This blog recounts my experiences with abusive conduct on the part of my former rector, the Rev. Robert H. Malm aka Bob Malm. Bob is the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA—an ostensibly inclusive Anglo-Catholic parish located in the city’s Del Ray neighborhood.
Bob’s misconduct began in July 2015, after I complained to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia about bullying on Bob’s part, as well as questionable HR, cash management, and financial reporting practices in the parish. I also complained that parish employees were routinely experiencing workplace harassment.
Four weeks later, the diocese wrote back, saying that these issues were, “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” and declining to get involved. That’s right—the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has no issue with bullying, retaliation, workplace harassment, or church funds going AWOL. And while the church may caterwaul in court about its canons and their effect on dissidents seeking to leave the church, it sees no need to follow its own canons.
Shortly afterwards, I received an email from Bob Malm telling me to find a new church. Days later, I learned that Bob had instructed church staff, clergy and volunteers to shun us by excluding us from the life of the church. Subsequently, Bob acknowledged that he did this in retaliation for my complaint.
I promptly informed the diocese, which refused to do anything.
But Bob’s harassment and retaliation were far from over. Bob deliberately misused memorial donations given by my family; these were not used per the terms under which they were solicited, which is illegal. Yet again, Bishop Shannon Johnston had firsthand knowledge of this matter, and was sent written documentation that the misuse of funds was illegal, but he still refused to get involved.
In spring 2017, following adverse media coverage, the bishop negotiated a ceasefire. This was short-lived, however, for the following December, Bob filed a false police report with the City of Alexandria police department, arguing that a blog written by my mother had threatened him, that the blog was mine, and suggesting that I have major mental illness. All three claims are false, and I believe Bob knows that. Moreover, in his report, Bob breached confidentiality on certain pastoral issues.
When that didn’t work, Bob filed a request for a protective order against me, irrationally alleging that the presence of words like “terrorism” and “murder” in Mom’s blog constituted threats. To the surprise of many, including a neutral attorney waiting for his client’s case to be heard, the judge granted Bob’s request. (His exact words, “What the f*** just happened? That is insane.”)
I immediately appealed. Throughout the discovery phase of the lawsuit, Bob repeatedly refused to cooperate, resulting in a court order requiring him to do so, which Bob ignored. Bob was represented by Jeff Chiow, a former member of the vestry. Jeff’s efforts were marked by several notable things:
- Two offers from Bob to drop the matter if I would quit blogging and otherwise telling others about my experiences, thus demonstrating that Bob never actually felt threatened.
- Multiple lies on Bob and Jeff’s part, including claiming that I have violated the protective order, that I never served as a police officer, and that I had never been admitted to practice law. Several of Bob’s lies were made under oath, including his fabrication that my mother, or someone pretending to be her, contacted him repeatedly. This simply did not occur, and Bob has never produced any evidence to support his claim.
- An ethically questionable effort to drag my mother, dying of COPD, into court.
- Inflammatory and inappropriate rhetoric, some of it totally fabricated by Jeff, including calling the case one of “domestic terrorism” and claiming that I was influenced by a fictional church shooting in the equally fictional town of Sugarland Texas; hence his moniker “Sugarland.”
- A double standard regarding Jeff’s inflammatory rhetoric. Specifically, when he uses it, that’s okay. If I publicly recount his language, Jeff argues that I’m trying to intimidate people—even though the very words are his.
- Remarkably sloppy work by Jeff Chiow, including ignoring rules of court and failing to proof his pleadings. Apropos the former, Jeff attempted to obtain discovery against my mother in Pennsylvania, a state that does not permit discovery in such cases. (I will assume he was clueless, versus choosing to ignore state law.)
- Multiple lies by the vestry and others close to the situation, including the vestry saying that Mike and I left on our own (if that had been the case, why did Bob Malm send his email telling us we were unwelcome, and instruct staff to exclude us? Vestry members, if you’re going to lie, don’t be stupid about it.), Bob Malm claiming he didn’t lie during a meeting we had with Bishop Shannon (he did), and Leslie Malm falsely telling people I had admitted in open court that Mom’s blog is mine.
- A variety of ad hominem attacks by Lindsey Malm and others.
- Repeated breaches of confidentiality on Bob’s part, resulting in the bishop of Virginia taking action on one occasion.
- A Title IV disciplinary case against Bishop Shannon Johnston for condoning and supporting Bob’s actions. During the case, other allegations emerged involving the bishop, including that he covered up sexual harassment of a female church worker.
- The observation, by Mom’s attorney, that Jeff Chiow is “coming at you with a personal vendetta.”
In September 2018, having come to the conclusion that truth was in no way a component of Bob’s efforts, I decided to drop my appeal, instead spending my time protesting throughout the remaining 16 months of the protective order, writing about the situation, and more. In addition, at about the same time, I was named the #churchtoo correspondent for an international organization opposing abuse by clergy, resulting in a huge increase in awareness of my issue.
Meanwhile, Bob’s campaign of shunning and harassment, which includes my husband Mike, has caused serious and lasting damage to the church. More than 120 pledging units have left the church at a time when the church needs huge amounts of cash to maintain its physical plant. Bob is more disengaged than ever, the assistant rector abruptly resigned, and the church appears to be sliding towards insolvency. At this point, if I quit blogging tomorrow, I doubt things would get any better for the church.
In summary, Bob’s behavior is abuse, pure and simple. His conduct is highly unbecoming, and reflects badly on him, on the parish, and the entire Episcopal church.
In addition, Bob’s actions have been harmful to my entire family, but particularly my mother, who is in the final stages of emphysema. Her distress is palpable, and no one should have to deal with behavior like Bob’s in the final weeks of their life.
Lastly, I’d point out that shunning usually is the bailiwick of cults, Scientologists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bob’s campaign of shunning me and my family will soon have gone on for three years. Such behavior has no place in any church, and suggests that Bob Malm and Grace Church are morally and ethically bankrupt.