Ayala Harris’ Aug. 30 letter also inspired a churchwide, grassroots response via an open letter that as of Tuesday afternoon had been signed by over 240 individuals, both lay and clergy.
“We stand with you,” the letter begins, addressing Ayala Harris. “We bear witness that what you have described represents an assault on you, our elected leader, and by extension on the entire Episcopal Church.” The letter also applauds bishops calling for Title IV reforms but calls for “a direct and public response to the report that the second ranking officer in our Church — a lay Latina woman of color — was publicly assaulted at the doorway to your House, by a member of your House.”
In June, the two adult sons of the Rev. Prince Singh, the Episcopal Church’s provisional bishop of the dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan, made allegations on social media that their father was guilty of physical abuse, alcoholism and emotional abuse. Their allegations led to an ongoing Title IV investigation against their father, who is voluntarily participating in the process. However, the investigation wasn’t launched until months after the sons initially reported their allegations to Curry.
Roja Suganthy-Singh, the ex-wife of Prince Singh, told RNS via email that she sees the church’s response to the allegations of her sons and of Ayala Harris as part of a pattern.
“Recently, there have been four high-profile Title IV complaints against Bishops in The Episcopal Church. All were made against cis-gendered, straight, male Bishops. With regard to Julia Ayala Harris’ heart-rending letter, we see that a church which presents itself as being progressive especially taking pride in women’s ordination and election as leaders, has time and time again failed women.”
Last summer, after Prince Singh’s predecessor in the dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan, Whayne M. Hougland Jr., admitted to adultery and was suspended, diocesan members issued a complaint citing serious concerns with the Title IV process.
“When our former bishop had an affair, the system not only took care of him, it did so in extremely expensive ways, to the financial and emotional cost of those whom he had vowed to pastor, in the name of ‘healing’ and ‘reconciliation,’” the complaint says.
Earlier this year, a priest filed a Title IV complaint against Florida Bishop John Howard for alleged discrimination against LGBTQ clergy and supporters. In August, the Episcopal News Service reported that more than seven months after the complaint was filed, its status “remains unclear.”
According to Rehberg, the disciplinary canons currently prioritize a restorative model of justice over a punitive one, something that can at times seem at odds with calls for accountability.
“Lots of times when there’s something that goes wrong, we want justice. But what we’re really saying is we want punishment. So there’s a tension in our disciplinary canons between those two ideas to begin with.”
Rehberg added that in the Episcopal Church, pastoral responses to misconduct usually include some form of discipline.