake for putting it in the public domain.
July 12, 2012 – January 18, 2013
THE LIES ARE PRINTED.
Back in the hospital, the doctors had a completely different diagnosis than what Strickland postulated. Depressed, yes. Anxiety disorder, for sure. Insomnia, yup. But “manic-depressive”? Had anyone besides her ever actually seen me “manic”? No. They finally took the “crazy” card out of play, which allowed me to rethink, again, what really had happened over the past year-and-a-half — and how much of it was coercion.
When I got out, the church-paid doctor put me on a traditional anti-depressant. The kind that you don’t give a manic-depressive patient, because it would trigger mania. It didn’t. Strickland had been wrong all along. Within six weeks or so, my depression had stopped. I no longer felt suicidal. I felt like myself; that is, the same way that I had between July 6, 1976 (when I was born) and April 13, 2011 (when I caved in to Strickland’s advances).
I started attending an Episcopal church far away from the Church of the Incarnation — Trinity Wall Street, in lower Manhattan, an extraordinarily historic and important church. The first day, I sat down with one of the pastors and told him, look, this thing happened to me, I was in the Post because of a sexual misconduct case involving a priest in Midtown, and I don’t want it to prevent me from being able to be involved in parish activities. His advice? Don’t talk about it. Ever. Sex is the great taboo in American society. Drop it. Trust me. So I did.
At Trinity Wall Street, I said nothing, and I started getting involved in volunteering, a spiritual diary-writing class, and the young adults group. My only confidant (besides the church-paid doctor) was a a man who contacted me saying that he’d heard about my story and gone through almost exactly the same thing with his female Episcopal priest — only he didn’t report it. We’d have long email threads comparing our experiences; I couldn’t believe how similar they were.
Meanwhile at Columbia University, where I’d started studying, I went by my middle name, “Joey”, so that people who googled me wouldn’t find the articles. As of writing this, I’m switching back to “Erik”. And, tangibly aware of what it means to be ostracized for a social stigma, I started volunteering at a community that helps formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society — having a felony conviction being pretty much the ultimate stigma. It was an Episcopal priest who referred me to the organization — one that people had nominated to be Bishop of New York.
In November, I went back to the Post articles online. Two months prior, unbeknownst to me, a “Clarification” had been published underneath them. It read:
Articles in the Post on July 8 and 11, 2012, about Rev. Ginger Strickland, a priest of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan, described a brief, personal relationship with Eric Campano in Paris, France. At the time she was a layperson affiliated the non-denominational American Church in Paris, and was not an ordained Episcopal priest. Subsequently she was ordained, but a panel of Episcopal Bishops found at no time during her priesthood and ministry at Church of The Incarnation, or while in Paris, has she had a pastoral relationship with Mr. Campano. She has had no relationship of any kind with Mr. Campano while serving at The Church of The Incarnation.
That was wrong in so many ways (see the end of this story). So I wrote to the reporter, Susan Edelman, and asked her what had happened.
Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2012 16:50:57 -0500 Subject: Re: article on Ginger Strickland From: Susan Edelman <email@example.com> To: “E. J. Campano” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Some time ago, the Post lawyer called me in because the church was demanding we take down the articles. I spent a long time defending the article as accurate, and shared the documentation.
It looks like they did this to appease the church. I totally disagree …
At that point, I did nothing. That’s because I was enjoying being at Trinity Wall Street, and was following the advice of that pastor: Don’t talk about it. Ever.
About a month later, the same pastor pulled me aside. Apparently, some people at Trinity Wall Street (he couldn’t say who) had seen something online about me (he couldn’t say what) and said that this made them uncomfortable (he couldn’t say how). And that the head priest of the church, James Cooper, decided that I wasn’t allowed to participate in any church activities for a year, except going to mass.
Me: Do you feel that it’s an injustice?
Pastor: Me personally, obviously. Yes, I do. A big part of me, I don’t get it. And, it’s funny … I’ve been in situations like these where my superior says well, I’m going to ask you to do this, or I’m going to tell you not to do this, or whatever, and it certainly was a difficult thing to do. But I was here because of obedience. And I did it. And it wasn’t easy to do. But in the long run, it was probably the good thing, or the best thing.
Fine. Meanwhile, I’d RSVPed for a diocesan young adults Thanksgiving dinner. I got a letter from the priest who heads the group asking me to take a “voluntary absentia”, because I had reported the sexual misconduct, which presented “a conflict that needs to be resolved”, that the Strickland still had Dietsche’s “full support”, and this was not “an attempt keep you from connecting with a faith community, but to recommend that you allow more time for healing and your own commitment to the practice of personal health to take place.” Right… no pathologizing there of someone who reports a sexual boundary violation. Read it. Is it me, or does it raise the question: did a lawyer doublecheck this? I’m bringing this up because in a moment, the lawyers are going to start getting involved.
