Dioceses of Virginia and Massachusetts refuse to act
For the past several years, the Episcopal Survivors Network (ESN), a group of survivors of abuse in the Episcopal Church, has followed allegations of non-sexual abuse involving an Episcopal priest, Robert H. Malm. Malm is canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and currently serves as interim rector of St. Peter’s-on-the-Canal, in Bourne, MA.
ESN calls upon the Episcopal dioceses of Virginia and Massachusetts to comply with church canons, including the Title IV clergy disciplinary provisions. In conjunction, ESN also calls upon law enforcement, local prosecutors, and both dioceses, to conduct full, fair, and impartial investigations into the allegations against Malm.
The allegations against Malm are made by Eric Bonetti, a former parishioner, and include:
- Filing false police reports.
- Engaging in retaliation for filing a complaint about his conduct with the diocese.
- Repeatedly filing false civil actions in which Malm claimed he was being threatened, despite having had no contact with Bonetti in several years.
- Claiming that blog posts about him, on blogs published by Bonetti and family members, were “threatening and harassing.”
- Concealing evidence adverse to Malm in litigation.
- Repeatedly offering fabricated statements of law and fact to the courts.
- Repeatedly committing perjury, including falsely claiming under oath that Bonetti’s late mother, then dying of COPD, contacted him multiple times. Later, Malm told a judge under oath that he didn’t even know her name — despite the fact he expressly referenced her by name in his original sworn statement.
- Attempting to depose Bonetti’s mother, then dying, in violation of state law.
- Falsely telling police that Bonetti had stalked, threatened, and “terrorized” Malm and his family, despite having had no contact in several years.
- Using inflammatory and inappropriate language in court, including referring to Bonetti as a “domestic terrorist.”
- Witness tampering.
- Falsely telling parishioners and others that Bonetti is mentally ill.
- Lying to the Episcopal bishop of Virginia about facts related to the case.
ENS reminds both dioceses that church canons mandate a Title IV proceeding if the allegations, when assumed to be true, would be violations of Title IV.
Since Title IV expressly forbids “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy,” and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” it is improper and unethical for the Episcopal Church to brush allegations of perjury off as “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.”
Similarly, it is shocking, abusive, and appalling to insist that a victim go to court to resolve the matter, to dismiss a complaint at intake on the basis that the church cannot determine if a violation has occurred, or to require that a member of the clergy be found guilty of a criminal offense.
Nor are ESN’s concerns confined to Malm’s conduct.
Both bishops diocesan have abused their authority by repeatedly refusing to deal with these allegations. In doing so, they have undercut the credibility of the church and its willingness to respond to non-sexual misconduct.
Even now, the denomination and its lawyers are attempting to prevent discovery in the ongoing litigation. That begs the question, “Why?”. Indeed, if there is nothing to hide, all involved should welcome the chance to tell their side of the story. Truth and transparency are at the heart of any meaningful response to complaints of abuse, yet the Episcopal Church appears to be taking the opposite approach.
Moreover, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s claim, set forth in a letter from former bishop Shannon Johnston to parish leaders, that the matter was investigated “long ago,” is not credible. Any meaningful investigation is conducted by an independent, outside entity, not an untrained Title IV intake officer making phone calls to Malm and his assistant rector.
Similarly, the denomination’s refusal to provide the pastoral response mandated in all cases when a complaint is made has caused lasting harm not just to the complainant, but to the church, its mission, and those it serves. Indeed, if Bonetti’s claims were false, that would be all the more reason to respond with compassion, sensitivity and care. Yet to date we see no evidence or concern for Bonetti, his husband, his late mother, or others affected by these allegations.
ESN also is deeply concerned that both dioceses appear to be insisting on criminal charges against Malm before they will act. Not only are clergy by their very nature often given unwarranted deference, but victims typically lack access to the lawyers and other resources needed to pursue such a matter. Additionally, we note that the City of Alexandria VA has refused to even investigate these allegations, while the Marion MA police department has conditioned any investigation on the outcome of civil litigation.
ESN believes that the allegations, while unproven, deserve a full investigation. We call upon both dioceses, and their bishops, to set aside preconceived notions, to act with care and compassion, and to conduct a meaningful investigation of these claims using outside resources. Additionally, Title IV intake officers and bishops need to better understand Title IV and honor its requirements in all cases, not just in select cases. And the Alexandria VA courts should not attempt to impose confidentiality on discovery, as it is important that these allegations, and the facts behind them, be part of the public discourse.
“Like many who have faced abuse of every sort, what is most painful is not the misconduct itself, but the subsequent betrayal of trust by church officials. My family and I have been demonized, lied about, gotten obscene gestures, and even urged to commit suicide by church members,” says Bonetti. “The only thing we haven’t experienced from the church is care or concern.”
Bonetti and his husband Mike were among the first same-sex couples married in the Episcopal Church. Bonetti is currently getting treatment for PTSD and depression as a result of his experiences with the church.
Episcopal Survivors Network
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