“If you have to keep a secret it's because you shouldn't be doing it in the first place” ― David Nicholls link
Over the next few weeks, we will keep you all updated on Julie McMahon. I will be able to disburse another $1200 to Julie this week. You all have been so awesome! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Deb is working on a series regarding abuse in IFB group homes. Amy Smith has hit the big time in Dallas. She is featured in D Magazine which looks at her efforts to expose Prestonwood Baptist Church's response to allegations of sexual abuse. We will write about it. I have read a fascinating book by Peter Wagner and cannot wait to do a couple of posts on demons, especially the "Queen of Heaven." Unbelievable.
I have not forgot the promised post on Spiritual Friendships within the celibate gay movement. On top of all of that we have some new gospel™ ideas on church membership that are floating around the usual websites along with some fascinating views of the roles of woman. And Deb used to tell me she was afraid we wouldn't have anything to write about…
Again, we want to thank Rhonda for her insider's look at how her denomination handled a concern. I want to highlight the following statement she makes in this post.
I still struggle health wise. I have panic attacks, recurring nightmares and, as I said before, I find it difficult to trust people.
It is vital for churches and Christian groups to note that painful episodes with churches can result in long term physical, emotional and spiritual issues. Such folks need a place to go where they are treated with kindness and understanding. Please join with me in praying that Rhonda will be surrounded by the love of God and faithful friends as she integrates and recovers from a difficult situation. Here is a link to Part 1 from last week.
This is a complicated story dealing with appeal upon appeal. This is a message to those of you who think that denominations are the answer to the abuse of authority. They aren't.
I have added some bolding and underlines along with subtitles to highlight some important points.
‘I am Woman’
‘You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul’.
I was not invited to the Presbytery’s June meeting. Nevertheless I fully expected that I would be able to meet with them at a later date. So I wrote them a letter in preparation for such a meeting. I expressed the more personal side of what I had gone through especially the distress I had felt at receiving the emails and phone calls from the Minister and Elder.
In the second week of June a letter arrived from the Presbytery. I felt a mixture of apprehension and excitement as I opened the envelope but as I read the letter this soon turned to disappointment. It was only to inform me that my report had been presented at Presbytery. They thanked me for my concern and said that they would advise me of the outcome of their investigations.
What I had been through up to this stage was very telling on me. The once confident healthy me was no longer evident. I had developed claustrophobia, I was not sleeping and I felt anxious all the time. I did not want to answer the phone or check my emails. At the advice of a pastor friend I started counseling.
A slap on the wrist for the church.
Two more months passed and I was still waiting for a reply from the Presbytery. I was hoping this meant that they were carrying out a very in-depth investigation. Then on the 14th September a letter arrived. I could not believe the briefness of it in comparison to my six page report. It said Presbytery ‘have investigated the matter thoroughly’. As a result they had strongly encouraged the Church to improve their administrative procedures and had directed them to the relevant procedures outlined in ‘The Code’ and the ‘Standing Orders of the Presbytery of Maroondah’. Then they thanked me for my concern with the way business was carried out at the Church.
Were they for real?
Their response amounted to nothing more than a tiny slap on the wrist to the leadership of the Church. The punishment did not fit the crime. I responded with a letter to the Members of the Presbytery letting them know how upset I was and that I still wanted to meet with them.
The Moderator of the Presbytery responded to my letter by email. He said that he was sorry the letter had caused such disappointment and sadness and he knew that it was very brief and addressed none of my questions. He assured me that the material had been read and looked into in detail and the Presbytery had responded in various ways, as it saw fit. Then he said he was sorry again this has been so hard for me.
I phoned my friend who had helped me write the report. I cried as I read her the letter that I had received from Presbytery. She suggested I should appeal their decision.
Spring may have been here in Australia but what was about to unfold would be the ‘winter of my discontent’.
I found the information I needed re an Appeal in ‘The Code’. It stated:
‘An appeal is a signed document given in by:
a. a member of the court who has voted in the minority; or
b. a person who is or was a party at the bar in a case before the court
and is designed to bring the decision of the court under the review of a higher court.
