By Douglas LeBlanc
When the Rt. Rev. John S. Spong asked Michael Rehill to serve as his chancellor, people who knew them both were surprised that Spong would choose Rehill, an Anglo-Catholic. Spong countered: an ideological chancellor will serve the bishop only if they agree, while a Catholic respects the office regardless of who occupies it.
Rehill has represented some of the more vivid personalities in the House of Bishops, including Joseph Morris Doss and the late Walter Righter and Richard Shimpfky. Today he is a frequently cited critic of the revised Title IV. The cluster of potential clients, or simply worried clergy, at the General Convention booth of CanonLawyer Inc. has been steady.
Rehill and Pamela L. Lutz, president and CEO of CanonLawyer Inc., say they are aware of Title IV charges in nearly every diocese of the Episcopal Church. “We have eight active cases right now — eight,” Rehill said.
Rehill and Lutz reject arguments that the current Title IV is more pastoral than its predecessors.
Rehill mentions that some conference panels perceive the Title IV process — which could usher a cleric to a church-court trial and deposition from any future ministry in the Episcopal Church — as “a discernment process.”
“This is not a discernment process,” he tells them. “You are a court.”
“Clergy who call me at all hours of the day or night don’t find this canon very pastoral,” Lutz said.
Lutz, a professional mediator, has more than 300 hours of training in the field. Rehill said he tells accused clergy about the law “and Pamela will tell them what is right.”
“In some cases that means taking your finger out of the bishop’s eye,” she said.
Together, Lutz and Rehill try to keep fractured relationships and Title IV cases from going any further down the legal slide than necessary.
“My sense is that a Title IV proceeding is an ecclesiastical death sentence,” Rehill said. “We don’t want to throw away good priests. I really believe in our church. All priests have is their reputation. If they lose that they lose everything.”
Rehill spent 12 years as a municipal court judge, which he said sensitized him to the importance of due process.
“If the process is fair and just, the guilty will be brought to justice,” he said.
Lutz and Rehill have developed a Clergy Assistance Plan for those who are concerned about becoming Title IV targets in the future.
The plan is membership-based, requires a $200 application fee and costs $1,200 annually thereafter. With this membership, clergy receive mediation and legal services that are not charged by the hour.
“Vestries can fund the membership for their priests, and frankly they ought to,” Rehill said. Some bishops and chancellors have spoken with CanonLaw, Inc., about covering every ordained person in their diocese.
Rehill said the decision was easy to call his practice’s website CanonLawyer.org rather than, say, MichaelRehill.com. “I want to establish something that will outlast me.”
Circling back to Bishop Spong, Rehill said they had two long-standing agreements: they would not talk about theology because they disagree about so many things and Spong would not dedicate a book to him. Eventually the bishop thanked Rehill in the preface to Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality.
Rehill knows that some of the nine bishops who now stand under Title IV accusations were open about filing charges against Righter in the mid-1990s. Would he defend any of these bishops in a Title IV proceeding?
“Yes, absolutely,” Rehill said without hesitation. “They, like all clergy, need to be represented by someone who’s competent and who knows about their rights.”
“Justice does not distinguish between liberal and conservative,” he said. “When we stop welcoming everybody we will lose our reason to exist.”
Thanks for this article, Doug. I learned a lot and found a bit of hope that reform of Title IV may gain traction.
Yes, this was very good and interesting to see. Cloaking courts and trials in other “pastoral” language just makes them more prone to abuse.