Cydney Proctor says the sharing of an unreacted version of an investigation report that she's never seen with the Anglican Journal's editorial board "further degrades" what trust remains between her and the Anglican church's top legislative and governing body. (Screenshot: ACC too/YouTube)

Topics: Spirituality | Church News

Sexual misconduct survivor decries ‘another breach’ of trust by Anglican church leadership

Cydney Proctor's recent statement is just the latest development in a controversy over an unpublished story that has compelled the church to apologize


A survivor of sexual misconduct who spoke with a Canadian Anglican news outlet about her experience says she feels she’s been betrayed — twice —  by the denomination’s leadership. 

Cydney Proctor was interviewed in early 2021 by Anglican Journal staff about her experience of sexual violence in the church for a wider story about sexual misconduct in the denomination. Prior to publication, a senior church official leaked an early draft of the piece to the organizations accused of mishandling the allegations, in effect, giving them a heads up along with identifying information about their accusers. An investigation ensued, along with an investigation report — one that was not shared with Proctor.

Proctor recently learned that more bungling followed: an unredacted version of the investigation report was shared last week with the publication’s editorial board, a body that oversees the business of the publication, but would not otherwise have had access to many of the personal and identifying details about the incidents of sexual misconduct. 

“Multiple sources have confirmed that, in fact, the full report received by the editorial board included an appendix that not only identified one of the perpetrators in my story, it also provided details of my complaint against them,” she said in a video on the Anglican survivors’ advocacy group #ACCToo’s website.

Proctor said that she had been assured in a past statement that the report only contained details “pertinent to journalism and any mishandling done internally.”

“This further degrades the trust which remains between me and the General Synod [the church’s top governing and legislative body] senior leadership. It is another breach, for which I demand another apology,” she said. 

The news comes a day after a top Anglican Church of Canada official expressed “regret” for his role in sharing a draft of the unpublished 2021 article, which contained details that could identify survivors of sexual misconduct, with the institutions named in the story. 

“This action has caused real and unnecessary harm for the three sources whose stories were at the centre of the article,” Alan Perry, the denomination’s general secretary, wrote in a Wednesday statement. “Regardless of the circumstances, it happened on my watch.”

A September 2021 summary response to an investigation into the incident states that the Anglican church’s general secretary sent the story to the “dioceses/institutions” named in the story, believing this was a “penultimate” draft. 

The story was slated to run in Epiphanies, a digital magazine that the Anglican Journal produces, according to the Journal. For the story, three survivors shared their experiences of sexual violence with ordained, male clergy in the Anglican church, according to an open letter from Anglican survivors’ advocacy group #ACCToo, which the group says all three survivors interviewed for the story have approved and signed.

In March 2021, according to former Journal editor Matthew Townsend, who was on leave at the time the draft was shared, the General Synod requested to review an early draft of the story, and Journal staff complied.

The Anglican Journal is not an editorially independent publication. Since 2019 when the church voted to change its mandate, the Anglican Journal’s editor has reported directly to the denomination’s executive director of communications. The General Synod is also now the publisher. 

The draft of the story included interviews with anonymous survivors, but also contained identifying information and personal details the survivors did not want published, according to the Journal. 

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Townsend said the story was not intended to be published with identifying details and was a very early version when it was shared with the General Synod. But he said he’s not surprised that the story was forwarded.

“It wasn’t irregular that the church would ask to see a draft of something, especially if it might be legally complex,” he said.

The #ACCToo open letter states that the institutions named in the draft are three dioceses and one school.  

When Townsend returned from parental leave on May 10, 2021, he said he learned that the draft had been shared with external organizations mentioned in the article. “I realized that the church was in quite a crisis over that, that the survivors would be really upset and rightly so,” he said.

He emailed the survivors to let them know that the draft had been sent out, and they confirmed that the details included did identify them. Survivors were very concerned about the breach of privacy, he said, and he received a request from one to hold off on publication “pending an explanation of how this had occurred.” 

He halted the story’s publication, and consulted a media attorney after learning of the story’s exposure. 

“So even without a request to pause the story from the sources, as editor, I don’t see how I could have moved forward with the story without an agreement from confidential sources who had already been demonstrably harmed by our organization,” he told Broadview in a follow-up interview over Facebook. “To do so would only further jeopardize them, compound the harm, and rightly increase the organization’s exposure to lawsuit.”

He said he tried to engage the church’s senior church leadership to rectify the situation, but wasn’t satisfied that the process was occurring fast enough. In June, he resigned in protest. 

“I wanted to signal that I thought this situation was very serious, very grave and that we needed to be doing more as the church in responding to it,” he said.

The staff writer, Joelle Kidd, who wrote the story, also resigned in June. 

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Current Anglican Journal Editor Tali Folkins, who was the acting editor when Townsend was on leave, did not respond to an email requesting an interview. 

On Feb. 17, 2022, #ACCToo published an open letter on its website accusing the church of not protecting the identities of survivors and not being transparent enough about the investigation into the sharing of the article.

In a statement the next day, another top official, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said she had previously written to the survivors to apologize and offered to meet with them. “A full review through an independent investigator revealed miscommunication and misunderstandings about journalistic practice that led to an inappropriate sharing of a draft of the article before it reached its final stage,” she wrote. 

Then, in a March 13 statement, the denomination apologized, saying it regretted sharing the text of the story in advance with the institutions named, and committing to avoid such a situation in future. 

“We offer our sincere and unconditional apology for wrongs committed and harm done to the three individuals who were sources for the original story,” read the statement. “In particular, we are deeply sorry that they have suffered further as a result of the way the story was handled.”

In the March 13 statement, the Council of General Synod said that a review of journalistic governance practices is ongoing, and that there was never an intention to prevent the story’s publication, “which was planned to be primarily about the shortcomings of the church’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints in general. 

“The Primate strongly hopes that journalistic staff will return to that subject, and find a way to complete and publish a major investigative piece on it.”

Anglican Church of Canada communications director Joe Vecsi declined to comment, pointing Broadview to the March 13 statement.

In their March 18 response to the Council of General Synod statement, Michael Buttrey and Carolyn Mackie, church members behind #ACCToo, were critical of the church’s remark that leadership was caught between its call to serve the victimized and its responsibility to the institution.

“We believe the church as an institution is not a proper end of Christian action, but a means to achieving the ends of the Gospel,” they wrote in their response. “The church lives by serving Jesus and others; the church dies by serving itself.”

Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.

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