And another thing: please do not mention the phrase 'organized religion.' I already know where you're going with it, and that argument is for college students who want to have something to talk about when they smoke pot.
-Steve Martin, "Does God Exist?" in The New Yorker
There are only two things a politician's career can't survive, as the saying goes, "never get caught with a live boy or a dead girl" (though those standards appear to be relaxing).
For many years, the same could not be said for the priesthood (where the standards, under the glare of public scrutiny, finally appear to be tightening).
These are hard times for organized religion, and it's difficult to find a church, of any size or denomination, that hasn't been beset by some sort of scandal. A dizzying array of priests, pastors, and parsons have been taken to task (and/or court).
While the vast majority of churches, their officiants, and their congregants continue to do good work, a great deal of that has been obscured or tainted by corruption and/or subsequent coverups.
Lexington's community of the faithful has been no exception, and allegations of wrongdoing have been widely reported in most all local media outlets. Many of those allegations have led to civil or criminal proceedings and left for the justice system to sort out, or for attorneys to settle. Others have been tried in the media and the court of public opinion.
Years of obfuscation, by the Catholic church in particular, has led an inherently and justifiably skeptical media to the brink of paranoia when it comes to the slightest hint of impropriety by any member of the clergy.
Wherever a lynch mob is forming, the media can usually be counted on to saddle up.
Zealous investigation and reporting of potential wrongdoing is to be applauded. In the fine tradition of H.L. Mencken, or Woodward and Bernstein, a free press can and should continue their vital role of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."
But rushing to judgment and conclusions every time an accusation is registered, even if it does involve an arguably "public" figure, is not so laudable.
And the definition of "public" is just darn slippery. For example, there are businesspeople who are so "public" that their vacation plans or their hairstyles or grocery lists regularly make the "news." And yet those very same business people have been known to enjoy a miraculous cocoon of privacy when, for example, they do time for drunk driving, or some other criminal activity that might be consideredunseemly.
Regardless of whether a person's life is deemed public or private, and regardless of who gets to decide that, the destruction of such a life (along with a reputation, a career, a family, or anything a reasonable person might hold dear)-on the strength of an allegation-is a bell that can't be unrung.
We see it in obvious places (like election coverage) and not-so-obvious, as when a body bag is displayed on the front page of a newspaper, for all the world (and a poor woman's family) to see.
Ace readers are long-familiar with the Reverend Christopher Platt of St. Augustine's. In December 1998, he was profiled as 'This Year's Model' for his many civic and community contributions.
In his autobiography for the story, he described his resume as "51-year-old, twice divorced, recovering alcoholic, occasional sojourns into clinical depression, cigarette smoking, white, southern, male, Episcopal priest. Seeks fun-loving parish." A descendant of Henry Clay on his mother's side, and "The Chief" on Get Smart on his father's side, he concluded "good breeding is always risky."
Platt's also an occasional contributing writer. For the January 11, 2001 edition he wrote the cover story, "Committing Matrimony," which was subsequently picked up by a newsweekly syndicate and reprinted in several venues. He's presided at the marriages of several Ace staff members. And St. Augustine's thought-provoking ad campaign (paid for by various benefactors who underwrote the cost) was also popular with the Ace readers (though St. Augustine's ads have appeared in several publications for years).
Earlier this Spring, when allegations of possible fiscal improprieties were made against Platt, resulting in his resignation, Ace elected not to report on the matter. Without access to the documents in question and without a response from Platt himself, the conclusion was that an accusation was not news.
After widespread media coverage, however, being news eventually and inexorably made it news.
Platt's friend Jim Parsons told Ace, "Those who don't understand 'spin' don't stop to question how stories like this one actually get printed or aired. Those who neither know Chris Platt nor understand 'spin' probably believe what they either read in the paper or heard on radio or saw on television."
What was somewhat vaguely reported in local, regional, and national press was that Platt admitted that checks he was questioned about were "written without proper authorization and were improper."
Out of context, that could be read as an admission of guilt.
When Platt declined an opportunity to comment publicly, this was also construed by many as an indication of guilt.
