|Nevada Bishop Says Diocese Acted Properly in Receiving Roman Catholic Priest
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Episcopal News Service
July 7, 2011
Diocese of Nevada Bishop Dan Edwards on July 6 defended the actions of his predecessor and other diocesan officials in allowing a Roman Catholic priest to become an Episcopal Church priest after he admitted he'd sexually abused a teenage boy in the late 1980s.
It's "not the horrifying story of a predatory pedophile priest who is passed from parish to parish so he can continue his predatory behavior," Edwards said in a statement on the diocese's website. "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."
The statement, and one Edwards issued June 29, came in part in response to questions raised about Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's actions when as bishop of the Diocese of Nevada she received the Rev. Bede Parry into the Episcopal Church in 2004.
The questions arose after a plaintiff listed as John Doe 181 filed a lawsuit June 22 against Conception Abbey, a Roman Catholic monastery in Missouri, where Parry was a monk in the1980s and directed a choir. The plaintiff, now an adult, alleges that Parry had sexual contact with him during a 1987 summer choir camp at the abbey.
The suit also alleges that Parry engaged in inappropriate relationships with other youth in their late teens both at the abbey and while he attended St. John's School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota. The suits claims that "Parry was a known serial child predator who had sexually abused numerous students" before he assaulted the defendant.
Parry, 69, served All Saints Episcopal Church in Las Vegas since 2000 as organist and later as an assisting priest, but resigned after the lawsuit was filed and is renouncing his orders, according to Edwards' June 29 statement.
All Saints, the Diocese of Nevada, the Episcopal Church and Parry are not parties to the lawsuit. The action is a civil suit seeking monetary damages, not a criminal case.
A day before Edwards' most recent statement, the Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs posted a fact sheet, which said in part that "Edwards and his staff have reviewed the records and shared with appropriate commissions and the diocesan chancellor, and they confirmed there were no departures from established policies and procedures." The fact sheet referred further questions to the diocese.
Jefferts Schori has not spoken publicly about the lawsuit or her actions while she was bishop of Nevada. She served as diocesan bishop in the Las Vegas-based diocese from February 2001 until shortly before she was installed in November 2006 as the church's 26th presiding bishop.
"The facts are that for 15 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," Edwards said in his July 6 statement.
Saying that pedophilia is usually compulsive, Edwards insisted that "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," he said.
Edwards told the Kansas City Star June 23 that he has referred the matter of Parry resigning his orders to the chancellor of the diocese.
In the lawsuit's "background facts" section, the plaintiff claims that after he telephoned his parents the day after Parry touched him in 1987 to tell them about the incident, they confronted then-Abbot Jerome Hanus, who said Parry had had a "mental breakdown" and would be treated. The suit alleges that, after three months of sexual treatment at Servants of the Parcelete in New Mexico, Parry was told in 1990 he could not come back to the abbey.
Parry reportedly told the Kansas City Star that during the intervening years he had been placed on leave and could not live at the abbey. He then worked in Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes in Albuquerque, New Mexico, until he was assigned to a Roman Catholic parish in Las Vegas in 1992.
A call to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas to determine in what capacity Parry served that diocese in the 1990s was not immediately returned.
The suit claims that in 2000, Parry underwent psychological testing related to the possibility of entering another monastery. The test, the lawsuit alleges, showed that Parry was "a sexual abuser who had the proclivity to reoffend with minors." The results were provided to the abbey, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas and the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, according to the suit.
Edwards said July 6 that "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."
The diocese did have its own independent evaluation done by a psychologist "and it did not indicate any pathology or risk," Edwards continued.
At some point in 2000, Parry began working at All Saints. The Kansas City Star reported that Parry said that after serving about two years as the music director at All Saints, he noticed "they needed clergy, and I felt called. I talked to the bishop, and she accepted me."
Parry said he told Jefferts Schori about the 1987 incident but not the previous ones. "The Episcopal Church doesn't have a 'one strike and you're out' policy, so it didn't seem like I was any particular threat," the newspaper reported Parry said. "She said she'd have to check the canons, and she did."
Edwards said in his July 6 statement that his review of the process showed that Parry asked in 2002 to have his orders received in the Episcopal Church and that a "multi-level decision which meticulously followed the applicable canons" began, during which his request was " judged by several levels of church governance -- each with both clergy and lay people participating in the decision."
The diocesan Commission on Ministry (made up of both clergy and laity) "knew everything the bishop knew about Bede Parry," Edwards said.
"These good people did not decide to put children at risk," Edwards said. "By accepting Fr. Bede as a priest, they were determining that he was not a threat to children."
Jefferts Schori received Parry's priestly orders on Oct. 15, 2004, making him a priest of the Episcopal Church, according to the Episcopal Clerical Directory.
However, Edwards noted, Jefferts Schori added a restriction to her acceptance of Parry that he not have contact with minors so as to "add double protection and prevent even the appearance of any threat to minors."
"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," Edwards said. "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."
Edwards told Episcopal News Service July 7 that when Parry was hired in 2000 to be the parish's organist, a background check was not done and the parish had no knowledge of his past. He insisted that Jefferts Schori's actions as part of her acceptance of Parry's orders, including alerting All Saints to Parry's past and asking that the parish participate in abuse-awareness workshops, "made the situation considerably safer than it was before."
The Kansas City Star reported that Parry admitted to the newspaper that he had sexual contact with five or six of the abbey choir members as well as a student at a Minnesota university.
"Frankly, those allegations, most of them are true," the newspaper reported Parry saying in a phone interview from Las Vegas. "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."
Most of the inappropriate sexual contact was with males over 18, Parry said. Two of the encounters, he said, involved males ages 16 to 18. He said he has not had inappropriate sexual relations since the 1987 incident.
A June 24 statement from the parish's senior warden, announces Parry's resignation. Parry is referred to as "our musician and friend."
"He wants the household to know that his primary concern is for the welfare and the good of the church, and as such, feels deeply that he must depart," the statement said. "We hold no opinion to the allegations, and have assured Father Bede of that. His resignation has been accepted with much sadness."
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