I wrote back to her and told her I wouldn’t go to the dinner, but that I didn’t want to take a voluntary absentia from the young adults group, and so I’d be at the upcoming Christmas party. Blocking me would be a form of secondary victimization, I wrote to her.
I arrived at the party, she pulled me aside in the cellar, away from everyone, and told me if I didn’t leave voluntarily, the sexton would escort me out. “You’re banning me?” I asked. “That’s your word,” she said.
I was really upset. The Diocese of New York was systematically removing me from all activities. Clearly they didn’t want me near anybody who comes into contact with Strickland. Doug Ousley denied me communion, invoked his lawyer, and told me to “find worship elsewhere and God’s forgiveness in my own heart”.
They could have handled this completely differently. They could have sat down with me and organized a structured reconciliation. Actually, they could have done that a year and a half ago, before the disciplinary case, the Post article, and the yearlong suicidal depression.
So I was writing about all this in my journal, and at one point started quoting the Psalms. They can get pretty violent. I think it was Psalm 141.
Accidentally, I left my journal open on the bed, while, coincidentally, I was going to meet with a pastor at my lovely local church in Connecticut, St. Mark’s, whose clergy had been incredibly nice to me through this whole ordeal, and who are completely outside Dietsche’s New York diocese. My mom, who was by her own admission bearing a grudge against me for reporting the misconduct, read the journal entry.
When I walked back in the door of my house, my mother and father were staring glumly at me. My mom had had my dad call the local mental health crisis service. They sent their roving doctor, who arrived at the house and questioned me for a few minutes, until he determined that I wasn’t a threat to myself or others. Yay, good to know. He filed the requisite police report, in which he quoted my dad as having said that I said, “I want to throw a clergyman off a cliff, specifically from St. Mark’s Church.” What the…? St. Mark’s was the only church which was supporting me. And for goodness’ sake, I’m a pacifist. I spent a semester in college just studying the Quakers.
So I later filed a voluntary statement with the New Canaan police. It read:
Dr. XYZ misquoted me. I have never wanted to throw anyone off a cliff, especially the clergy at St. Mark’s. They have been incredibly good to me. Anyway I couldn’t have said that, because I don’t use the word “clergyman”, but rather the gender-neutral “clergyperson”.
At the bottom of the original police report, it said, “Case closed”. I still have no idea where the roving doctor got that quote.
In January, there was another diocesan young adults event, a Puerto Rican dinner. I wrote to the same priest as before that I’d like to go, so can we resolve the “conflict that needs to be resolved”? She handed me off to the bishop. I got a letter back from John Osgood, Dietsche’s assistant. which said that Dietsche wanted to have a private meeting with me in his office (with Osgood and his lawyer present) at exactly time X. A few days later, the priest put a picture on Facebook of her and Strickland at a small New Year’s Eve get-together, drinking and laughing.
Perhaps… I thought… perhaps Dietsche and I will actually cooperate? Maybe work together to restore Strickland and my reputations — a mutual statement of reconciliation? Contact some bloggers together and ask them to clarify the story? It would make us all look good. My dad came with me.
Dietsche prayed, and then scolded me for an hour. He was pushing the blade deeper into the wound. He kept repeating how hurt Strickland was by the Post article. How it hurt her family, her colleagues, the Church of the Incarnation, the Diocese of New York. He called the Post “salacious and insulting”. He said going to the Post was a “vicious act of retribution.” “There was a violence to that act,” he said. Others viewed it as “aggressively violent”, he said.
Um, no, Bishop Dietsche. Telling the truth is not violence. And you make a mockery of all the women who actually have experienced violence at the hands of men by playing that card.
And then he said, “we know that you have written threats to kill the Bishop of New York in your journal. That’s me.”
I was dumbfounded. How did…? What?… How do you even respond to that?
“I would never kill you,” I said.
“Thank you,” he said. “I have been told that you at least fantasized about killing me or Bishop Sisk.”
“It’s not true. I didn’t write in my journal that I wanted to kill you.”
Suffice it to say, Dietsche was not open to reconciliation. I left his office nauseous and beaten down. Dietsche had gone into full blame-the-victim mode. I have not prayed since I met Andrew Dietsche, the Bishop of New York. [Update, March 9, 2014: For the first time in over a year, this week, I prayed and took communion, thanks to the amazing Episcopal and Humanist chaplaincies here at Columbia University. They created a safe space where I could once again practice my spirituality, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the most miraculous parts of this story.] [Update, January 7, 2016: About a year-and-a-half ago, the Episcopal chaplaincy at Columbia refused me sacramental confession, on the orders of Bishop Dietsche. Reason? Unexplained. OK Dietsche: you win, I’m done. Enjoy the mansion you live in. If you’re wondering why the Episcopal Church has lost 25% of its attendance in the last 10 years, maybe you should begin by considering how you treated me.]
January 19 – April 16, 2013
THE POST CONFESSES THE DEAL WITH THE CHURCH.
Perhaps Whalon would be willing to reconcile.
Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2013 15:43:22 -0500 Subject: conversation From: Erik Joseph Campano <email@example.com> To: Pierre Whalon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Bishop Whalon,
I’d like to know if you’d be willing now to speak with me so I can know — so that *we* can know together — that something like what happened last year will never happen again. The case is long past, I’ve stopped attending church in the Diocese of New York, and emotions have cooled.
It would be great if we could have some genuine closure here — a thoughtful, intelligent, and, of course, respectful conversation about what happened, and how it could be prevented. Would you be willing to do that?
Best Erik Campano
From: Pierre Whalon <email@example.com> Subject: Re: conversation Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2013 14:26:52 +0100 To: Erik Joseph Campano <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am in receipt of your note.
There is nothing to discuss.
Why was Whalon still unwilling to talk? Was he happy with the Post’s phony article, and the false public perception of the case? To try to get an answer, I emailed Dietsche. To my happy surprise, Dietsche wrote back.
From: “Dietsche, Bishop Andrew” <email@example.com> To: “E. J. Campano” <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: RE: your visit tomorrow to Incarnation Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2013 20:30:41 +0000
I did not use the word “fantasize” regarding the reports of your alleged threats toward me.
Um, yes you did. I taped our conversation. (If you’re wondering, that’s legal in New York State.)
Oh, and they’re alleged now? Did you know about these threats, or didn’t you? Um, you didn’t, because they didn’t exist.
I do not believe that you intended viciousness in your approach to the New York Post …
So it wasn’t a vicious act of retribution?
Listen to Bishop Andrew Dietsche of New York tell me going to the Post was a vicious act of retribution.
Like Strickland, Dietsche’s tone in emails was so much cautious than in person. It’s as if they never wanted to get caught writing anything that could be used against them.
As for reconciliation, Dietsche was adamantly against it.
The Post article is only eight months ago. The wounds for both you and Ginger are still raw. Let us give everyone a little time and space, do honest and holy self-examination, pray for one another, and let the Holy Spirit work in and among us toward that reconciliation that only God can give.
Right. One thing I never did was honest and holy self-examination. Six months of a $350/hour church-paid therapist with master’s degree from a theological seminary… no self-examination there. And only eight months ago? Strickland is still in crisis? That doesn’t quite jive with the Facebook photos of her laughing and smiling (while I was in suicidal depression). Strickland can pray for me all she wants. What I’d prefer is that she’d actually do something — like help clear the public record, or promise she’s not going to make sexual advances at more parishioners.
The figure of 13 cases in 7 years by no means is reflective of our experience in New York.
OK. So how many concealed sexual misconduct cases were there during this time? As for going to the Post…
I am glad for you that you have moved on from that.
I have? How charitable that you’re thinking of my feelings. Especially because my “moving on” is exactly what the diocese needed in order to leave the story as the Post had printed it.
I wrote Dietsche back, and told him that I didn’t regret anymore going to the Post. They may have tabloided up the story, but at least they were willing to cover it, and because I gave it to them as an exclusive, at least no other New York paper could touch it. Going to the Post, I told him, was the least worst option. I’m not quite sure I believe that. But I’m glad, now, that I went to the Post back then, because otherwise, this article would never have been written.
I also politely asked Dietsche about the letter he had published about me the previous July, right after the Post story came out. You know, the letter about “unqualified support” for “Mother Strickland” the “lay minister”? Had he ever read the sexual misconduct case? Would he please publish or a retraction or a clarification? Because if he didn’t, I said, I’d have to clear the public record, and that would put things outside the hands of the diocese.
No answer from Dietsche.
The church-paid doctor pronounced me officially out of clinical depression. It had lasted 1 year, 5 months, and 20 days.
[Update, June 3, 2013. I’ll get back to the timeline in a moment, but there’s another twist to the story.
On Friday, May 31, 2013, not having heard from Dietsche in over two months, I wrote back. I’d been reflecting on the things that he’d said and done. Painting me as violent. Kicking me out of diocesan events. Signing that letter in July trivializing the case. So I told him, these were all steps backward, and that by taking them, he was reinforcing the stigmas that are part and parcel of society’s reactions to sexualized violence complainants. “You tacitly endorsed the validity of their reaction,” I wrote, “and simultaneously trivialized the plight of women who experience physical sexualized violence every day.” Harsh words, I know. Ultimately, I told him, his behavior constituted a form of misogyny, whether or not he intended it. Reasonable people may disagree with me on this. But I think misogyny takes many forms, and one of the most insidious, convert ones is the demonizing of men who stand up for women’s right to go public with sexual abuse complaints without being blamed.
I didn’t hear back from Dietsche until today, Monday, June 3 (click right to read the exchange). He said he had been “drafting a reply”, but then he found out that I published the article you’re reading right now. He called it “unethical and slimy” that I recorded our conversation. Maybe he’s right. Bishops are specialists in ethics.
