August 29, 2015
Dear Fellow Servants of our Savior Jesus Christ,
The trial of Owen Labrie, the young man now found guilty of sexual assault of a young woman while a student at St. Paul’s School, has brought great sorrow and distress to both the School and the extended Episcopal community. It has once again brought before us issues of misogyny in our culture and distorted attitudes of manhood. We have much to consider and examine in the months ahead of us. At present, I feel it important to begin to address some of the issues the trial has raised, and then to express my hope that the Holy Spirit is leading us to greater healing and life in Christ.
Soon after the trial began in Concord, questions were raised about the relationship between St. Paul’s School and the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire. St. Paul’s is a member of the National Association of Episcopal Schools. Since its founding in 1859, the School is an “ecclesiastical peculiar” which means it has no legal or canonical connection to the Diocese. The Bishop, who does not serve on its Board of Trustees, has no role in the School’s management or operations. The role of the Bishop is limited to the spiritual and canonical oversight of the clergy employed at the School as chaplains or faculty. This relationship is in contrast to the more close affiliation we have with the schools founded by the Diocese -- the White Mountain School and the Holderness School -- where the Bishop serves, ex officio, as the President of the Boards of Trustees. I have been in contact with the heads of each of these schools about the Labrie case because I feel we need to redouble our efforts to ensure, as best we can, the health and safety of all in our care and to teach holiness in our relationships.
Quite apart from the legal boundaries between St. Paul’s School and the Diocese, I believe the Holy Spirit is making us aware of other more troubling issues raised by the case. These issues include: the role of male privilege that was exploited to subjugate a more vulnerable member of the community; the critical role of those closest to us to challenge us to act in ways that are consistent with our highest values; and the intensified responsibility of those of us charged with the health and safety of our kids. This is a time to awaken to the realities this case disclosed about our life together, and how we might seek healing and transformation with God’s grace.
The Letter of James, to be read this Sunday speaks of the calling of Christians to live with integrity. “For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” I believe that the Gospel challenge to us at present is to reflect on the divisions within our own hearts and minds. What is the gap between, on the one hand, our broken and sinful self from which manipulative desires come and, on the other hand, the more true, holy and redeemed self, transformed by God’s unmerited love that seeks the best for another?
This is a time for all of us to confess that division within ourselves and to invite God to forgive and heal us. When we approach the sacrament of Christ’s broken and risen Body at the Altar this Sunday, I pray we will see who we are really made to be and become more fully what we receive. And, unlike the one who goes away from the mirror forgetting who he is, may we not forget that we are Christ’s eyes, heart, and hands charged with the wellbeing of those who are vulnerable among us.
In your charity, please continue to hold in your prayers all who have been involved in this agonizing time of trial.
Yours Faithfully in Jesus Christ,