A party who wishes to appeal must clearly state his intention at the time the decision is announced by the moderator, by saying: “I intend to appeal”. The moderator must inform any party at the bar of his right of appeal’.
Another section stated:
‘The normal grounds for appealing are that the decision of the court was not reasonable given the information before the court, or that it was prejudiced by improper procedure’.
It was obvious that I could not state my ‘intention to appeal’ because I had not been invited to their meeting. This also meant I could not tell if it had been prejudiced by improper procedure. However, I did know that the decision was definitely ‘not reasonable’ considering the information that I had passed on to them. I assumed the ‘his’ in the clause was gender neutral.
I appealed to the General Assembly of Victoria, the reason and the grounds were based on the fact the response I had received from the Presbytery was ‘very brief and addressed none of my questions’.
A higher appeal
I sent my ‘Appeal’ to the Moderator of Presbytery asking him to pass it on to the Clerk for presentation at the Presbytery’s next meeting.
‘The Code’ states that:
‘A court grants full extracts of the minutes relevant to any case to a party who:
a. is entitled to them;
b. requests them.
Extracts may be applied for and granted both before and after a decision is made on a case, and these extracts are attested by the clerk as extracted from the record of the court’.
In my letter I requested the full ‘Extracts of the Minutes’. I knew I would not receive extracts of their confidential minutes which are kept in what they call, ‘Record Apart’.
Read this next section carefully: Two different sets of minutes!!
You may be asking ‘why do they keep two sets of minutes?’ This is the reason. ‘The Code’ states that:
‘To keep its ordinary minutes free from the presence of undesirable matter every court keeps a record apart for use in cases where moral delinquency is alleged, or in other cases where it seems desirable to safeguard the church against damages or to protect the reputation of individuals. The resolution to keep the proceedings of a case in the record apart is minuted in the record apart, not in the ordinary minutes’.
(Ed. note: I find this fascinating. The hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church of Australia is *safeguarding* allegations of moral delinquency, to protect the reputation of the church and to safe guard the church against damages.)
The appeal was rejected.
I now waited for what I hoped would be a positive response from the Presbytery of Maroondah. Tuesday the 6th of December dawned bright and sunny. I remember it well as it was our son’s birthday. In the mail that day I received a letter from the Presbytery. My hearts sank as I read yet another brief and to the point response from the Clerk.
He told me he had forwarded my ‘Appeal’ to the Clerk of the General Assembly. He said that Presbytery had been informed that there were no grounds for appeal because they had investigated the matters I had raised in my correspondence and responded accordingly. He said the matter is covered in ‘The Code’ as I was not present in the Court when the matter was discussed. However, he did say that it would appear that I would be entitled to petition initially to Presbytery.
What did they want me to do? Throw myself on the mercy of the court. I thought that was something the defendant did, not the plaintiff. I did not have time to read all the documentation that day, however, I typed up the following letter and faxed it through to the Clerk.
‘In relation to your letter dated 30th November 2011 as my ‘Appeal’ has been sent to the General Assembly of Victoria, I will not be petitioning the Presbytery of Maroondah, and I will await instruction from them’.
Look at who has now become the problem.
The next day I looked over the documents they had sent me. I was very surprised that they had actually sent me a copy of the extract of their minutes. The Bible says: ask and you shall receive; I asked but I definitely did not expect to receive them. This is what greeted me. They were titled:
‘Minutes Concerning dealing with Mrs R. Aubert’.
I do not know whether I can express the utter disbelief I felt reading this, but what I can say is that it was the perfect title for what followed. The first entry revealed that the Presbytery resolved to ‘sit in private’.
‘The Code’ says that:
‘All courts other than the Session are presumed to be open. A court may, in any particular matter, resolve in sit in private. In these circumstances all persons other than members or officers of the court and cited parties to a particular matter under discussion are excluded. Associate members are also excluded’.
I was angry. I had not been cited (summoned to appear) by the Clerk to attend the Presbytery and yet he is telling me I had no grounds for appeal because I was not present in the Court when the matter was discussed.
Presbytery resolved to sit ‘in private’. So in return I resolved to make what happened there ‘public’. This is extracted from June’s minutes.
