We have now reviewed the history of how Bede Parry became a priest in Nevada. I will tell you the story as forthrightly as possible. Many people are involved in this story. To understand their decisions and actions, it is necessary first to understand two things: what this story is not and what our guiding principles are.
First, what this story is not: This is not the horrifying story of a predatory pedophile priest who is passed from parish to parish so he can continue his predatory behavior. Far from it. For those who have the story of the predatory pedophile fixed in their minds, it will be difficult to hear and accept the actual facts. These facts will not fit their entrenched assumptions. But if we are to tell the truth, we must tell a different story.
Second, our guiding principles: Keeping children safe is an absolute moral duty. There is no exception to that. We also believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ to change people. That transforming power can be mediated through psychotherapy. We do not naively believe people have changed just because they say so. When someone truly changes, there is evidence of that change in their conduct. It is visible, verifiable.
How did the Diocese of Nevada decide to ordain Bede Parry to the priesthood? In the Episcopal Church it is not possible for a bishop, acting alone, to receive a priest from another denomination. It was a multi-level decision which meticulously followed the applicable canons. Title III Canon 11 Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church (2,000). When Fr. Bede applied to be received as an Episcopal priest, that request had to be judged by several levels of church governance – each with both clergy and lay people participating in the decision. The process of considering his application began in 2002 culminating in his being received two years later in October, 2004. The Commission on Ministry (made up of both clergy and laity) knew everything the bishop knew about Bede Parry. These good people did not decide to put children at risk. By accepting Fr. Bede as a priest, they were determining that he was not a threat to children.
Why did they decide he was not a threat? The Commission on Ministry knew of the incident of “inappropriate touching” that allegedly occurred with a young man in his late teens. That incident was not covered up. It was reported to the police who did not choose to prosecute the case. However, Fr. Bede did leave his monastery and receive intensive psychotherapy.
It has been reported that there was a psychological examination showing that he was likely to repeat his offense. No such report was sent to the Diocese of Nevada and, to this day, we have no knowledge of its existence other than an assertion by the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer in a John Doe lawsuit against the monastery. Reliable testing to predict such sexual abuse was not even developed until nearly two decades later, so the assertion in the John Doe complaint is dubious. The Diocese of Nevada, however, did have our own independent psychological evaluation done by a psychologist and it did not indicate any pathology or risk.
At the time of Fr. Bede’s application, he had been working in churches as an organist for 15 years without a hint of any impropriety. An incident with a late adolescent, while certainly morally wrong, and unquestionably a matter for serious concern, does not indicate pedophilia. Pedophilia is sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. It is a condition that is usually compulsive, so repeated misconduct is common. American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 1994) (DSM IV) Pedophilia Sec. 302.2 pp. 527-528. Fr. Bede is not a pedophile. This is not a moral difference but it is a psychological difference that matters a great deal in determining whether someone is likely to err again.
Based on the known facts and interviews with Fr. Bede, lay and clergy church representatives agreed that he should be received as a priest. The record shows no dissent. Nonetheless, the bishop added the restriction that he should not have contact with minors. This was to add double protection and prevent even the appearance of any threat to minors. This restriction and the reasons for it were conveyed by the bishop to people who supervised Fr. Bede’s work. Further, the bishop, in consultation with the diocesan attorney, recommended abuse awareness workshops.
For nearly a decade since that decision, Fr. Bede has served faithfully, still without a hint of misconduct. Some in the blogosphere want to speculate that there have been ongoing depredations that have not come to light. I wish there were a way to reassure them, but since their imaginings are purely the fantasies of their own minds, there is nothing we can do to answer that. It is impossible to prove a negative. The facts are that for fifteen years before Fr. Bede became a priest and for over nine years since he became a priest, there has been no report, formal or informal, credible or incredible, no rumor or innuendo of any repetition of the incident that is alleged to have occurred in Missouri a quarter of a century ago.
As I review what was done 2002 – 2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained. The bishop, priests, and lay people of Nevada kept children safe and they were true to our belief that people can be redeemed. It is ironic that some have taken this incident as a pretext to attack Bishop Katharine for laxity in enforcing rules for the safety of children. Bishop Katharine introduced Safeguarding God’s Children standards and training here. No bishop has ever done so much to rid our diocese of clergy misconduct or to establish and enforce rules to preserve healthy boundaries.
Of course we can always improve and when the matter is so important we must keep striving to do better. We did have Safeguarding God’s Children training and standards in place. But it would be better to have more people keeping a special watch; so I will be more proactive to insure that more people in the parishes know about any restrictions on ministry such as the “no-contact with minors” restriction in this case. While Fr. Bede’s record in Nevada remains unblemished, we can and should learn what we can from this experience and redouble our commitment to Safeguarding God’s Children training and standards.
Our duty to keep children safe is absolute. That duty requires more than precautions. It requires us to live in faith rather than fear, in hope rather than despair over human nature. Our children will grow stronger and healthier in a church that dares to believe in redemption when we see it solidly proven over many years as we did here.
My heart goes out to the people at All Saints who are living through this ordeal. I met with the congregation last week and with concerned parents last night. I will meet with the vestry tonight. Being the church is hard because we are all broken, but by the grace and power of Jesus, when this is past, we will be as Hemingway said, “stronger in the broken places.”
Yours in Christ,
10th Bishop of Nevada