May 27, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kitchener, ON - Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) announces a finding of ministerial sexual misconduct against deceased MCEC minister Frank H. Epp (1929-1986). The founded allegation relates to the time period when Epp was an ordained Mennonite minister and a board member of Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC). Following the receipt of a formal complaint in February 2021, MCEC appointed an independent investigation team to investigate the complaint, according to the Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure, a denominational protocol. MCEC worked in coordination with MCCC on the investigation process as the allegation was under the jurisdiction of both institutions.
In the course of the investigation historical documents were gathered from MCEC files including a firsthand disclosure from the 1990s of sexual misconduct committed by Epp. Though the investigators acknowledge that lacking Epp's version of events creates a deficit in information gathering, through many interviews and historical documents they found sufficient and compelling corroboration for the allegation of ministerial sexual misconduct. MCEC’s Leadership Council accepted the findings of the investigation report which determined that the allegation of ministerial sexual misconduct was founded. The nature of the misconduct was in the form of sexual advances and sexual touch, which included hugging, kissing and sexual intercourse.
MCEC’s records indicate that while MCEC responded to the complainant at the time of the initial disclosure, the MCEC policies at the time were restrictive to both the complainant and MCEC's potential action. The actions being taken now align with the current MCEC policy referenced above, which can be triggered by any person who believes that a minister has engaged in ministerial sexual misconduct and can address long-ago ministerial misconduct, whether the minister is dead or alive. MCEC’s Executive Council and Leadership Council deeply regret the harm that was caused to the survivor and the survivor’s family by MCEC’s actions and inactions. We are sorry that our response so many years ago caused more harm and did not communicate that we took your experience seriously. We are committed to being trauma-informed and to ongoing learning about how to receive stories of abuse in ways that embody the love and presence of Christ.
Were Epp alive today, this finding of ministerial sexual misconduct would result in the removal of his ordination credential. MCEC’s practice is to announce founded allegations of ministerial sexual misconduct so that the truth of the harm can be uncovered and named in the hopes of healing the harms of the past within the Church, supporting victim-survivors, creating space where other stories of harm can be told and believed and seeking to move toward a culture where there will one day be no more victims. We are grateful for the courage of those who come forward to share their stories of pain and abuse; we lament with you the harm that you endured.
We recognize that for Epp’s family and those who knew him, there is pain in this naming of harm. We want to uphold them and entrust them into the compassionate care of their communities, especially within the MCEC and Mennonite Church Canada family of faith.
The public uncovering of decades-old harm now invites the Church once again to lament the reality of ministerial sexual misconduct and to lament the institutional delays in addressing it. Epp’s influence was wide-ranging and is evident in institutions across the Mennonite Church. We will have to reconcile the tension that human beings have the capacity to do great harm, even while they have also done a lot of good for the Church.
We as a faith community are called to support paths that lead to healing and wholeness. As a Regional Church, we will do our best to walk alongside all those who are impacted.
We are indebted to the courage of those who have come forward to share their stories. We thank you for showing us what it means to be brave and vulnerable and we are sorry that you experienced this harm. If you are a victim-survivor of any misconduct of a credentialed leader, MCEC wants to hear your story. Please reach out to Church Leadership Minister Marilyn Rudy-Froese at email@example.com. If you would prefer to reach out to someone who is arm's length from MCEC, we have arranged for two victim advocates who are also willing to receive your story. You may contact Carizon Counselling Services counsellors Theresa Karn or Robert Wilson by calling Carizon: 519-743-6333 x1 and referencing MCEC Sponsored Program, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
MCEC holds all pastors to a high standard of ethical conduct. We have policies, procedures and training for pastoral leaders that promote safe and ethical interactions between pastors and participants in our faith communities. MCEC commits to ongoing review and strengthening of these safeguards. In addition, MCEC also has a web-based resource for understanding, reporting and responding to sexual misconduct by church leaders.
We pray for healing for all people directly impacted by the misconduct, and healing for us as a Church. May God’s grace and compassionate love support and enfold all those affected. In the same spirit, we invite your prayers for everyone involved.
MCEC Executive Minister