I don’t think it’s unethical. After all the times that Episcopal officials had lied to me, I think I had every right to tape that conversation. But even if you think it’s slimy and unethical, then so what. It’s nonethless time that someone actually documented the way that churches bully sexual abuse complainants. If you have to hide a microphone in your pocket to do that, then maybe that’s slime serving the greater good.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s also unethical and slimy to ignore a parishioner for a year who brought a legitimate sexual misconduct complaint to your attention, publish a letter about the parishioner without ever speaking to him, de facto kick the parishioner out of the diocese, then accuse the parishioner of wanting to kill you, take it back, and then untake it back. And maybe it’s slimy and unethical of your colleagues to strike a deal with the New York Post to print a phony version of the story. I realize two wrongs don’t make a right, but Matthew 7:5.
“I will extend to you the courtesy and respect,” Dietsche wrote, “of making no public correction to your inaccurate statements or comment on your uncharitable behaviors, so that your blog posts and public statements about me, which I assume will continue, will stand on their own without response.” That’s not courtesy. If I’m wrong — if this article mischaracterizes Dietsche — then the best courtesy he could extend is to correct me, publicly. That’s what free speech and a transparent church are all about. “Courtesy” — I’ve seen this over and over again — is the code that church officials use for “I don’t want to talk about the ways in which we messed up.”
He then, surprise surprise, invoked his lawyer, and again made me out to be the bad guy. “Given this troubling turn in your communications, I will be forwarding this last email and previous communications to my chancellor and updating the reports which were filed at the time of the earlier credible accounts of your threatening language.” Dietsche finds it “troubling” that I actually wrote down on the internet the ways in which I thought the Bishop of New York mishandled a sexual misconduct case. “I thought there was more to you than that,” he wrote. Yes. Maybe he thought that I would keep quiet. Maybe he thought it was a bluff, when I told him I’d clear the public record if he didn’t. And anyway, we’ve only met once. Bishop Dietsche is not my dad (or so my birth certificate says). Should he really have been judging my character in the first place, much less guilt-tripping me about it?
He then said he wouldn’t communicate with me anymore about this. Like Whalon said.
Silence, silence, silence, and call in the lawyers. Anything not to deal with the sexual misconduct itself.
Dietsche wrote back anyway, correcting me further and distancing himself even more from responsibility. He said that he did not make $300,000 a year (I state below that he makes about that amount), but rather that this figure “encompasses many, many expenses over and above my personal compensation.” He wouldn’t tell me, however, how much he actually does make, including housing and perks, because he didn’t trust me with that information. He also said that “I had never heard of this Walsh business [see immediately below] until I read it in your blog posting. Whoever was behind that, it was not the Episcopal Diocese of New York.” OK. If that’s true, then it was almost certainly either Whalon’s office, or the Presiding Bishop’s, that made the deal with the Post. But given that Whalon said publicly that he was going to call the paper, it seems more likely that it’s Whalon.]
All right, so here’s where we get to the deal between the church and the newspaper.
I called the New York Post’s lawyer, Michael Cameron.
“Hello, this is Erik Campano.”
“Oh, you’re the bloke that had the affair with the minister.”
Cameron’s Australian. I asked him where that “Clarification” had come from. He said that the church, Strickland, and their lawyer had struck a deal with him to print it. Even if I could prove to him that it was inaccurate (which I could), he couldn’t change it without the church’s permission.
Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2013 16:34:34 -0400 Subject: episcopal church article From: “E. J. Campano” <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org
I just left a message with your secretary. Are you able to tell me who in the church — which lawyer, or at least which branch — negotiated this agreement between the Post, the church, and Ginger Strickland? I’d like to contact that entity, so that we can try to reach an independent settlement without involving the Post.
From: “Cameron, Michael” <MCameron@newscorp.com> To: “E. J. Campano” <email@example.com> Subject: RE: episcopal church article Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2013 20:38:40 +0000
Sure, it was John Walsh, Esq. 212-7323200
John Walsh is one of New York’s — the country’s — most famous (and perhaps expensive) libel attorneys. His address is 2 Wall Street (pictured; literally across the street from Trinity Wall Street). He told New York Magazine that he represents “people who have beefs with the media.” The media. Like me. A former NPR anchor. Or the New York Post.
Walsh sued a different Post, the Washington Post, in 1982, on behalf of a Texas oil tycoon, William “Tav” Tavoulereas, who felt defamed when the paper said he used nepotism to get his son hired. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately threw out Tavoulereas’ suit without comment, but a federal district judge admonished Walsh for making millionaires seem like poor victims. Walsh had called, to the witness stand, a trucking executive named Hoffman. As reported by The New York Times News Service:
Q [on cross examination]: Mr. Hoffman, did you just get into Washington just about an hour ago?
A: About an hour and a half, I would think.
Q: Did you come up from Florida?
A: No, I did not.
Q: Where did you come from?
Q: How did you get from Indianapolis to Washington?
