Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Bishop of Lexington suspended for one year after confessing to adultery

“Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and I have reached an ‘Accord’, or agreement, that for a period of one year I will step away from my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese and ordained leadership. This period will begin immediately.” Douglas Hahn

The Bishop of Lexington has been suspended for one year from the ordained ministry by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for having committed adultery.

On 14 March 2016 the Rt. Rev. Douglas Hahn wrote to his diocese confessing: “Several years ago – long before I was your bishop – I engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with an adult woman parishioner. I was wrong, and I have regretted it ever since.”

Bishop Hahn said he”ended the affair, confessed my sin to a priest, and worked with a therapist to understand and heal my out of character breach in behavior. I asked for forgiveness from the other party and, in time, believed the matter was resolved. Beyond my confessor and therapist, I did not reveal this matter, believing that to do so would cause greater harm to my wife Kaye, other persons, and other communities.”

However, the truth came out this past year, he said, and “was passed to the Presiding Bishop’s office. I confessed to Kaye [his wife] and to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and together we have sought a healing and reconciling way forward. Many people, including you, have been hurt by my behavior and their consequences. I am sorry and I ask for your forgiveness.”

The revelation of the affair prompted an ecclesiastical inquiry that led to disciplinary proceedings under the Episcopal Church’s Title IV. “Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and I have reached an ‘Accord’, or agreement, that for a period of one year I will step away from my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese and ordained leadership. This period will begin immediately.”

He added: “Bishop Michael and I, along with others involved in this process, reached this accord as brothers and sisters in Christ. We agree that this will allow me to return to my ministry as a stronger, healthier Bishop. During this time away the Standing Committee of the diocese, the Executive Council and our able staff will manage the life of our diocese. A retired bishop will fulfill Episcopal duties in my absence. These duties include, among other things, parish visitations, pastoral care of clergy and ordinations. The diocese will not be asked to support me financially during this absence.”

In a letter to his parish announcing the news, the President of the Lexington Standing Committee, the Rev. Peter D’Angio wrote: “When there is not a bishop in place, the Standing Committee assumes oversight of the Diocese. The Standing Committee will meet on Thursday, March 17th to begin the work of moving forward.”

A retired bishop will be engaged by the Standing Committee to conduct episcopal services, but until his return to duties, ecclesiastical authority in the diocese will be vested in the Standing Committee.

In 2001 an ecclesiastical court has found the Rt Rev Charles I Jones, III, Bishop of Montana, guilty of “conduct unbecoming of a clergyman” in the first ecclesiastical legal proceeding of its kind since the mid-19th Century. The Trial Court of Bishops of the Episcopal Church held that Bishop Jones violated Church law by committing adultery with a parishioner 17 years earlier.

The Rt Rev Edward Jones, retired Bishop of Indianapolis and president of the Trial Court, in 2000 stated that Bishop Charles Jones’ guilt or innocence would not be considered at trial. What was at issue for the Court was whether or not Jones was to be punished. The Court was to decide if the “pastoral discipline” imposed by Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning in 1993 was sufficient punishment.

In 1993 Bishop Jones confessed his affair to Bishop Browning. Bishop Browning directed Jones to offer financial restitution, seek psychiatric counseling, and take a leave of absence from his duties.

Attorneys for the Church argue that Jones’ contrition and the 1993 “pastoral discipline” constituted therapy and not punishment. They argue that Jones was insincere in his contrition, though no new charges of adultery had surfaced in the previous 17 years, and that he should now be “legally” punished.

Jones’ attorneys denied the charges of “sexual exploitation” and questioned the legality of using Jones’ statement of guilt given to Bishop Browning under the seal of confession in his trial. Edward Curry, Jones’ lead attorney, further argued that the charges of sexual immorality were unproven. Many of the witnesses against Jones, including his accuser, refused to answer questions from Jones’ attorneys. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, also refused Jones’ requests to answer questions and turn over documents. Curry also alleged that the Rt Rev Harold Hopkins, former director of Pastoral Development, and David Booth Beers, Church Chancellor, had committed perjury by making “deliberate deceptions… and falsehoods about material facts”.

Between 1996 and 1998, the Church altered its Canons to drop any statute of limitations against cases of sexual immorality. Prior to 1996 Jones could not have been legally disciplined for his affair as 13 years had at that time passed since his offence.

The revision of the Title IV disciplinary canons in 2013 spared Bishop Hahn the fate of Bishop Jones. In his letter to the diocese, Bishop Hahn wrote the new disciplinary procedures were designed not to punish to but “designed to help create healing and reconciliation”.

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