Recently, Platt gave Ace additional context when he provided a copy of his letter to the Bishop, which he submitted the morning after he met with the Diocesan treasurer and administrator. In it, Platt acknowledged the "chaotic" state of the books, but asserted vehemently, "For the past 20 years I have attempted to serve this Church and to take seriously the gifts of trust and responsibility. The only clear thought I have at this time is my conviction that I would never do anything intentionally to bring scandal or dishonor to the sacred trust of my orders to or to this Diocese." The final paragraph states, "If you conclude that I, knowingly or unknowingly, misused the trust and showed disdain for my baptismal vows, my ordination vows, and my relationship to God, then I would immediately request to invoke Title IV Canon 2(A), Sections 1 and 2. This pertains to the 'Voluntary Submission to Discipline and the required 'waiver.'"
His letter expressed confusion, his consistent awareness that all church funds are audited, and his assertion that he is not a self-destructive person-along with his belief that any intentional misuse of God's monies would be "a sin of dreadful magnitude." It did not express guilt. It was not the "mea culpa" many might've inferred from the ensuing media coverage.
As for the investigation, the Diocese characterizes it as ongoing, as they await a report from the Church attorney.
A statement issued on Monday, June 2 reports, "The investigation into reported financial impropriety in the Diocese of Lexington is awaiting necessary information which has been requested from former Canon to the Ordinary Christopher Platt. 'I had hoped that the requested documents might provide mitigating information,' stated Bishop Stacy Sauls. 'However, we have not received the documentation, despite repeated requests.'" The statement continues, "The investigation and procedure under the Canons are ongoing at this time," and no criminal charges had been filed, at press.
As for the fate of St. Augustine's, the Diocese responded, "The Ministry to College Students at St. Augustine's is going forward in partnership with the Lutherans, under the direction of Pastor Barry Meece [and] The congregation which meets at St. Augustine's is being served by supply priests until that congregation makes a decision for itself what it wants to do."
As for the position of Canon to the Ordinary, it is vacant, and "there are no plans to fill that position."
An air of profound sadness often surrounds Platt these days, and though he does not know what will be next for him, he does say his priesthood is over-which has been his calling more than his career. It's not the kind of job that shows up in the Want Ads, and "a 56-year-old twice divorced, white, southern, male, cigarette-smoking, recovering alcoholic, with occasional sojourns into clinical depression" and a wrecked reputation may not be at the top of anyone's hiring list, if that summary is taken out of context, and outside his lifetime of contributions.
Platt's friend Parsons concludes, "The pity is not just that a good man's reputation and career have been destroyed. It is also that at least for the time being, his ministry has been lost to many who needed him."
For the Record
By Christopher Platt
"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial."
-Othello, II, iii, 264
I did not steal money from the Church.
I voluntarily took a polygraph examination. I answered "No" when I was asked if I had ever stolen money from the Diocese of Lexington. I have a written statement from Robert N. Pybas' Polygraph Service that includes: "FINAL RESULTS: NO DECEPTION INDICATED."
I wish this finding would make everything right again. I know that it does not, and so do you.
Allegations create a media feeding frenzy. The chunks ripped away in the frenzy are gone and they cannot be replaced.
I do not fully comprehend the extent of the damage inflicted upon many lives, my own included. I do know that 20 years of priesthood has ended.
I am prevented from earning a living in the vocation for which I am trained and which I love. I miss the Chapel. I am not whining. These are the facts. I am responding in this manner because I do not know what else to do. Foolish as it may seem, I would like to deal with this matter in a Christian manner. I have no desire for revenge. The anger I have is covered by sadness. The sadness is mixed with grief.
Many have urged me to attack the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Lexington, the Bishop, organized religion and certain individuals. I don't want to go that path.
I did not steal God's money.
I hope to recover a few of the tattered remnants of my reputation. I have a deep desire that what occurred to me will not occur to anyone else.
Re-inventing a life and career in my 56th year will be a challenge.
I thank everyone who has offered prayers and support on my behalf. Keep up the good work.
I know of no charges which have been formally filed against me.
If they are, I will strive to fight the good fight.
In the May 15 edition, Ace printed a Guest Opinion, submitted by Gary Higgason, in defense of his friend, Chris Platt. (The Herald-Leader also published letters to the editor, following their reporting of Platt's resignation.) Ace mail on the subject was substantial. A small, representative sampling is printed here.
From Jonathan Goodan,
Since Chris Platt resigned, I have been bombarded with questions concerning his situation. (The people of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington know that before I became a graduate student at St. Meinrad's School of Theology I worked closely with Chris for five years at St. Augustine's Chapel in Lexington). I have been told that he was everything from a pedophile to an extortionist.