‘Resolved that Presbytery refer matter including documentation to court of first appeal, [local church] Session, for report from them, to September Presbytery’.
Confidential material exposed.
I could not believe what I was reading. The Presbytery had sent my confidential report, the emails, and the minutes back to the leadership of the Church. July’s minutes revealed that they had also sent my personal letter back. At least I now know what the Presbytery considers a thorough investigation.
The Session is not the ‘first court of appeal’ when it comes to complaints against the minister the Presbytery is. ‘The Code’ states that
‘The Session does not receive or discuss complaints against the minister who is responsible to the Presbytery for the discharge of all the duties of his office. Members of the Session or others wishing to make such a complaint may do so by presenting a petition to the Presbytery’.
‘The Presbytery is the court of first instance in respect to all matters relative to the life, character and professional conduct of its ministers and licentiates. The Presbytery receives and deals appropriately, either by administrative action or by formal judicial process of discipline, with all complaints, charges or allegations of any kind that come to its notice by regular process and are directed against ministers or licentiates within it jurisdiction’.
The discipline was decided by the people Rhonda complained about.
The Presbytery’s disciplinary action was based on a report written by the very people I was complaining about. At least that explains why they had seen the matters I had raised as nothing more than an administrative procedural infraction.
Some of what was written in my report and letter was of a very personal nature. The people I had mentioned live in the same area as I do. I believe this was a total breach of trust and they had failed to perform a duty of care which was owed to me. The feelings of betrayal are still very much with me and I still find it difficult to trust people.
My fear level went up a couple of notches along with my blood pressure.
I thought about the email that the Moderator had sent me in May where he had said that they were truly sorry for the difficulties that I had been going through and that they did care and were praying for me. Based on the Presbytery’s action I now see these as nothing more than meaningless words.
Another letter I received from the Clerk of Presbytery said that Presbytery had been informed that I did not have the right to appeal to the General Assembly.
So this is how I see it now. I have to petition the Presbytery to get grounds for an appeal to a court I have no right to appeal to. Sounds like a pointless exercise to me.
There were a couple of other interesting entries in the ‘Extracts of the Minutes’ I received:
1. The first one was that the Presbytery resolved
‘that all matters to do with the church’s property for a place of worship for [the church] be in consultation with and with the help of the Church Architect’.
What this looks like to me is that the Presbytery was not censuring the Minister but was bending over backwards to help him.
2. The second was: The Presbytery resolved that the Minister and those responsible for the running of meetings and minute taking make every effort to improve their general administrative practices, and to
‘take care to observe those decisions taken within the congregation and committees’.
But isn’t that stating the obvious that you abide by decisions taken or why would you bother having committee or congregational meetings.
Nevertheless, what is written in the ‘Extract of the Minutes’ does confirm that the Presbytery had agree, in part, that this was a complaint against the Minister.
I knew that it was my responsibility to ensure that the Presbytery forward on the records and documents for my ‘Appeal’ to the Victorian Assembly. So I emailed a letter to the Moderator asking him if this had been done. I was not all that impressed with his response. He said the Presbytery had asked him not to communicate with me personally as he cannot and is not meant to speak for Presbytery.
To add insult to injury, I received a letter from the Clerk of the Victorian Assembly telling me again I was not entitled to appeal to the General Assembly because I was neither a party at the bar of Presbytery nor a member of Presbytery.
The Matthew 18 gambit
What he wrote in the next sentence left me speechless. It was
‘if you have a grievance on this issue that can’t be resolved by personal meeting and discussion…….’
Unbelievable! This wasn’t some small tiff between the Minister and me and went way past anything that had happened at the local Church.
My friend, the Director of the Ministry Development Committee, had been elected the new Moderator of the PCV in October. I had high hopes that he would be able to help me now. However he told me my only recourse was to petition the Presbytery. He described how this should be laid out. It was exactly what his wife and I had already done. This came from a person I considered to be a friend. (My eyes are filling with tears as I write this)
On the 28th December I emailed a letter to the Moderator of the Presbytery requesting a copy of the report the Presbytery had received from the local Church’s Session. He responded the same day. He told me that I needed to send all correspondence to the Clerk, and that he would not even be Moderator in 2012. He did not even give me the courtesy of telling me who would be. For the first time in my life I felt shunned.