A: On the Mobil corporate Jet.
… when Federal District Judge Oliver Gasch had both sides in conference, he said to Walsh: “Mr. Walsh, let me give you a piece of advice. The next time you call a witness, have him hitchhike to the courtroom.”
The irony is that Gasch is actually a conservative who ruled in favor of President George W. Bush when he was sued by the National Treasury Workers Union for not appointing someone to fill a vacancy in the Federal Labor Relations Agency, crucial to the functioning of the union.
Bush was a business partner and close personal friend of Strickland’s grandfather, J. Hugh Liedtke — another Texas oil magnate, the Chairman of Pennzoil (in fact, he named the company). Liedtke bought oil company assets for less than he thought they were worth, and then upsold them to investors. (Strickland always seemed a little bashful about this.) He is famous for having won a 3 billion dollar court verdict against Texaco in 1988. When Liedtke had turned down an earlier 2 billion dollar settlement, Fortune Magazine wanted to know why:
Asked by FORTUNE whether he is the greediest man in the world or simply in need of psychiatric help, Pennzoil’s barrel-bellied chief executive chuckled and replied, in a voice so gravelly and deep you practically have to drill for it, ”Maybe both.”
Like his granddaughter Strickland, Liedtke studied philosophy in college and was famous for his big smile. They are also both on the record as being particularly fond of beer.
I talked to a lawyer who knows Walsh well. According to this lawyer, what Walsh does, when he finds out that a paper is going to publish an article which puts his clients in a bad light, is send the paper a huge letter threatening a lawsuit. Then they either pull the article, or change the content. I don’t know if this is true. That’s just what the other lawyer told me. (OK, Walsh, go ahead and sue me for libel now. May I blog about it?)
I asked Cameron if there’s anything else he could tell me. Nope, he wrote, just that “it would take the concurrence of Mr. Walsh and his clients before any changes were made to that clarification.” Which individuals were these clients, exactly? Dietsche? Whalon? Strickland’s rector, J. Douglas Ousley? Jefferts-Schori, who was officially responsible for jurisdiction in the Strickland case? After all, Jefferts-Schori (assuming she read the case, which I’m assuming, because she signed the final documents) would know that the Post’s story was false.
I never figured it out, and there’s a slight chance that I’m wrong that Episcopal church leaders struck the deal. Maybe it was the American Church in Paris (although why wouldn’t Cameron have corrected the subject line of my emails, which say “episcopal church”?) If it was, I’m sure we’ll find out sooner rather than later. And at least we’ll know who did it. But I doubt the American Foreign and Christian Union would have had the money to pay Walsh.
Cameron then told me to send him a brief email explaining why the “Clarification” was false and defamatory. Michael, please consider this article that brief email.
Let’s start with, false:
Articles in the Post on July 8 and 11, 2012, about Rev. Ginger Strickland, a priest of the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan, described a brief, personal relationship
“Brief” and “personal”? “Brief”, if you consider 8 months brief. And just “personal”? Do you need me to forward you the graphic emails?
with Eric Campano
You misspelled my name. It’s Erik with a k
in Paris, France.
And in New York, New York. Would admitting it make the Church of the Incarnation parishioners uncomfortable?
At the time she was a layperson
And then an ordained deacon.
affiliated the non-denominational American Church in Paris,
But still subject to the sexual misconduct policy of the European Episcopal Church, as a candidate for ordination, and then deacon. And, she was attached to the Episcopal Cathedral just across the river from the American Church in Paris, “our sister church across the Seine”, where I went to worship (twice with her). Also, grammar!
and was not an ordained Episcopal priest.
Right — she was an ordained deacon.
Subsequently she was ordained, but a panel of Episcopal Bishops found at no time during her priesthood and ministry at Church of The Incarnation, or while in Paris, has she had a pastoral relationship with Mr. Campano.
The panel of bishops who said that did it two days after the story hit the papers. This is like OJ Simpson’s relatives getting together and creating a panel which ruled that he was innocent two days after his trial ended.
She has had no relationship of any kind with Mr. Campano while serving at The Church of The Incarnation.
Except for the three times we met. And the multiple phone conversations (which are documented by Verizon). And text messages. And emails. The only way you can squirm out of claiming this sentence isn’t false is by redefining “relationship” as “speaking directly to each other”, and redefining “at” as meaning “on church property”. We never spoke directly to each other on the Church of the Incarnation’s physical property, although we’d seen each other and been inside the building at the same time. And I certainly had a relationship with Strickland while she was serving for the Church of the Incarnation. Once we had lunch in the cafe at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and then she put her collar on in front of me to go upstairs to be with a patient. How much more literal can you get? At that meeting, we even exchanged presents. I gave her earrings and she gave me a little African trinket. (Unfortunately, my mom threw it away. Does that blow my case?)
