The pelican papers

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Making excuses: The case of Bede Parry

Posted by Ron George on July 9, 2011

Bishop Schori receives Bede Parry into the Episcopal ordained ministry

Bede Parry lied to become an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Nevada. He tried to make it sound like the truth, but it wasn’t. It made him sound like a repentant child molester, and the diocese took the bait hook, line and sinker. Now Parry’s lies have forced him – again – from the ordained ministry of a Christian denomination, and they have compelled the bishop of Nevada to make excuses.

The facts of Parry’s case, disputed or not, have been aired online, a miniscule Internet buzz among a sub-minority sect of Christians that seems to be growing smaller day by day. The Episcopal News Service gives an institutional account. Episcopal Cafe is following the case closely and provides continuing commentary. Parry’s former Roman Catholic monastery has been sued by someone who claims to have been molested by him in 1987; the original petition is here.

“Frankly, those allegations, most of them are true,” Parry told the Kansas City Star when he was interviewed about the suit. “As far as I’m concerned, great harm was done to those people. To lie and not recognize that would be a gross injustice to those folks. The whole thing is terrible. I feel so terrible. I’m just praying for everybody, and I ask for prayers.” Parry has resigned his parish position in Las Vegas. It is likely he will be deposed as an Episcopalian presbyter.

By far the most revealing pleading in all this is that of the Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, 10th Bishop of Nevada, who eloquently defends his diocese’s decision to receive Parry into the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church – and shows just how clueless a diocese can be regarding clergy sexual misconduct in general and child-molesting in particular. Edwards, incidentally, was not the bishop who supervised Parry’s becoming an Episcopal priest; that fell to Edwards’ predecessor, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected presiding bishop in 2006.

Parry was an organist at an Episcopal Church in Las Vegas when he approached the diocese in 2002 to be admitted to Episcopalian holy orders. He fessed-up right away to Schori about the 1987 incident. That should have been the end of it. Why in the world would a bishop want to buy that kind of trouble? Thank you, Mr. Parry. You’re a fine organist, but your past is a liability for pastoral ministry, let alone a potential financial liability for the church should you step out of line again. Your lay ministry seems to be fulfilling and beneficial. We appreciate your concern about the clergy shortage in this diocese, but it would not be appropriate for you to be admitted to the presbyterate of this church. Parry would have resumed his music ministry – and Edwards would not have to be making excuses for his diocese.

Parry signs his ordination vows

Parry lied by not telling Schori the whole truth; viz., that he was removed from a Roman Catholic monastery in 1987 for treatment as a sexual offender, and that three years later he was asked not to return; that he told monastery officials before he was ordained priest in 1983 that he had had inappropriate sexual contacts at the monastery and in seminary; and that he was denied admission to another monastery in 2000 after being found unfit due to his “proclivity to reoffend with minors,” according to the lawsuit. Parry may deny these allegations – indeed, they may be false – but he knew they were out there when he went to Schori in 2002. Had he told her the whole truth, it’s unlikely that he would have been admitted to the Episcopal presbyterate in 2004.

Even so, Schori placed a telling stipulation on Parry: No contact with minors. OK, if there’s no residual problem with Parry’s being a priest, why the restriction? Edwards says it came from an abundance of caution. Perhaps, but Schori’s restriction also represents official recognition that Parry’s past posed a threat to future pastoral relationships. Parry, in other words, was a problem waiting to happen.

Parry, 69, seems to have behaved himself after he was banned from the monastery in 1990. Edwards makes this clear in his apology: “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.” Commendable sexual behavior, however, does not absolve Parry from lying; and it doesn’t absolve the diocese from keeping Parry’s secret, which it apparently did from 2002 until Edwards had to convene assurance meetings this month at the Las Vegas parish where Parry had been an assistant pastor.

Edwards’ defense of his diocese is typical in several ways. First, he suggests that the 1987 allegation is without merit; otherwise, why didn’t law-enforcement authorities prosecute Parry? Well, Edwards certainly doesn’t know why they didn’t. It’s likely, though, because it would be typical, that the victim and his family didn’t want the trauma and exposure of a trial, but there’s nothing to suggest that the allegation was not true. Parry admitted it, for crying out loud. it was the partial truth that hooked Schori into giving him a second chance.

The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, Bishop of Nevada

Edwards makes no case at all for keeping Parry’s secret since 2004. He simply ignores this crucial issue – and now, in his own words, he’s having to deal with “concerned parents.”

Edwards pleads that Parry is no “predatory pedophile priest.” The diocese’s “independent psychological evaluation” showed that Parry posed no risk. OK, then why the restriction? More important, however, is that no psychological evaluation can indicate whether someone is a pedophile. The John Jay College study came to that conclusion beyond reasonable doubt after looking at 60 years of Roman Catholic cases of clergy sexual misconduct. Edwards is either inexcusably ignorant of the JJC report or has chosen to ignore it for reasons of rhetoric. Moreover, Edwards makes a vile distinction between pedophilia and “an incident with a late adolescent,” as though the latter were less “morally wrong” (as he put it) than “sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children.” Edwards makes the remarkable argument that, because Parry is not a pedophile as defined by psychiatry, the diocese was free to determine whether he would “err again” – as though it could when it could not.

Edwards argues that Parry is healed of whatever made him transgress in the past: “We also believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ to change people. That transforming power can be mediated through psychotherapy.” No one but no one disputes that Parry has been redeemed by Christ, whatever that has come to mean. The point that Edwards misses again and again is that Parry was not a suitable candidate for holy orders in 2002 because of his past transgression, that he withheld information he knew would affect the diocese’s decision – and that the diocese kept his secret. And now, the diocese is in deep denial about its failure to keep pastoral care out of the hands of an admitted child molester. Rather than confess to being had, the Diocese of Nevada is making excuses and arguing that it did the right thing. Malarkey.

Fortunately, as Edwards says, no one in the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada has been harmed by Parry. The diocese hasn’t been sued by anyone alleging harm by Parry. It’s a messy business, though, and it might have been avoided had Schori simply said no to Parry, as she should have done, in 2002.

The presiding bishop has kept silent about the Parry case, but it’s doubtful she would have much to add to Edwards’ pleading. An overarching question is whether the Episcopal Church ever will become a “one strike and you’re out” organization with regard to clergy sexual misconduct, as most experts in the field advocate. Once and for all, it’s not about God’s forgiveness or Jesus’ redemption but integrity and trust without which effective pastoral ministry is impossible.

In this case, the Diocese of Nevada is missing the point: Parry was not trustworthy and should not have become an Episcopal priest. The diocese should be admitting its fault rather than making excuses for its misjudgments and flawed pastoral leadership.

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