Friday, July 18, 2008

California Diocese Acknowledges Sexual Misconduct by Convicted Murderer Priest

The California Diocese was so proud to ordain the convicted murderer James Tramel as an Episcopal priest while still in state prison. While many were turned away in the discernment process, this prisoner was featured in publicity materials and parishioners in the diocese were encouraged to write letters to the Parole Board requesting his release, despite the protests of the relatives of the murder victim, Michael Stephenson. Now we learn in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning that the diocese acknowledges that Tramel used his position as priest and rector of the historic Trinity Church in San Francisco to sexually seduce a parishioner under his care.
Convicted of second-degree murder in a 1985 slaying, Tramel went to seminary and was ordained a priest while incarcerated in a state prison in Solano County. After he was paroled early in 2006, at the urging of the Episcopal bishop of California, Tramel was quickly placed at the helm of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

It's there that the victim said Tramel, who is married and has a young child, took advantage of her during counseling sessions.

"They didn't give an honest depiction of this man," said the victim, a 36-year-old San Francisco resident. The Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

The diocese acknowledges that Tramel abused his power and committed sexual misconduct, according to diocesan spokesman Sean McConnell, as well as a letter from diocesan Chancellor William Orrick and other documents. Tramel has been suspended for two years, but he can apply for reinstatement after the suspension is served. Tramel did not return calls.
The victim has asked for $265,000 for therapy and to move from her rent-controlled apartment, which is near the Bush Street church, where the relationship started. She also asked that Tramel be prohibited from resuming priestly duties.

The diocese countered with an offer for "spiritual support" - an offer the victim said infuriated her because it would replicate the situation in which she was taken advantage of.

But the diocese is adamant about its stand.

"That's the only thing the diocese felt - and feels - it owed to her," said Lawrence Lossing, the diocese's outside counsel.

The victim said she wanted to go to church because she was a struggling alcoholic. God or "a higher power" plays a key role in 12-step recovery programs, but she says she didn't understand the concept. She thought going to church would help.

She chose Trinity, the oldest Episcopal church on the West Coast. When she started attending Trinity in 2007, Tramel encouraged her to come to him for counseling, and they began having sex, she says and the church acknowledges. Sex between a priest and a parishioner he or she counsels is against church laws, with no exceptions. The victim says she feels like Tramel manipulated her into the situation.

The victim said the diocese and its current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, failed to supervise him adequately.

Of course,
When Tramel was placed at Trinity, Andrus approved the decision. Yet Lossing said Andrus had no power in the situation involving Tramel.

The article doesn't mention it, but last I knew, Tramel was married to a parishioner at Good Shepherd. His chief advocate and spiritual adviser was Jay Johnson. We recently read about the Rev. Jay Johnson, in his role as the senior director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion in Berkeley, in the SF Chronicle article about how Bay Area churches opened the door for same-sex marriage vows. Johnson is also the book review editor for Anglican Theological Review.


The Underground Pewster said...

A disastrous outcome that should have been anticipated by people with common sense. An example of "Church sense" overpowering common sense.

Perpetua said...

Dear Underground Pewster,

I was actually originally supportive of Tramel's parole based on the endorsement of the Episcopal Bishop of the California Diocese. But as I read more about the situation and saw that the victim's family and the prosecuting attorney did not support the parole, I changed my mind. I trusted the judgment of the people most knowledgeable about the case.

The diocese seemed to be engaging in an ugly public relations stunt -- "Look at us! See how forgiving WE are. We're nicer than that nasty unforgiving family of the victim."