Standing Against Gun Violence and Racism: A Letter from Bishop Sean

Dear friends:

Since last Sunday, three different gunmen have opened fire on crowds of innocent people, killing at least 32 people and wounding many more. In two of the cases, the shooter’s motive is unclear; in the deadliest of these three attacks, at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, the shooter posted a hateful anti-immigrant manifesto not long before he began to kill.

These attacks feel relentless and savage, and it is tempting to lose hope that we will find a way to end them. But as people of faith, we cannot give in to despair. God calls us to stand resolutely against both the scourge of gun violence gripping our nation and the rising tide of racism and white nationalism that fuels it. God calls us to welcome the stranger, to pray for peace and reconciliation, and to work toward a world in which hatred, fear and the ubiquity of guns shape neither our national life nor our relationships with one another.

I invite you to pray in response to these evil acts—not as a substitute for action, but as a precursor to it. The website of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network in which I participate alongside more than 80 colleagues, has a variety of liturgical resources for offering prayers, vigils, and other witness against gun violence. By following our network’s Facebook page, Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence, you can stay updated on opportunities to advocate with your elected officials for common sense gun safety measures with wide bipartisan support, including the ones outlined here.

May God give comfort to those who grieve the precious children of God lost to gun violence, give courage to our legislators who must act now to stop it, and give grace to all of us who are called to turn our grief, fear, and despair into passion for justice and peace.

Faithfully,

 

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 824

On the Road to Emmaus Together: An Easter Message from Bishop Sean

Dear friends,

Every Easter morning, I find myself relieved that it was Mary Magdalene, and not me, who was the first one at the empty tomb. She had what it took: a profound faith in what she saw but did not yet understand and a willingness to proclaim the Resurrection without confirmation or analysis. Those are admirable qualities, but they are not mine.

I identify with the disciples. In the reading from Luke appointed for Easter evening, they are, as usual, confused and slow to grasp the situation. In fact, two of them are actually walking the wrong way–toward Emmaus, that is, away from Jerusalem and the empty tomb. They know that something momentous has occurred, but they don’t yet know what to make of it. They are grasping about for some kind of common understanding, but even when Jesus is standing right in front of them, they still don’t see him clearly enough to believe. You can hear the exasperation in Jesus’ voice when he finally reveals himself to them, saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”

Friends, I believe that right now in our region, we are on the road to Emmaus together. We are walking together in a new reality. We know that big things have happened, but we don’t yet understand them fully, and we are still figuring out–together–how we should respond. The one thing we do know is that our lives will never be the same. And that can be disconcerting.

But we have one big advantage over the disciples. We already know that Christ is walking with us. That doesn’t mean that we, like the disciples, will not be confused and uncertain. It does not mean that we can avoid suffering and death. But we know that our path winds on toward sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Whatever awaits us, we know we will see the risen Lord.

I give thanks to for the opportunity to take this journey with you. Happy Easter.

 

 

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania
Bishop Provisional of Western New York

Photo: On the Road to Emmaus, Duccio, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena

Ask the Bishop #13

The latest installment of our “Ask the Bishop” series has arrived! Bishop Sean discusses making history at the joint convention of the Diocese of Western New York and the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, his upcoming sabbatical, and preparing to move into the future.

The bishop will be on sabbatical beginning in December until February 23.  While he is away, the diocesan staff is prepared to manage the day to day workings of the diocese and meet your needs. They can be reached by phone at 814.456.4203, or by email at the individual addresses here.

A Message from Bishop Sean

Dear Friends,

As we approach the season of Advent and look to a new Church year, I want to take this opportunity to share some news with you about our future together with Western New York and a time of sabbatical for me.  As you know, I completed four and a half years as Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem in September. I am so grateful for the experience and for the gifts our diocese shared with our brothers and sisters in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Last week, our two dioceses approved an arrangement whereby I will serve as the Bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York and remain bishop in this diocese for five years beginning April 5, 2019. This move made history in The Episcopal Church as the first such experiment structured in this way. Leave it to the good people of our region to take a risk in leading the Church.

In preparation for this new season, I will take a time of sabbatical beginning December 3 and ending February 24.  This will be a time of reflection, prayer, discernment, and continuing education. I plan to disconnect from the life of the diocese during this time and appreciate your understanding.

As you are aware, the diocesan administration is in good hands.  The diocesan staff is prepared to address the day to day operations of the diocese and meet your needs.

These past 11 years as your bishop have been a joy-filled privilege. I look forward to the next season with great anticipation.

Warmest regards and prayers for each of you,

+ Sean

Responding to Report on Sexual Abuse in PA Roman Catholic Dioceses

Dear People of God:

In the last several days, our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church here in Pennsylvania have been shaken by the revelations of widespread child sexual abuse committed over many years by clergy in that church and covered up by bishops and other church leaders. The stories detailed in the grand jury report released on Tuesday are horrific and evil, and have shaken to its core the faith of many good people who have trusted in the church their entire lives.

I ask you, first, to join me in praying for the people whose lives have been ripped apart because they were sexually abused by priests or other church leaders. In the face of the unthinkable betrayal they have suffered, may God enfold them in healing mercy and strengthen their spirits with the knowledge that they are perfectly loved. I ask your prayers especially for those victims who were so broken by the abuse they suffered at the hands of clergy and other church leaders that they have ended their own lives and now rest in God’s loving arms.