As for defamatory: I have no idea if it was, legally. It certainly didn’t help my reputation. A priest in a completely different diocese told a friend of mine last month that “Erik Campano falsely accused Ginger Strickland and made a fool of himself.” That seems to be the currently accepted dogma among Episcopal clergy.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, Ginger Strickland is a good person. It serves neither of us to leave this story floating around the Internet as written in the Post and on blogs, with her colleagues not knowing what actually happened, and both of us coming across as much less thoughtful and conscientious people than we really are. There’s only one solution to this problem: dialogue. Transparency. Cooperation. What Strickland and church officials have been shutting down since November 20, 2011. I can understand the bishops’ behavior; they want to dodge responsibility (except Henderson). But what I don’t understand is Strickland herself — why she has permitted the false Post story to just sit there — as if half-truths are ever a good long-term strategy.
Strickland is brilliantly smart, and knows me well enough to know that I am very stubborn about fighting institutional injustice, and that I prefer cooperative conflict resolution. I.e., she has known for a year and a half that this could all have been solved by talking it out, with intelligence, patience, and the goal of making a safer church. So why didn’t she make that choice? Obedience, like the Trinity Wall Street pastor? Or does she think that I’d use her words against her? Fear that I’d talk more about what happened? So what? Or that I’d sue or something? Are you joking? Never. I don’t have the heart.
My counsel has told me that even if I sued (for defamation, or whatever), it’s not a matter of who’s right. It’s a matter of who’s got the money to pay the lawyers. And I’d lose. I’ve got a tiny income. My immigrant family doesn’t have an oil well of cash to pull money out of. But Dietsche makes about $300,000 a year. Cooper makes $1.3 million. Trinity Wall Street has a total net worth of $2 billion. Of course, alternately, Walsh & Co. (or whoever) could sue me. I wouldn’t win. But…
April 17, 2013 – today
WHY THEY DID IT.
…if Walsh & Co. sued me, it would prove my point: Episcopal officials are so nightmarishly afraid of having anything to do with the word sexual misconduct, that they’re rather go to court with someone who reports it, than just sit down and honor that person’s story.
I’m not innocent. I’ve caused my fair share of unnecessary hurt to others in the context of a sexual relationship. I think most of us are guilty at some point of making some mistake in this realm of life. Sexuality’s really complicated. I don’t think that anything I’ve done rises to the level of what Strickland did; I don’t think I’ve truly abused anyone. But the magnitude doesn’t really matter — and nor does blame. What’s important is that 1) you apologize, and 2) the story gets told, somehow or other, privately or publicly, with names or without, so that a repeat of the hurt is prevented.
So even if I were wrong from the start — even if I were vengeful and manic and seeking attention and the Faith Trust Institute and The Hope of Survivors and Dorsey Henderson were wrong and this hadn’t been sexual misconduct and I’d been making the whole thing up — would this have been the way for the church to handle it?
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with someone who would know. This person told me that a number of people who have claimed sexual abuse have been silenced by the Episcopal Church or an affiliate. [Update, March 8, 2014: since then, I’ve heard about ten more such stories.]
Sometimes the alleged victim gets sued.
Sometimes the church pays them off.
Sometimes the church shuffles the clergy to another parish and hopes the victim will drop the case.
Sometimes officials humiliate the alleged victim.
Sometimes they try to convince the alleged victim that the abuse never happened.
And, this time, church leaders made a deal with the New York Post to misreport a story.
Why? To rewrite history so that no bishop would appear at fault — except perhaps the conscientious Dorsey Henderson, who is now retired. Along the way, they exploited long-standing social stigmas against women (and men) who have, for decades, fought for the right to report abuse without being blamed for it. Priests hired a Wall Street lawyer to do what they never do themselves: pretend myth was reality.
* * * * *
[Update, February 24, 2015: A few weeks ago, my girlfriend told me that she’d googled Ginger Strickland, and that Strickland had left the Church of the Incarnation and New York City. I hadn’t looked up Strickland in some months, because doing so tends to set off a post-traumatic reaction, and I can be rendered non-functional for a couple days just by exposure to a picture, or the mention of, Ginger Strickland, who over and over refused me reconciliation and peace. The blocks around the Church of the Incarnation, in midtown Manhattan, were mostly a no-go zone for me, because of their association with Strickland and Ousley. And there was always risk of running into Strickland randomly in Manhattan, as had happened a couple times over the last few years. So it reduced my anxiety considerably to know that Strickland was no longer in my geographical proximity, in the middle of my home city. However, it’s also ultimately sad that she left without ever making moves to resolve this situation in a constructive way. In the tradition of so many priests who hurt their parishioners, Ginger Strickland ran from her sin. She allowed herself to be reassigned to a church far, far away from New York and France, denying that she ever did anything wrong. And so we have little reason to believe that her parishioners in her new parish in Ross, Marin County, California, are any safer from the risk of another boundary violation than were those at the Church of the Incarnation or the American Church in Paris.