Platt has not been accused of any sexual misconduct. He is not guilty of extortion. If he is a thief, where is the money?
St. Augustine's (Chris' parish) is one of the poorest in the Diocese. He owns a 1995 ford Taurus, a few pieces of inherited furniture, some books, and a reasonable wardrobe that appears to have been obtained at Sears. This is the extent of his worldly possessions. He does not travel. In fact, he has not taken a vacation in many years.
I am unsure as to the exact nature of the charges against him because the publications concerning this situation have been vague.
I cannot speak on behalf of Mr. Platt because our recent correspondence has been limited to academic discourse (biblical studies, liturgics, and theodicy). I can, however, tell you what I have observed in the five years that I was a lay minister in Lexington.
Chris Platt is the most generous man I have ever known.
I helped him transport a dying homeless man to the hospital-it took us quite some time to remove the smell of feces and vomit from Chris' automobile. Upon more than one occasion Chris has found housing and employment for the homeless.
When the Diocese substantially cut the Chapel's funding, Chris paid the bills from his own paycheck. But his small salary and personal savings were not enough to support the Chapel. The utility bills were especially high due to the operation of Moveable Feast [independently operated, but located at the Chapel]. Additionally, he did not stop providing for the personal needs of his congregation. That is, he continued to use his private monies to pay for textbooks, meals, childcare, marriage counseling, and medical bills.
Such generosity exhausted his resources and he declared bankruptcy.
Even in such a situation, he indicated no sign of bitterness saying, "The kingdom of God is worth the shirt off my back."
It is highly disturbing that a priest such as this was summarily dismissed by his church.
I am a Roman Catholic, and it has become clear, in recent years, that there are many ministers throughout the various denominations that are not only incompetent, but immoral. One can't pick up a paper or listen to the news without being so informed.
Behold the man-Christopher Platt. He sacrificed his own financial security for his faith. He opened the doors of his parish to everyone: gay, straight, rich poor, black, white, drunk, and sober. He proclaimed, in word and deed, a simple message: you are accepted, you are loved.
His was a voice in the wilderness shouting, "Respect the dignity of every human being."
He has been silenced, and the people of Lexington have lost a noble champion.
From J. Christian Reed
Chris did not steal money and is another victim of politics, reminding us that the church is a business and should be treated as such.
Now a man who has served the Episcopalian community at least since I was a wee pup in the men and boys choir at Christ Church Cathedral is ousted from a job that he did much better than some of the other priests serving the same community.
With the church, just like any corporation, it's not how well you do what you do but who you know.
The "good old boy" system of promotion and demotion is alive and well and few of us are immune.
Good luck to Chris Platt, a man capable of wise counsel and warm friendship.
From: Mary C. Bolin-Reece, Ph.D.
The Rev. Chris Platt has been a 'pastor,' or shepherd, to me in a way matched by few other clergy in my lifetime as an active Episcopalian. He was the one in the makeshift UK CCU waiting room at 4 a.m. holding vigil with my mother and me, as my father was in intensive care. He said the prayers which made my father's death more bearable. He was with my family as we said our last goodbyes. Not limited to that loss in 2000, Chris has seen me through a number of other personal and family stresses, and has been available for support at many times which I'm certain could not have been very convenient for him.
Beyond his many kindnesses to me and my loved ones, he has created a haven at St. Augustine's for those who may not have felt at home in other places of worship.
St. Augustine's is a place where it's OK-even encouraged-to question, and Chris is a major factor in that feeling of openness and inclusion.
He has celebrated a 'welcome table' open to those of varied cultural and religious backgrounds. He helped support a political refugee (Jewish and from the former USSR) through learning to speak English, to becoming a U.S. citizen, to nearly completing a doctoral degree. He feeds the hungry and has made the chapel open to those in need of healing. He speaks and acts in a way that honors promises that we make as part of the Episcopal sacrament of confirmation: to 'seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,' and to 'strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.'
Chris Platt has been a great blessing in my life, and for that I give thanks.
September 2001 Christopher Platt reports he was asked by the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls to serve as "interim administrator" for the Diocese. He reflects that the job's "substantial bookkeeping duties" gave him pause and that he shared these reservations with the Bishop, citing his "lack of training and even less aptitude for this work."
From October 1, 2001 until December 2, 2002 Platt served in this capacity, and as part-time chaplain to St. Augustine's Chapel.