The report would be heard in private. She could not be present because she was not a member of the presbytery. Women cannot be members of the Presbytery. (Bada Boom!)
The Clerk told me that the Presbytery had determined this report was to be ‘received, and heard in Private. This means that anyone not a commissioner to Presbytery [member of Presbytery] cannot be present in the court when the matter is presented, discussed and decided upon’. This must be an unwritten law of the Church and goes against their own Code.
In the PCV women cannot be ordained or elected as elders. It is impossible for a woman to become a member of Presbytery. If you add to this the fact that I was not cited which meant I did not have the opportunity to be ‘at the bar of Presbytery’; it makes the statement by the Clerk of the Victorian Assembly that I was not entitled to appeal to the General Assembly because I was neither a party at the bar of Presbytery, not a member of Presbytery, farcical.
I could go on and on about the correspondence that went back and forth but that would probably bore you. So I will try and be as brief as possible. After all these knock backs I decided to appeal to the General Assembly of Australia. That is the Supreme Court. The Clerk of that Assembly did not respond but after six weeks and me having to chase up a response, the Moderator General responded and said that any appeal to the General Assembly of Australia has to come through the church courts and my first step should be to petition the Presbytery.
Why she didn't petition the Presbytery.
I chose not to petition the Presbytery. You may ask ‘why’ considering that is what the hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church of Australia kept telling me to do. Well there is a rule in ‘The Code’ that says:
‘Appeals to the General Assembly, or to the General Assembly of Australia as the case may be, may be taken against any decision or judgment of the Presbytery, unless in any particular matter it is expressly provided that the decision of the Presbytery is final’.
It seems to me that the odds were stacked against me because I am a women and I made a complaint about a minister which would ultimately be decided by his peers. Also I had a feeling the Presbytery would tell me their decision was final. So why would I bother.
The insider's boys' club
Back in September 2011 the Moderator of the Presbytery of Maroondah told me that
‘the Presbytery has dealt with this matter as you raised by meeting ‘in private’ ………….which then means we don’t communicate any of the details or our findings to other outside’.
He makes it sound like an exclusive club.
So who are these ‘others outside’? They are everyone who is not a member of Presbytery. So where do we the ‘others outside’ go if we have a complaint against a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia? I WISH I KNEW!
I still struggle health wise. I have panic attacks, recurring nightmares and, as I said before, I find it difficult to trust people. However I was prepared to go the distance for those who could not.
From subsequent information I received from the local Presbyterian Church, which was two months of their Board minutes emailed to me (a gift from the Holy Spirit), I believe the Minister benefited greatly from me making a complaint against him.
PCA Prime Directive: Always protect the reputation of the church.
Looking back, maybe I should have better acquainted myself with The Code and Regulations of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria because Chapter 6, Section Three, Clause 10b says:
‘In deciding whether to sit in private or not a court considers the interests of the church and the necessity to guard its ministers and members from charges which may prove to be ill-founded. In all circumstances a court seeks to uphold the reputation of the church’.
P.S. I have written many letters to politicians, made a complaint to the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (they couldn’t help me because it all happened before their Act of Parliament came in to being in December 2012), and just recently I complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission for sex discrimination but they did not have jurisdiction over my complaint as religious institutions can discriminate in certain circumstances.
My only option has been to go public with my story. Thank you TWW for posting this to your Blog.
* All quotes from The Code and Regulations of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria were taken from www.pcv.org.au/code_online/ accessed on 13/10/2011.
(Back to Dee) So there you have it. Protect the church's reputation at all costs, shun those who speak about the problem, and whatever you do, keep the women out of the boys' club. Getting rid of the women purges @ 50+ % of your potential problems.
Do you know what this reminds me of? The response of the Roman Catholic church to the Reformers. Now, the Reformers are acting just like the Roman Catholic church. What goes around; comes around.
This story is a living example of the book: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church. Rhonda: send those boys' club members a copy of this book and tell them that Dee sees some similarities. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 1:1-3:17 Mark 1:29-2:12 Psalm 35:17-28 Proverbs 9:13-18