|Civil Lawsuit Casts Wide Net
July 13, 2011
A civil lawsuit against Conception Abbey in rural Missouri has raised lingering questions about decisions made by both Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa.
The lawsuit involves Bede Parry, a former Roman Catholic priest and choirmaster at the abbey, who resigned from his work as an Episcopal priest June 23 after the lawsuit came to light. Parry had been working as organist, music director and assisting priest at All Saints' Church, Las Vegas.
A plaintiff identified as John Doe 181 filed a civil damage suit against Conception Abbey June 22. The plaintiff said he suffered sexual abuse in 1987, when he was a minor, at the hands of Parry, because of negligence by the abbey's leaders.
The Most Rev. Jerome Hanus, OSB, was abbot of the monastery and supervised Parry, and Parry has said Hanus knew of his sexual misbehavior from the 1970s through 1987. Pope John Paul II appointed Hanus as Archbishop of Dubuque in 1995.
The plaintiff "recently came forward because he learned that Parry was still in active ministry," attorney Jeffrey R. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., told The Kansas City Star. "He was led to believe Parry was out of the ministry. … Now he learns that the guy is in Las Vegas and in good standing and nobody knows."
In a June 23 interview with the Star, Parry confirmed the lawsuit's accusations of sexual misconduct. He said that he "had sexual contact with five or six of the choir members as well as a student at a Minnesota university." Parry told the Star that "most of the inappropriate sexual contact was with males over 18," but that "two of the encounters … involved males ages 16 to 18."
The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, Bishop of Nevada since 2008, issued statements June 29 and July 5 defending the decision of Jefferts Schori to receive Parry as an Episcopal priest. Edwards described Parry's earlier conduct as "inappropriate relationships with youth in their late teens," "inappropriate touching," and "boundary violations."
In announcing Parry's resignation to All Saints' Church June 24, senior warden Pam Martin described Parry as "our friend and musician," adding, "We hold no opinion to the allegations, and have assured Father Bede of that. His resignation has been accepted with much sadness."
Parry served as music director and organist at All Saints' Church beginning in 2000. He was hired by the Rev. Mary Bredlau, who was then the parish administrator. This hiring did not require approval by a bishop. In any case, Parry was hired before Jefferts Schori became Bishop of Nevada in February 2001.
Parry asked to be accepted as an Episcopal priest in 2002, and was received by Jefferts Schori in October 2004. Parry then served the parish as an assisting priest, even though Jefferts Schori required that he have no contact with minors.
When Parry sought reception into the Episcopal priesthood, he disclosed only the 1987 incident to Jefferts Schori, the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, and the senior leadership at All Saints' Church. It is unclear whether the diocese's background investigation and psychological tests failed to uncover Parry's history from 1973 through 1981. Edwards said the Commission on Ministry knew everything that the bishop did about Parry. All agreed, without any recorded dissent, that Parry should be accepted as an Episcopal priest.
According to the lawsuit, "In 2000, Fr. Parry underwent psychological testing relating to the possibility of entering another monastery. The results of this testing revealed that Fr. Parry was a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors. The results of this testing were provided to the Abbey, the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and the Episcopal Bishop for the Diocese of Nevada."
Parry said that he did not disclose test results from 2000 to All Saints' staff.
"No such report was sent to the Diocese of Nevada," Edwards said.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and the abbey have not commented on the test described in the lawsuit.
"As I review what was done 2002-2004, I find no fault with the actions of any of our people, lay or ordained," Edwards said in his July 5 statement. "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. … No bishop has ever done so much to rid our diocese of clergy misconduct or to establish and enforce rules to preserve healthy boundaries."
Attorney Allan Haley, who writes frequently about the canon law of the Episcopal Church, disagrees. He has written that Jefferts Schori may have violated several provisions of Canon III.11 (as it stood in 2003-04), which governed how clergy from other churches are received into the Episcopal Church.
Those who wish to be received as priests must show "evidence of moral and godly character; and that the person is free from any vows or other engagements inconsistent with the exercise of Holy Orders in this Church."
Haley added that Jefferts Schori may have fallen afoul of revised canons under Title IV for the discipline of clergy. These revised canons require clergy to report themselves if they suspect they have violated canon law, and they extend statutes of limitation to prosecute offenses.
Jefferts Schori has made no public response to the lawsuit, and her office has referred reporters to the Diocese of Nevada. Perspectives, a weblog published by the Episcopal Church, has reprinted the statements by Edwards.
These responses are "sadly predictable, woefully inadequate and painfully self serving," said David Clohessy, executive director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
"They're focusing on protecting their reputations, not on protecting our children," Clohessy told The Living Church July 11. "It's terribly sad to see Nevada's bishop defending his boss and her public image instead of helping the police charge a child molesting cleric."
Parry, now 69, entered Conception Abbey in 1973. He lived at the monastery until 1979, and was an accompanist for the abbey's boy choir in 1978 and 1979. Choir members were ages 7 to 18.
From 1979 until his graduation in 1982, Parry prepared for the priesthood at the St. John's University School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn. University authorities allowed him to graduate, even though they knew (as did Conception Abbey) that Parry had (as reported on a victims' advocacy site, behindthepinecurtain.com) "pursued a college freshman, twenty years his junior, who was interested in music and the priesthood."
When Parry returned to Conception Abbey in 1982, he directed the boy choir, taught classes at the seminary, was selected as secretary to Abbot Hanus, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1983.
During the summer of 1987, a student at the Abbey choir camp told his parents that he had sexual contact with Parry on the preceding day. They complained to the abbot, who quickly sent Parry to three months of sexual offender therapy with the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, N.M. After being told that he could not return to the abbey, Parry worked as a musician at several Catholic and Lutheran parishes in Albuquerque and Las Vegas from 1988 to 1999.
Parry has said he has not engaged in any further sexual misconduct since 1987. Edwards has said the same. SNAP leader Clohessy and Patrick Noaker, one of the attorneys handling the civil lawsuit, confirm that they have no indication that Parry has engaged in sexual misconduct since then.
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