On March 9, 2016, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Reverend Michael Curry suspended our Bishop Diocesan, The Right Reverend W. Douglas Hahn, from all pastoral ministry including as Bishop of Lexington, because of past sexual misconduct and his failure to disclose this during the episcopal election process.
The Presiding Bishop met with the Standing Committee on May 14, 2016, at which time we were asked to discern the future of the Diocese with Bishop Hahn. In our initial meetings, the Standing Committee agreed to engage in a thoughtful diocesan-wide process of reflection and discernment before making any decision about our future. Our meeting with the Presiding Bishop affirmed our choice of direction.
Accordingly, here’s what has happened since we were informed of the suspension on March 14:
We gathered diocesan clergy twice. The first meeting in March made sure that everyone had accurate information. The clergy gathered again in April to begin to process their thoughts and feelings about the future of the relationship with Bishop Hahn. On May 14, the clergy gathered with the Presiding Bishop and continued that conversation.
The Standing Committee devised and undertook a seven-week period of listening and reflection with Diocesan clergy and laity from July 21 to September 15. We posed the following questions:
- In March, Dr. Douglas Hahn admitted to his sexual misconduct in his former parish and to his dishonesty during the bishop search process. Have Dr. Hahn’s revelations affected you and/or your congregation, and if so, how?
- Can the integrity of the relationship between Dr. Hahn and the people of the Diocese be restored? Why or why not?
- What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of restoring Dr. Hahn as the Bishop of Lexington?
- Where have you experienced grace during this time?
The Standing Committee sponsored and its members attended five listening sessions at geographically diverse locations. The Standing Committee publicized its availability to any individual or group that wanted to be heard. We listened to approximately 175 people, laity and clergy, in person. In addition, we gathered over 100 written responses to these questions.
Of those written responses, 90 to 95% of the respondents had not attended a listening session in person. There were five anonymous written responses, and because we stated upfront that anonymous responses would not be considered, they were excluded. We also met with Bishop Hahn, posed the same questions to him, listened to his responses, and shared with him what we learned through the listening process.
The listening process revealed that most of the respondents have forgiven Bishop Hahn for his sexual misconduct. However, 80% of those responding continue to struggle with his personal and professional deception and do not believe the integrity of the relationship with the Diocese can be restored.
During the nominating process, Bishop Hahn was asked on several occasions, as were all candidates, if he had ever engaged in a sexual relationship with a parishioner. He failed to respond truthfully or to voluntarily remove himself from the nominating process. The most serious consequential effect for the majority of respondents is the violation of trust by our Bishop.
The Standing Committee takes very seriously our calling to discern what is best for the Diocese of Lexington. We are aware our decisions may also impact the wider Church catholic. Together we prayerfully considered Bishop Hahn’s behavior, his dishonesty, the current state of the Diocese without him as Bishop, and the future mission and ministry of our diocese.
Mindful of the responses from the listening process, the Standing Committee has prayerfully discerned the following conclusions:
- Bishop Hahn was dishonest throughout the episcopal search process.
- As a priest, Bishop Hahn abused his position of power when he committed sexual misconduct with a parishioner in violation of the Canons.
- The emotional and spiritual effort necessary to attempt restoration of the relationship would continue to divert significantly Diocesan focus and resources away from the mission and ministry to which we are called.
On October 5, the Standing Committee voted unanimously that it desires the dissolution of the pastoral relationship between Bishop Hahn and the Diocese of Lexington. Authorized representatives of the Standing Committee communicated this decision to Bishop Hahn.
Bishop Hahn, at this point, has not accepted our decision; therefore, we are not in agreement. Pursuant to Canon III.12.12(a), we have notified the Presiding Bishop of our desire to dissolve the pastoral relationship.
We recognize that there are those in the Diocese, people we love and respect, that may not agree with this decision. They may be disappointed by it or even angered because of it. We can assure you that none of us takes pleasure in this work that was thrust upon us, as it has been a stressful and challenging six months. However, we are encouraged and inspired by the kindness and Christian love we feel from so many of you.
We believe we have done what is best for our Diocese. We will continue our commitment to the Gospel and the people of the Diocese of Lexington, working and communicating honestly and transparently. We are in prayer for you, all people affected by these events, and the whole Church. We desire and request your prayers, too.
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Lexington
The Reverend Peter D’Angio
Mr. David Johnson
The Reverend S. Matthew Young, SCP
Ms. Dale Chapman
The Reverend Paula Ott
Mr. J. P. Brantley