December 2, 2002 Platt turned over Diocesan accounting and bookkeeping functions to Maggie Hall, the new Diocesan Administrator.
December 2nd Bishop Sauls appointed Platt his half-time Canon to the Ordinary (executive officer for the bishop, a position Platt had held under the previous Bishop Don Wimberly for 15 years). Platt says he was "delighted because this was a job I felt competent to handle. It consisted primarily of crisis intervention and resolution in parishes and organizations and as deployment officer (the hiring of clergy by parishes)."
On Thursday March 20th Maggie Hall (administrator) and Tom Robbins (treasurer) requested a meeting with Platt at the Chapel. At this meeting, he says he was shown seven checks which had been written out of the Bishop's Discretionary Fund from May 2002 through early December 2002. He says he was told there was little or no documentation for these checks and that they had been issued incorrectly. His elaboration on his response (which was alluded to vaguely in media reports) is as follows: "Since I had written, signed, or deposited more than 10,000 checks between October 1, 2001 and December 2, 2002 (and since I was being asked about the specifics almost four months later) I didn't remember the circumstances, the writing or the details of these checks." He adds, "my recollection of our conversation and their recollection differs a bit."
Friday, March 21 Platt says he delivered additional records to the Diocese at 9 a.m. at the request of the Bishop. He also delivered a letter to the Bishop, stating his willingness to assist in the investigation, and submit to discipline if deemed appropriate. The Bishop asked for Platt's resignation as Canon to the Ordinary and as Chaplain to St. Augustine's effective in one month-April 21, 2003. Platt complied- writing his resignation, longhand, at the bottom of his letter.
Platt reports the Bishop also mentioned an expectation of an "expedited repayment" of the Diocese's $16,000 loan which assisted Platt with the 1987 down payment on his home.
Platt returned home and packed a few necessities, and left his house to stay with a friend. He did not return. Friends packed up his belongings that weekend, moving most of it to storage, and the house was put on the market.
On Sunday March 23rd Platt said goodbye to the congregants at St. Augustine's Chapel, informing them of the allegations, with the Bishop in attendance.
On March 28th Platt was served with a "Temporary Inhibition" (forbidding him to function as a priest). The attached supporting documents, from Tom Robbins and Maggie Hall, were submitted to Ace by Platt. In these documents, Robbins wrote that he didn't know whether mistakes had been made due to "misappropriation of funds, or mere incompetence," while Hall wrote that "...these items are evidence of embezzlement."
On Tuesday April 1st Platt was informed at his doctor's office that a letter marked "CONFIDENTIAL" had been mailed to the Clergy and Executive Council providing the Bishop's explanation of the resignation. Leaving the office, he was approached by an older Episcopal woman who demanded to know if the rumor were true. Platt asked, "What rumor?" He says he found her reply "devastating," when she told him, "I heard that you resigned because you are a pedophile."
April 12th Platt reviewed an early copy of "The Advocate," the diocesan newspaper/house organ. The "CONFIDENTIAL" stamp had been removed and the April 1st letter was reprinted.
April 13-April 20: Holy Week.
April 14 Frank Lockwood of the Lexington Herald-Leader emailed Platt requesting comment on the letter published in "The Advocate." Platt declined comment.
April 16 Lockwood's story was prominently featured and included statements from the Bishop. The item was picked up by the Associated Press. It was aired on local public radio news segments, and featured on Channel 36. The story also appeared in the Courier-Journal and the Cincinnati Enquirer.
April 21 Resignation effective.
May 5 Platt voluntarily submitted to a polygraph test, which would be inadmissable in court, but which Platt sought out for peace. The polygraph report stated "no deception indicated."
May 11 "The Living Church" a nationally distributed Episcopal Church publication printed the story of the "allegations."
May 16 Platt drove to Ascension Church in Frankfort and received communion for the first time since March 23rd.
May 27: Platt's house was sold, on the occasion of his 56th birthday. The sale left him in substantial debt for a second mortgage (though the obligations for the first mortgage and the diocesan loan will be satisfied by the proceeds from the sale).
June 2 At press, the Diocese said that "the attorney's report is due to the Standing Committee any day." Per Episcopal church procedures, the matter was referred to the Standing Committee of the Diocese, which asked the church attorney for a review.
According to the Diocese's statement, "once [the report is] received, the Standing Committee will decide whether to issue a presentment (the equivalent of an indictment)."
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