Please also pray for our friends and neighbors who are faithful Roman Catholics, some of whom are now struggling with the faith they have placed in the church, and for the lay and clergy leaders of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania who have cooperated with this investigation and now must find ways to repent for the abuse and rebuild a more accountable, transparent structure.

In the Episcopal Church, we are not strangers to news of abuse and betrayal by our leaders. For some of us, the news of the grand jury report may have stirred up memories of our own grief and anger when we have learned that a priest or bishop we have known has abused children or been complicit in covering up abuse. For some of us who began our lives as Roman Catholics, this news may have reopened old wounds. And for some of us who have been victims of abuse, this news may trigger anger, sadness and trauma. If you find that, in the wake of this news, you would like to talk confidentially with me or with a member of the clergy about issues of sexual abuse in the church, please call the diocesan office in Northwestern Pennsylvania at 814-456-4203 or the diocesan office in Bethlehem at 610-691-5655.

The church must be a place where people can come with the deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe, and our churches must be places where children are nurtured and respected and cared for and never harmed or abused in any way. As your bishop, I am deeply committed to the safety and well-being of everyone who attends our churches and diocesan programs. In recent years, our dioceses have strengthened our misconduct policies and procedures, and are places where we make every effort to deal both responsibly and responsively with complaints and allegations of misconduct. We make reports to the appropriate civil authorities when child abuse is suspected. All of our clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children are required to complete training called Safeguarding God’s Children, and we follow misconduct policies based on the model policy of the Church Pension Group.

Thank you for your prayers and care for our Roman Catholic friends and family during these difficult days, and for your active involvement in ensuring that our churches are safe places for all of God’s children.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe
Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania
Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem

Episcopal Church needs to look for #MeToo in the details

This op-ed piece originally appeared at the Religion News Service, July 3, 2018

(RNS) — Anyone who follows the news from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which begins this week (July 5) in Austin, Texas, might hear about the more than 20 resolutions put forward by an all-female special committee on sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation that will come before the convention.

All of these resolutions are important, though some will make the eyes of even a church nerd glaze over. But the devil is in the details, and we need to get him out of there.

If we pass these resolutions, however, it is essential that we not sit back and say we’ve done what the moment — and the gospel — demands.  

The Episcopal Church has much work to do to ensure the fair treatment of women at every institutional level, from the local parish to the highest positions of power. Even though sexual abuse is the most urgent matter, and should thus be given priority, the problems go far deeper and cut to the heart of how the church treats women.

Biases, both conscious and unconscious, still conspire to push female church employees into lower-paying or part-time positions more frequently than their male counterparts. That means they advance more slowly into leadership, earn less money than men —as much as 11 cents on the dollar less over the course of a career — and retire with smaller pensions.

To work against these biases we need to keep a close eye on disparities in pay. We need to strengthen the internal church laws that prohibit discriminatory hiring practices, continue the collection of compensation data and establish anti-sexism training in seminaries. These measures are included in the committee’s resolutions and are all worthy of support.

Closing the pay gap will require a commitment on the part of bishops to make pay parity a priority. Nine years ago, I instituted a system in my diocese in which I meet with the leaders of a congregation in need of a priest and determine the compensation appropriate to the position before the parish determines which candidates to consider. It is not a perfect solution, because it sometimes results in offering candidates with differing experience the same pay, yet that is a small price to get closer to pay parity.

I don’t suggest that the convention spend all of its time examining pay scales and other personnel matters. We will once again be debating same-sex marriage and deciding whether to revise our Book of Common Prayer. We also will rally against gun violence and the inhumane treatment of refugees.

But the #MeToo movement demands our attention, and we need to make sure that everyone, but especially women, can feel safe in the Episcopal Church. The legislation to be offered at convention that most inspires me calls for the creation of a “Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation for the purpose of helping the Church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms by those in power in the Church … ”

In 2010, I learned that one of my predecessors as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania had sexually abused numerous pre-pubescent girls at the diocesan summer camp 30 years earlier. The months that followed were an education both in the depths of human sinfulness and the profound difficulty churches have in dealing with their own failings.

It takes only brief exposure to people who work on these issues to learn that there is deep dissatisfaction among victims and their advocates over the way the church has handled complaints of abuse, especially against bishops. I hope creating this task force will be the first step to ensuring that complaints of assault and abuse are handled sensitively and confidentially, but also that the interest of powerful perpetrators are not protected at the expense of victims and that we do not put the reputation of the church before the demands of justice.

As with our failures in the human resources realm, we need to address these issues at a detailed level. We need to support a resolution that would create an alternative path for reporting abuse or harassment when circumstances within victims’ home dioceses might give them pause about pursuing a complaint. We should extend the statute of limitations to report abuse or harassment for three years, so that previously unreported cases can be heard under this new system. We should vote to protect whistleblowers who report instances of abuse or harassment but are not complainants or witnesses themselves.

These kinds of procedural revisions are essential to building trust in our disciplinary processes. As the gospel leads us to believe, they are small steps that are necessary and significant if we want to create a safer and fairer church.

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem, PA. 

Ask the Bishop: Summer Camp Edition

Straight from Camp Nazareth, it’s Ask the Bishop!

Bishop Sean discusses the hot button issues of General Convention, the buzz generated by Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, and his favorite part of summer camp below.