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Monday, March 03, 2008

Paul Moore: Questions and Answers and More Questions


So, here are my questions for Mark Sisk:

If you never ask “the question” does it mean you don’t know the answer?

If you know ‘the secret’ but never tell it, are you spared from the responsibility of the truth?

If you are complicit in keeping a secret, do you bear equally in the consequences when the secret is told?

If it’s a ‘social secret’ about a Very Important Person, does that excuse you from having any responsibility for harm done when the secret is told?

When is it right to ‘keep a secret’ and when is it wrong to tell it? Before or after the person has died?

Why is telling the secret of the tortured life of one who was hurt by his own secrecy and hurt so many not a good thing, especially if it will serve to help others tell the truth and see for themselves the damage done by living a life of duplicity?

Why should anyone’s sexuality be a secret?

And, here's what prompted these questions:

NEW YORK: Bishop Sisk responds to revelations about predecessor
By Mary Frances Schjonberg March 03, 2008
[Episcopal News Service]
Saying that information in a soon-to-be-published memoir by the daughter of former Diocese of New York Bishop Paul Moore "comes as a shock to many of us," current New York Bishop Mark Sisk has deplored what he calls Moore's "exploitive behavior."

Honor Moore, in her forthcoming book, "The Bishop's Daughter," describes how her father became involved in a long-term relationship with a man who came to him for advice about being received into the Episcopal Church. The man, to whom she gives the pseudonym Andrew Verver, was a Roman Catholic.

"The man that so many of us knew and admired was a man of enormous personal courage, a passionate, articulate, and tireless champion of the poor, the disenfranchised and the most desperately helpless in society," Sisk wrote about Moore in a February 29 pastoral letter. "He was all that, but as Ms. Moore tells us there was another side to him, a man who led a secret double life. While on the one hand he inspired people to work for, and hope for, a community that could stand against the powers of oppression and exploitation, on the other he was himself an exploiter of the vulnerable."

Moore, the 13th bishop of New York, became bishop coadjutor in 1969 and served the diocese as bishop from 1972 to 1989. Previously, Moore had been the bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Washington. Moore died in May 2003 at the age of 83. He had been suffering from brain and lung cancer. The former Marine who had earned a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and a Navy Cross, was known for his outspoken stands on issues of social justice. He advocated women's ordination early in the Episcopal Church's debate on the issue. In 1977 he became the first Episcopal bishop to ordain a lesbian as a priest.

In Moore's obituary, the New York Times said that he had been "the most formidable liberal Christian voice in the city" for more than a decade.

An excerpt from Honor Moore's book, due out in May, was published in the March 3 edition of the New Yorker magazine. Sisk said the article "brings to light what appears to be her father's decades-long violation of his wedding vows." Moore was married in 1944 to Jenny McKean, with whom he had nine children. She died in 1973. Two years later, Moore married Brenda Hughes, who died in 1999.

"Any person who has extra-marital relations commits an offense," Sisk wrote. "This is true whichever party is married: whether clergy or lay, same-sex or heterosexual. Whatever the circumstances, it is family relationships which are broken. And, indeed a point of Ms. Moore's article would seem to be just that: the relationships between Bishop Moore and Ms. Moore and her mother indeed were evidently severely damaged."

Sisk continued: "The preservation of those relationships is an important aspect of the Christian life and of course of the life of its ordained ministry. Actions such as those which Ms. Moore reports are wrong and could quite conceivably result in the most severe penalties that the church can apply to an ordained person."

Sisk wrote that Moore's offense was made worse by the manner in which it began, calling the circumstances "a fundamental violation of an ordained person's vow to minister to the needs of those entrusted to his or her care; never is this more so than when working with the vulnerable who have come seeking pastoral care.

"Sadly the violation of trust that Ms. Moore reports is consistent with behavior recorded in complaints about Bishop Moore's exploitative behavior received by the office of the Bishop of New York," Sisk said. "As Canon Law required, the concerns of those complainants (who wished their identities held in confidence) were duly conveyed to the then Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning for disposition."

Sisk concluded his letter by calling Moore "a vastly more complex man than many of us who admired and respected him ever knew." While "there can be no excuse for the enormity of the betrayal of personal trust that he perpetrated in his private life," Sisk wrote, "similarly there can be no diminution of the greatness, the nobility even, of the purposes and goals of his public life."

"We are left seeing a deeply flawed man in desperate need of God's merciful grace," he wrote. "As are we all."

3 comments:

David Charles Walker said...

Elizabeth,
I hope you will include Bp. Otis Charles' response to Bp. Sisk's letter in this post.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

DCW - I have written to Otis, one of my former seminary deans, for his permission to post his letter to Mark here. I don't expect there to be any problem, but I do want to extend him the courtesy of asking his permission first.

Weiwen Ng said...

I had heard Honor Moore's NPR interview. I also just read Living Church's article about Otis Charles' response to Mark Sisk.

For those with strong stomachs, David Virtue has a take on the incident, which I have not read. It's easy enough to find.

Paul did engage in behaviors that were wrong. But Mark does miss the larger tragedy, that both society and the church drove Paul into hiding, even from himself.

It's past the time for recriminations. The best thing to do is for the church to learn from this tragedy, and to stop forcing people to hide.