Matthew Townsend Statement
(released March 28, 2022)
My name is Matthew Townsend, and I served as editor of the Anglican Journal from March 2019 to June 2021. I am releasing this statement and my official resignation letter to affirm the facts described by ACCtoo in their open letter and to add my name to those calling for justice.
On Feb. 17, 2022, ACCtoo launched an open letter in support of three survivors of sexual violence perpetrated by men ordained as clergy in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). I served as editor of the Anglican Journal during the events described in the letter. I was responsible for assigning the story, offering the survivors confidentiality, and informing them when their confidentiality and trust had been breached. I also undertook efforts in May and June 2021 to lead the church into responding to the breach with accountability; I resigned in protest when those efforts had, in my view, ceased to bear fruit.
I confirm the details within the open letter: that these survivors approached the Anglican Journal to share their stories about how several Anglican institutions mishandled investigations into their allegations. As editor, I promised the survivors confidentiality, anonymity, and a chance to ensure that their stories were accurately presented as they understood them. In March 2021, when I began a two-month parental leave, the story was in active development. As I prepared to return that May, I expected to edit the story, undergo any necessary legal reviews, and move it towards publication. Instead, I discovered that a draft article about their experiences was shared by ACC General Secretary Alan Perry with the very institutions that the survivors say had previously failed them. Worse, the draft was shared before the survivors could review their quotes for accuracy or ensure that identifying details of their situations had been sufficiently obscured. That made it possible for representatives of those institutions to infer their identities from the draft. An investigation into this incident has been conducted. As an interviewee, I was provided the full and unredacted investigative report, sent to me without conditions by the Primate on Aug. 16, 2021, and described as the final version.
However, the survivors—the people most harmed by this incident—have not been granted such access. What they have received, so far, are circumspect statements that raise more questions than they answer. In the nearly 4,000 words that have been officially released by the ACC since the open letter was posted, not a single sentence has completely and concretely addressed any of the open letter’s three calls to action. These responses have offered words of apology, but they have also included confusing and contradictory statements and have not yet outlined clear plans of action. Consider:
- On Feb. 18, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the ACC, asserted in a public letter that there were “misrepresentations” in the open letter. ACCtoo has requested that the Primate identify those misrepresentations so that they could be corrected. The ACC has not responded. The Primate also included an inaccurate statement about the participation of myself and a staff writer in the investigation; on Feb. 23 she corrected the statement and offered a public apology to the writer and me, which I appreciate. However, as of the morning of March 28, a copy of her statement linked on the Anglican Church of Canada website still contains the inaccuracy.
- On March 13, a statement from the Council of General Synod was posted. The statement offered an apology to the survivors, but it also introduced questions about the motivations of church leadership, declared an inability to sort out the facts of the incident, and set in motion a secondary breach of survivor confidentiality by including a serious mischaracterization of the report’s content—presumably made to the council by senior officials familiar with the report. This new breach was revealed by survivor Cydney Proctor in a video posted on March 24. Individual members of the council have since posted supplemental or dissenting statements,.
- On March 15, the ACC publicly released a summary response from Archbishop Nicholls to the investigative report, dated September 2021. The summary identified General Secretary Alan Perry as the official responsible for circulating the draft; it did not address his continued employment at General Synod. It did not summarize the content of the investigative report but primarily offered what appear to be the Primate’s own observations about the incident and its ramifications.
- On March 23, a statement from the General Secretary was posted on the Anglican Church of Canada’s website. The statement neither addressed ACCtoo’s call for his resignation, nor did it present “a plan of action that is a worthy beginning of repentance.” It also lacked any clear declaration that he had shared the draft..
These responses have brought this crisis no closer to a satisfying conclusion, as each has prompted the need for further responses or clarifications: an enumeration of the purported misrepresentations; an apology for the new breach and an explanation of how it could have occurred; and an in-depth summary of the report and its conclusions, to name a few. These have not yet been offered.
Of particular concern to me is the assertion that the open letter contains misrepresentations. I have read the open letter carefully and I cannot identify any misrepresentations in it. The letter accurately portrays the circumstances of the breach as I understand them. In the interest of transparency, I am sharing my resignation letter dated May 28, 2021, which details my understanding of what happened and the ways the incident transcended “misunderstandings about journalistic practice.”
I am confident in my understanding of the matter, but the survivors deserve more than an accounting of events from me or any one involved party. They deserve the investigator’s report. They deserve the chance to examine the document upon which the ACC is basing its response. They deserve the opportunity to consider the report’s observations and recommendations, which the Primate has said “have assisted us to more fully understand how the problems occurred and to consider next steps for remedial action.”
First and foremost, the investigative report into this incident must be released to the survivors or their representatives, unredacted and in full. There can be no credible plan of action to address this incident without a full accounting for the breach offered to those with the greatest stake. That accounting should not be delayed, and statements of apology are incomplete without action. Given that the report was commissioned to provide such an accounting, it must and should be released.
The survivors and/or their representatives must be empowered to ascertain if the apologies offered thus far and the plans discussed by the Primate and other leaders adequately address the root causes of this crisis and the harms done. They are in the best position to review the report through the lens of their own experiences and to weigh arguments made regarding the General Secretary’s action and the institution’s response. If the ACC hopes to make amends to these survivors, providing the report is an important, first step in doing so. Until transparency becomes a part of this process, it will be impossible for the church to make amends or enact reform needed to prevent such crises in future.
The survivors have spoken. It is long overdue for the church to hear them—and to hear the countless survivors who have experienced trauma inside of unsafe churches. Therefore, I have added my name to those calling for justice by signing the open letter. Whatever your role in the church, I hope you, too, will stand with the survivors and help us hear what they have to say.
I also sincerely hope the ACC will respond directly to the requests of the survivors, and I urge it to do so. The calls to action in the open letter are quite simple:
- Release the unredacted findings of the investigation to a representative chosen by the survivors; and
- Require the resignation of the ACC church official who circulated a draft of the Anglican Journal article to four institutions outside the General Synod office; and
- Submit an apology for publication in the Anglican Journal that summarizes the investigation report, confesses wrongdoing, and presents a plan of action that is a worthy beginning of repentance.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
 As publicly disclosed in the Primate’s Summary response to report on Anglican Journal investigation
 “A third is the challenge faced by church leadership at all levels, given both the Gospel imperative to care for the powerless and victimized, and their covenanted responsibility to the institution.”
 “The Council is not in a position to sort out or resolve these differences. It’s our understanding that everyone acted in good faith.”
 “CoGS is assured that the written report of the independent investigator deals entirely with journalistic matters, and says absolutely nothing about the circumstances of the original complaints by the individuals.”
 “Regardless of the circumstances, it happened on my watch. I regret that this sharing occurred…”
 Feb. 18 response from Archbishop Linda Nicholls