CoGS also discusses open letter said to be from Mark MacDonald sexual misconduct complainant
Note: This article contains material from several stories previously published on anglicanjournal.com.
The church will soon have a new commission tasked with finding potentially “radical solutions” to the demographic and financial challenges that now face it, according to a proposal introduced by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in her opening statement to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) March 2 and later affirmed by CoGS.
The primate’s announcement kicked off a four-day meeting of the council, during which it commended a host of resolutions for consideration by this summer’s General Synod and heard updates from various national church committees. It also discussed an open letter from someone claiming to have been the person whose sexual misconduct complaint resulted in the resignation last May of former National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. It was the last meeting of CoGS before General Synod meets this summer.
Nicholls said a new strategy would be needed for the church to go forward into the post-pandemic world. It will need to respond to challenges including financial pressure “as parishes struggle to sustain fulltime or part-time stipendiary ministry and dioceses struggle to meet multiple responsibilities at local, regional and national levels.” The national church, on the other hand, is facing the challenge of supporting ministry in regions where donations do not cover expenses, she said.
A draft 2022 financial statement initially shared with CoGS, intended to be presented by the financial management committee, shows General Synod with a $1.6-million excess of expenses over revenues.Meanwhile, Nicholls said, statistics show the church’s membership is aging and declining. Cultural shifts in Canadian society and a newly redefined relationship with the Indigenous church, she said, also demand new ideas.
“Every organization needs to ask itself periodically whether the framework for the life of the institution is helping or possibly hindering its professed mission,” she said.The new committee would therefore be tasked with bringing recommendations to CoGS and to General Synod in 2025 to address these needs. Nicholls said it would be composed of theologians, bishops, clergy and laypeople “with a mandate to listen well and offer creative, lifegiving solutions—even radical solutions.”
Two hours before the primate’s opening remarks, at 7:00 a.m. eastern time, a letter had arrived in the email inboxes of CoGS members. Copied were Anglican Journal editor Tali Folkins as well as Michael Valpy, chair of the Journal’s editorial board. It was sent by the Rev. Trevor Freeman, a B.C. priest, who wrote, “I share the attached letter with you on behalf of its author. My function is to affirm that this letter is genuine and to provide a safe channel for its distribution.”
The letter’s author states that they are the victim of Mr. MacDonald’s “acknowledged sexual misconduct,” and does not include their name.
They criticize the process used by the church to handle their complaint—now in the midst of its first update since 2005—for the lack of agency and aid they say it gave them. Their listed concerns include lack of trauma counseling, not being consulted on the announcement of MacDonald’s resignation until a few hours before it was made public and, they say, being prevented from sharing or discussing the results of the investigation into MacDonald’s conduct.
Nicholls first responded to the letter after her opening address to CoGS, promising that the comments and concerns of its author would be considered in the currently ongoing review of the church’s sexual misconduct policy.
After a request by the Rev. Marnie Peterson of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, the matter was added to the agenda for March 3. The primate asked CoGS whether it would prefer a private or public session; Peterson spoke in favour of it not being held behind closed doors, and CoGS assented.
This session replaced what was previously scheduled to be the financial management committee’s presentation on the 2022 financial results. (Audited results for 2022 are expected to be discussed this summer by General Synod, however.)
During discussion on the letter, Nicholls and Canon Clare Burns, vice chancellor of General Synod declined, citing privacy reasons, to discuss the letter specifically.
Instead, they responded to questions from CoGS members about the current policies for handling sexual misconduct as well as the process of updating them.
In response to several questions from the floor, they stated that there was no confidentiality clause preventing a complainant who went through a sexual misconduct process from speaking about their experience once the process was complete.
Other CoGS members came forward to discuss the emotional and moral weight of the letter-writer’s experience and what it meant for CoGS to faithfully receive it. Some were more critical in their assessment of the issue’s handling, including Finn Keesmaat-Walsh, youth member of CoGS who said they did not feel the church’s leadership had shown they felt the appropriate urgency about the issue.
“The whole story hasn’t been told [but] this privacy thing is starting to sound like an excuse. And I know there’s lots you can’t say, but there has to be something you can say that communicates you get it,” they said.
In response to Keesmaat-Walsh’s statement, Nicholls replied that she wished she could say more. “I certainly feel the pain of the complainant, but that’s as much as can be said.”
CoGS entrusted Prolocutor the Rev. Karen Egan and vice-prolocutor Judith Moses to write a response to the letter-writer on its behalf. Egan later confirmed to the Journal that she and Moses would be sending their response on behalf of CoGS’s by mail March 6.
Near the end of the session, Nicholls spoke to the council about her experiences with previous sexual misconduct situations.
“They are always messy. I have yet to be involved in any of these where the victim or the perpetrator are satisfied. There are always angry letters afterwards from all sides saying ‘it didn’t give me what I wanted. It didn’t solve it. It didn’t heal it,’” she said. “So I just ask you to hold that pain that’s there for all of us, knowing none of us know the whole story.”
On March 5, a group of CoGS members sent an email to Burns on which they copied a member of Anglican Journal staff.
This message expressed the group’s “firm opposition” to the use of non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality clauses “to protect an employer’s reputation at the expense of victims or whistleblowers,” though it also says it acknowledges assurances by the church that non-disclosure agreements are not used in this way.
The email also urges the creation of a “national misconduct ombudsperson” position, “to accompany and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment, workplace harassment, and other abuses of power.”
CoGS also commended resolutions to General Synod, on topics including the Dismantling Racism Task Force; changes to the rules of order of General Synod, including rules on voting; and the five “transformational aspirations” created by the Strategic Planning Working Group.
Also at CoGS, the Rev. Cynthia Haines-Turner, one of the members of the board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, announced the agency would be changing its name to something simpler that better communicates its purpose. The board, Haines-Turner said March 3, has already struck a task force to come up with a new name.