Magazine article The Christian Century

Episcopal Church Pressed on Firings

Magazine article The Christian Century

Episcopal Church Pressed on Firings

Article excerpt

Some legal scholars and advocates are calling for more disclosure about the managerial misconduct that led to the firings of two senior Episcopal Church administrators after a four-month misconduct investigation.

Sam McDonald, chief deputy operating officer, and Alex Baumgarten, director of public engagement, "violated established workplace policies" and "failed to live up to the church's standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees," Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a brief statement April 4. Through a spokesperson, he said the church would have no further comment on the matter.

By saying nothing about what types of violations occurred, the church heightens the risk that wrongful behavior will be repeated elsewhere as McDonald and Baumgarten move on, according to Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel for the Victim Rights Law Center, a national nonprofit that provides free legal services from its offices in Boston and Portland, Oregon. The silence also discourages other victims from coming forward.

"They're glossing over what is a big problem, but what the big problem is, obviously no one is to know," Bruno said. "All of this cover-up might not be good for the future."

Bruno said the 2-million-member Episcopal Church is bucking a societal trend toward increased transparency.

"What we see in our culture is that people are getting more transparent about [misconduct], more victims are disclosing, more colleges are expelling, and workplaces are being more vigilant," Bruno said.

McDonald and Baumgarten have not been charged with any crime and did not respond to requests for comment. A third administrator, Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls, will remain on staff but will not continue as COO. The investigation found Sauls was unaware of the misconduct and violated no policies.

From December through March, independent investigators from the New York law firm Curley, Hessinger, and Johnsrud pored over thousands of pages of documents and interviewed more than 40 people, according to Curry. Workplace investigations of such scope are often looking for patterns of sexual harassment, Bruno said.

Curry's statement said "old patterns of behavior which are not helpful" must be changed at the church's national headquarters in New York City, but he offered no specifics. A human resources consulting firm has been hired to do a staff culture audit and retrain all staffers to bring about "a healthier direction."

When Bob Honeychurch learned about the call for culture reform, he recalled the four years he spent on the church's national staff, from 2008 to 2012. …

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