Friday, July 18, 2008

San Francisco: Episcopal Church under fire for parolee priest

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

James Tramel went from convicted murderer to priest while in prison, a transformation that the Episcopal Church used to successfully lobby for his parole and celebrate him before politicians and the press.

But the church is now grappling with the sexual abuse of a parishioner under his care. Tramel has been suspended for sexual misconduct, temporarily stripped of his priestly authority and left searching for a new job.

The San Francisco-based Episcopal Diocese of California now faces questions of whether, in its haste to proclaim Tramel's story, it redeemed and promoted him too quickly.

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. . .

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

"I feel like the reason they rushed him was because he was such a compelling story," said the woman.

Andrus declined to comment. . .

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

"Obviously, Andrus is nothing but the representative, the titular head of the diocese," Lossing said. "He doesn't have any individual legal investment here."
. . .

While in prison, Tramel earned a business degree and a master's degree in theology from the Church Divinity of the Pacific in Berkeley, the Episcopal seminary. He was ordained by then-Bishop William Swing in 2005. He became a member of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Berkeley and as a clergyman gave sermons via telephone there every few months.

Swing used his 2005 Easter sermon to call Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a "90-pound moral weakling" for refusing to parole Tramel earlier. And when Tramel was released, Swing referred to Tramel's transformation as proof of the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ.

Tramel's parole in March 2006 was bitterly fought by Edward Stephenson, 79, the father of the murder victim. He's not surprised that Tramel is accused of taking advantage of a vulnerable parishioner after being paroled.

"He's a manipulator," Stephenson said.

"The church wanted to show that he was a real good guy," Stephenson said. "You've got a lot of people behind him with a lot of power."

Read it all.

No comments: