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The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska is investigating "clear and credible complaints" the Rev. Robert Bruschi of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity in Juneau has engaged in sexual exploitation of parishioners, according to Mark MacDonald, Episcopal bishop for the state.
"By 'credible' we're not saying it's true, but it has enough substance to it" to warrant an investigation, MacDonald said Wednesday.
He said the complaints were filed in early February by several parishioners whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy. The complaints, brought to MacDonald's attention initially through phone calls and later in a letter, allege Bruschi misused his power and authority as a priest and spiritual director by attempting to develop sexual relationships with parishioners.
Sexual exploitation is defined by the diocese as "the development of or the attempt to develop a sexual relationship between clergy person ... and a person with whom he/she has a pastoral relationship."
No legal charges have been filed, and none of the alleged incidents involves a minor, MacDonald said. He would not expand on the specific nature of the misconduct.
"The church has to be a place where people have trust, and so we're trying to make sure that it's a safe place by following these procedures and responding carefully to people's concerns," MacDonald said.
MacDonald is responding to the allegations as dictated by Episcopal church law, he said. He met with Bruschi on Feb. 9 to present the charges and discuss the church's course of action.
Bruschi signed a pastoral directive that prevents him from performing duties related to the priesthood and from attending church services or entering church buildings. He also agreed to a psychological assessment. He will retain his full salary. The Empire was unsuccessful in contacting him for comment.
Bruschi's family, including his wife, Caroline, also an Episcopal priest, and two children, will be allowed to continue to live in the church rectory, MacDonald said. They will not be active members of the church community for the time being, though, Caroline Bruschi wrote in a statement sent to parishioners on Feb. 12.
An evaluation team and a response team have been formed to address the allegations.
"The response team is a group of people who come in and help us respond to the whole congregation," MacDonald said. "They're people who have experience and some training in helping people with concerns.
"The evaluation team is a different thing. These are people with professional training, and they help us to evaluate the situation. At this time we're really in a mode of evaluation."
Nine Episcopal clergy members and lay people who are not affiliated with the Church of the Holy Trinity comprise the response team.
MacDonald could not say how long the evaluation of the complaints would take.
Church members were informed of the allegations at a congregational meeting on Feb. 9. The church sent a letter to congregation members dated Feb. 12 that explained what the charges are and the church's planned course of action. The letter also introduced the response team and gave the congregation the team's contact information.
The congregation is reacting to the allegations in a variety of ways, MacDonald said.
"People's emotions and reactions run the gamut from shock and surprise to anger and hurt," he said. "... I think they're approaching it with the kind of maturity and openness and compassion that you would want. Openness and compassion leads to healing."
Bruschi has served as rector of the Holy Trinity since 2000. The church has between 100 and 150 active members, MacDonald said.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.