The Church of the Incarnation has published Strickland’s last sermon online, in which she finally addresses the case. Let’s take a look at it. Her remarks are in black.
Final Sermon by Ginger Strickland As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. ‘Immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ These were men with families, responsibilities. And they left it all behind to follow a man who had no home, a lot of enemies, and a death wish. And in the centuries that followed, after the resurrection of Jesus, people continued to give up all they had and follow him. Every one of those followers probably had a story of an encounter with the divine, his or her own unique reasons for following Jesus. But scholars suggest that most early Christians probably had one other thing in common. And that was shame.
Yes, some scholars have argued that the early Christians felt shame. Among those scholars is Rev. Jill McNish, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania. Her work, Transforming Shame: A Pastoral Response, is available on Google Books. She makes the point that the earliest Christians were persecuted publicly for speaking out and telling the story of Jesus’ life. They persisted in recounting what they believed was the truth, despite the fact that religious leaders, like the oracle at Apollo, were trying to silence them.
Ginger Strickland did the exact opposite of early Christians. She stayed silent — except, perhaps, within the bubble of her parish — and let herself be protected by the religious establishment, which over and over again has tried to silence people who simply stood up and told the truth about sexual misconduct.
Shame is a very particular sort of thing. It’s not just embarrassment, it’s deeper than that. It’s not guilt – guilt is the feeling that we’ve done something wrong. Shame is the feeling not that what we’ve done is wrong, but that who we are is wrong. That we are unworthy, undeserving of love. And there’s a public piece of shame – part of shame is the fact that others know of your failure. In other words, shame is the sense that you have lost value in your own eyes and in the eyes of those around you. Anthropologists classify both the Gentile and Jewish cultures of the first century as “honor/shame cultures” – cultures animated by the desire to maintain honor and to avoid shame. When interacting with someone new, the first thing you do is figure out which of you is more honored. Often honor/shame cultures believe that honor is is a sign of divine favor, and shame of divine disapproval – and that those who have honor in this life will have honor in the next. These cultures tend to be highly competitive, hierarchical, and wary of outsiders. I’m not aware of any literature on the topic, but I think that Manhattan is an honor/shame culture.
Wow. Manhattan is “an honor/shame culture”, says Strickland. Let’s unpack that.
The reason that Strickland is not aware of any literature on the topic is that no one who understands the term honor/shame culture would ever label apply this label to Manhattan. In a second, we’ll look at the history of the concept of honor/shame culture. But first, let’s examine what she’s saying, on the surface level. Parts of Manhattan — Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side — are neither highly competitive, hierarchical, nor wary of outsiders. These are heroic, diverse, and often poor places with waves of immigrants, almost always welcomed, regardless of their background. Manhattan is a model of social tolerance. The neighborhood served by Strickland’s church, Murray Hill, contains the United Nations — where my father worked for 35 years. It is literally one of the most international places on Earth. Wary of outsiders??? The UN???
Since Strickland hasn’t provided us with any conceptual background on honor/shame culture, let’s do that work. The idea of the shame culture actually was actually first applied to a country in which I have lived: Japan. Americans during World War II were looking for an explanation of why Japan committed itself so intensely to the axis cause. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict — unable to study in Japan — went through Japanese news clippings, literature, and so forth, and came to the conclusion in 1946 that Japan was a “shame society” while the West were “guilt societies”. A shame society, according to Benedict, is one which relies on the threat of ostracism for social control, wherein a guilt society appeals to individual conscience — and where it fails, a criminal justice system. Benedict published this analysis in a book called The Crysanthemum and the Sword. Her ideas have been politically influential, particularly among those who have tried to demonize and separate out the Japanese from the rest of humanity, but much of her work has been rejected extensively by fellow anthropologists, including from the Japanese themselves. The “shame/honor culture” concept is widely cited as an example of orientalism.
The beauty of America — and above all New York! — is that it is not a shame culture, but rather a place where people can start over, regardless of their past. In fact, people like Donald Trump, or Bishop Dietsche, are able to get away here with absolutely shameless behavior, and yet are forgiven. This is because New Yorkers believe, above all, in individual freedom, in live-and-let-live.
If Ginger Strickland experienced shame culture in New York, it may be because she was inside the bubble of its Episcopal diocese. There, you see ostracism. The bishop ostracized me, at her tacit approval. Strickland remained silent as I was barred, over and over again, from participation and dialogue, so that she be protected. Ginger Strickland, one might say, brought her version of “shame culture” into this otherwise free city.
We see the world that we help create. So, perhaps, does Strickland.
Anyway, the early converts to Christianity seem to be those who had, in some way, incurred shame – they had lost value in their own eyes and in the eyes of their society. Sometimes, their own choices had gotten them ostracized – like the tax collectors, prostitutes and notorious sinners that Jesus always sought out; or like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. But often early Christians had incurred shame for things they had no control over: extreme poverty was a source of shame in Mediterranean culture. Slavery, disease, and handicaps were too. Widows, orphans, and migrants incurred shame when they lost their places in families. Through no fault of their own, people in these categories were seen as having lost their honor. They were seen as diminished and as shameful.
Yes — or today, like victims of rape or sexual assault.
And then Jesus came along. And while claiming to be the very Son of God, he incurred excruciating public shame. He became homeless; he was declared a glutton, a drunkard, and a blasphemer; and then he underwent a criminal’s death. He ended his life in the most shameful way imaginable – naked on a Roman cross. And then God turned everything upside down. When the Early Christians spoke of the resurrection, they didn’t talk about forgiveness of sin or eternal life. They talked about vindication. For them, the resurrection of Jesus was God’s definitive, public undoing of the shame he had endured. It was God’s reversal of the whole system of honor and shame. When Jesus was raised up from the shame of the cross to the place of greatest honor in heaven, he brought with them all those who had been ostracized, all those who had felt unworthy and unloveable. God declared the honor comes not from social status, not from outperforming others, and not from mistake-free living. In Jesus, God declared our value comes not from our choices or our status but from God’s unconditional love, given freely to every human being. The message of Jesus was a rescue from shame, offered freely to everyone. So if you have experienced shame – if there’s some part of your life that you’re ashamed of, if you feel unworthy or unloveable, Christianity is for you. God promises rescue from that shame; God promises truly unconditional love.
That’s a beautiful message. Many victims of sexual abuse have sought out self-acceptance by turning to their religious tradition, by believing in a God who forgives.
Now, why am I talking about this? Those of you who know me know that over my last three and a half years at Incarnation, I have come to have some experience with shame. Even though the accusations against me weren’t true,
Ummmmmmmmm….. stop for a second. What wasn’t true?
they were public
Three and a half years ago?… public accusations?… that brings us to July 2012, and the Post article. Well, yes, we’ve established that that wasn’t true. It understated the severity of the offense, and then Strickland’s church made a deal with the Post to trivialize even further her actions.
Strickland is feeling shame? Is she sure that it’s New York’s “shame/honor culture” at work here? Or the fact that she let a Wall Street lawyer rewrite history in her favor?
and it felt like they were everywhere and would never go away. I felt profoundly ashamed and hopeless; I felt unworthy of being a priest, of being your priest.
Profoundly ashamed and hopeless? I can relate.
Look, we can’t know the reasons why Ginger Strickland ultimately felt “shame”. Maybe because of her actions. Maybe people were chastizing her behind the scenes. Maybe it was actually, simply, guilt, at work, and this sermon is rationalizing it away.
The Saturday after it all happened, I knew there was no way I could come to church the next morning. And then Doug said to me, “Look, I’m not going to force you to do this, but you’re a priest of this church. Show up tomorrow morning at 8:30am and preach and celebrate the eucharist because that is what you were called to do.” And so I did. And you all let me be your priest. You encouraged and cared for me and you let me do the same for you. We had lots of coffees together, and women’s groups. We had 20s/30s drinks and discussions. We did Christmas Fairs and service projects. We went to the Galway a lot. You let me visit you in the hospital and at home. You let me be a part of your lives. You let me be your priest. And in doing that, you showed me the Gospel that those early Christians knew. You showed me the Gospel is the story of rescue from shame and hopelessness, and that to rescue us, God uses the love of a whole community. I am so very thankful for Incarnation, for you. Thank you for being the Gospel for me and for this neighborhood. This is a place that does not live by the same rules as the world outside its doors.
I’m glad that Strickland was able to find some support and peace from her congregation. I’d feel better about it, if any one of them — anyone, from the head of the Vestry, to the parishioners I contacted, to Ousley himself — had done me or my supporters the courtesy of returning a single one of our emails. It is indeed a congregation that does not live by the same rules as the world outside its doors. Outside its doors, there are facts and accountability, diplomacy and reconciliation. Inside its doors — who knows?
We are not perfect, but there is grace and compassion here. There is freedom from shame. And there is love. And I am so thankful that for three and a half years I got to be a part of it. Thank you. And if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to take a moment to particularly thank the Rector. You have taught me so much, from “Always pretend that you don’t know how to use the audiovisual equipment” to what it means to do the best thing for your community even when it is hard. When I was trying to decide what job to take before I came to ordination, a colleague gave me a very good piece of advice. She told me to stop worrying about where I could contribute and go work for someone who was the kind of priest that I want to be. I am so very thankful that I took her advice.
WOW. That’s exactly the opposite of what Strickland told me in Paris. She said she took the New York job despite the rector, with whom her predecessor had said it was difficult to work. The one reason Strickland said she was hesitant to go to the Church of the Incarnation was because of Ousley.
I’m actually happy that she has kind words for Ousley, because hopefully, that will raise his own self-esteem and make him a more amiable priest and person. We have to bring up, not tear down or ignore, those who need our help.
NOW unto God who is able to keep us from falling, to rescue us from shame, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen.