CoGS to discuss #ACCtoo letter

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By on March 7, 2022
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The Council of General Synod (CoGS) is slated to discuss this week an open letter claiming senior church officials failed to protect the identities of alleged victims of sexual assault.

“Elected members of the council will discuss the letter at their upcoming meeting,” Joe Vecsi, the Anglican Church of Canada’s communications director, confirmed Friday.

CoGS is scheduled to meet from Thursday Mar. 10 to Sunday Mar. 13.

The letter appeared last month on the website of a group calling itself #ACCtoo. It refers to an early draft of a scrapped 2021 Epiphanies article on the topic of alleged sexual misconduct in several church institutions which staff shared with senior church management after being asked to do so and after assurances it would not be shared more widely. Epiphanies is a sister publication to the Anglican Journal.

The Journal’s then-editor and the staff writer on the story had made an agreement with the survivors who agreed to speak to them on the condition that they would not be identified in the article. The shared unrevised draft of the story contained pseudonyms of alleged victims, but according to #ACCtoo, it also included information making them identifiable, as well as a considerable amount of personal information they would not have wanted published. Both editor and writer resigned soon afterward.

#ACCtoo’s letter calls for the resignation of “a high-ranking official in the national church” who it claims shared that draft with members of the church institutions where the sexual misconduct had allegedly taken place after church management had assured Anglican Journal staff they would not do so.

The letter charges that as a result, the Anglican Church of Canada failed to uphold its obligation to protect survivors of abuse and its duty to uphold the confidentiality promised by Journal staff in keeping with accepted journalistic practice.

“We therefore share the survivors’ shock that the ACC broke these promises, abandoned their duties of confidentiality, and failed to care for the survivors’ privacy,” says the letter.

It does not make any allegation that Journal staff failed to uphold their own journalistic obligations.

As of Monday, March 7, more than 200 people had signed the open letter, which calls for the church to require the official who disclosed the documents to resign; to submit an official apology “that confesses wrongdoing and presents a plan of action that is a worthy beginning of repentance;” and to release the unredacted results of an investigation which the primate engaged an independent investigator to carry out last year.

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, referred to the investigation in a Feb. 18 response to #ACCtoo’s open letter.

“A full review through an independent investigator revealed miscommunication and misunderstandings about journalistic practice that led to an inappropriate sharing of a draft of the article before it reached its final stage,” she wrote.

In the same response, Nicholls quoted remarks she said she made to CoGS last fall, acknowledging the pain and the “sense of betrayal felt by the sources for the article and for the journalist and editor who felt it necessary to resign.”

She stated that the national church had reviewed and clarified the responsibilities of the staff and structures involved with publishing the Anglican Journal “in accord with best journalistic practices, especially when dealing with subjects like harassment or abuse that have such potential for further harm,” to ensure that the incident could not be repeated.

She also offered to meet with “those harmed by our actions to personally acknowledge that apology as well as to clarify misrepresentations in the ‘open letter.’”

The #ACCtoo website posted her letter alongside criticism that Nicholls did not address the calls to action from the open letter, nor specify what the letter had misrepresented.

Correction: Last year’s investigation into the sharing of the draft of the article was by carried out by an independent investigator at the request of the primate. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.

This article has been updated with additional information.

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  • Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.