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Abuse survivors oppose van Baars as delegate to General Convention

Episcopal Survivors Network

Episcopal priest ignores church canons, brushes off victims

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Episcopal Survivors Network (ESN), which represents survivors of sexual and non-sexual abuse in the Episcopal Church, today announced its opposition to the Rev. Sven van Baars’ candidacy for an additional term as a delegate to General Convention. Voting will occur at the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, to be held in Arlington Va., from November 17-19.

Van Baars is rector of the Abingdon Va. parish. In that capacity, he also serves as Title IV intake officer, responsible for handling complaints of clergy misconduct within the Diocese of Virginia.

ESN has documentation that van Baars has repeatedly abused his role as a Title IV intake officer, including refusing to follow church canons and sandbagging complaints.

In the first instance, van Baars dismissed a complaint accusing the Rev. Robert Hiller Malm of conduct unbecoming and engaging in perjury by making false statements under oath.

In doing so, van Baars claimed he could not determine from the facts presented whether Malm had committed perjury. But that is not his job.

The canons are clear: the only roles of the intake officer are to:

  • Determine whether the matter complained of, if true, would be a violation of church canons.
  • If so, would it be a material violation?

From there, the canons require that the intake officer draft a report and forward the report to the reference panel. They make no determination of the accuracy of complaints and have no direct role in doing so. Nor do they investigate the claim, unless it is to “understand the matter complained of.” Indeed, they are not trained to do so, and may jeopardize proceedings if they act outside their authority.

Subsequently, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called for a full, fair, independent investigation of the allegations. The Episcopal Church has ignored this request.

In the second instance, van Baars responded to allegations that the Rev. Tom Simmons, himself married, was engaged in an adulterous affair with a married woman. In doing so, he concluded that a violation of the canons had occurred, but that only a pastoral response was required.

Thus, he allegedly arranged for counseling for Simmons, while ignoring the needs and the pain of the complainant and his family. This is counter to the express requirements of the canons, which call for a pastoral response from the moment a complaint is filed for all affected parties. That is the case even if the complaint is dismissed:

“[A pastoral response] is one of the first priorities to accompany all phases of the process for all participants. The canonical requirement for Pastoral Response is one of the important differences between past disciplinary processes and Title IV.”

ESN further notes that van Baars appears to have made no effort to bring the diocese into compliance with national safe church standards, despite his past role as a delegate and as an intake officer. Adoption of the required policies is almost

“We are shocked and appalled by van Baars’ willingness to play fast and loose with the canons,” says ESN spokeperson Rebecca Korn. “His appalling lack of concern for victims of abuse is contrary to our understanding of Christianity, and we call on participants at the diocesan convention to vote ‘no’ on van Baar’s candidacy. It is our position that van Baars should neither be a priest, nor a delegate to General Convention.

“Indeed, van Baars’ misfeasance brings discredit on the Diocese of Virginia and the entire Episcopal Church. Yet he takes no responsibility for his behavior.

“We believe the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has lost its ethical reference point. This is just the tip of the iceberg in a meltdown of basic notions of decency and integrity,” Korn concludes


The Episcopal Survivors Network (ESN) is a nonprofit network of survivors of abuse and their allies. We are dedicated to:

  • Speaking out on behalf of those hurt by the church.
  • Advocating for healing.
  • Whenever possible, fostering positive relationships.
  • Seeking justice.

ESN is on the web at

Rebecca Korn
Episcopal Survivors Network
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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