SNAP calls on Episcopal Church to conduct full, fair, impartial investigation into allegations of abuse

(For Immediate Release June 29, 2022) 

For the past several years, SNAP has followed allegations of non-sexual abuse involving an
Episcopal priest, Robert H. Malm. Fr. Malm is canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of
Virginia, and currently works as interim rector of St. Peter’s-on-the-Canal, in Bourne Ma.
SNAP calls upon the Episcopal dioceses of Virginia and Massachusetts to comply with church
canons, including the Title IV clergy disciplinary provisions. SNAP also calls upon law enforcement, local prosecutors, and both dioceses, to conduct full, fair, and impartial investigations into the allegations against Fr. Malm.

The allegations against Fr. Malm are made by Eric Bonetti, a former parishioner, and include:

- Filing false police reports.
- Engaging in retaliation for filing a complaint about his conduct with the diocese.
- Repeatedly filing false civil actions in which Fr. Malm claimed he was being threatened,
despite having had no contact with Eric in several years.
- Claiming that blog posts about him, on blogs published by Eric and family members,
were “threatening and harassing.”
- Concealing evidence adverse to Fr. Malm in litigation.
- Repeatedly offering fabricated statements of law and fact to the courts.
- Repeatedly committing perjury, including falsely claiming under oath that Eric’s late
mother, then dying of COPD, contacted him repeatedly. Later, Fr. Malm told a judge
under oath that he didn’t even know her name — despite the fact he expressly
referenced her by name in his original sworn statement.
- Falsely telling police that Eric had stalked, threatened, and “terrorized” Fr. Malm and his
family, despite having had no contact in several years.
- Using inflammatory and inappropriate language in court, including referring to Eric as a
“domestic terrorist.”
- Witness tampering.
- Falsely telling parishioners and others that Eric is mentally ill.
- Lying to the Episcopal bishop of Virginia about facts related to the case.

Episcopal church canons mandate a Title IV proceeding if the allegations when assumed to be
true would be violations of Title IV.

Since Title IV expressly forbids “conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy,” and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” it is improper and unethical for the Episcopal Church to brush complaints off as “not of weighty and material importance to the
ministry of the church.”

Similarly, it is improper and unethical to “investigate” a complaint at the intake phase, to insist that a victim goes to court to resolve the matter, to claim that the church cannot determine at intake if a violation has occurred, or to require that a member of the clergy be found guilty of a
criminal offense.

Nor are SNAP’s concerns confined to Fr. Malm’s conduct. Both diocesan bishops have made every effort to avoid dealing with these allegations. In doing so, they have undercut the credibility of the church and its willingness to respond to non-sexual misconduct. Even now, the denomination and its lawyers are attempting to prevent discovery in the ongoing litigation. That begs the question of why. Indeed, if there is nothing to hide, all involved should welcome the chance to tell their side of the story. Truth and transparency are at the heart of any meaningful response to complaints of abuse, yet the Episcopal Church appears to be taking the opposite approach.

Moreover, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s claim was set forth in a letter from a former bishop
Shannon Johnston to parish leaders, that the matter was investigated “long ago,” is not credible. Any meaningful investigation is conducted by an independent, outside entity, not an untrained Title IV intake officer making phone calls to Fr. Malm and his assistant rector. Similarly, the denomination’s refusal to provide the pastoral response mandated in all cases when a complaint is made has caused lasting harm not just to the complainant, but to the
church, its mission, and those it serves.

Indeed, if Eric’s claims were false, that would be all the more reason to respond with compassion, sensitivity, and care. Yet to date we see no evidence
or concern for Eric, his husband, his late mother, or others affected by these allegations. SNAP also is deeply concerned that both dioceses appear to be insisting on criminal charges against Fr. Malm before they will act. Not only are clergy by their very nature often given unwarranted deference, but victims typically lack access to the lawyers and other resources needed to pursue such a matter. Additionally, we note that the City of Alexandria VA has refused to even investigate these allegations, while the Marion MA police department has conditioned any investigation on the outcome of civil litigation.

SNAP believes that the allegations, while unproven, are serious, credible, and worthy of a full investigation. We call upon both dioceses, and their bishops, to set aside preconceived notions, to act with care and compassion, and to conduct a full, fair, independent investigation of these claims using outside resources. Additionally, Title IV intake officers and bishops need to better understand Title IV and honor its requirements in all cases, not just in select cases. Alexandria VA courts should not attempt to impose confidentiality on discovery, as it is important that these allegations be available to the public.

“Like many who have faced abuse of every sort, what is most painful is not the misconduct
itself, but the subsequent betrayal of trust by church officials. My family and I have been
demonized, lied about, gotten obscene gestures, and more,” says Eric. “The only thing we
haven’t experienced from the church is care or concern.”

Eric and his husband Mike were among the first same-sex couples married in the Episcopal
Church. Eric is currently getting treatment for PTSD and depression as a result of his
experiences with the church.

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-261-0578),
Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Zach Hiner,
SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for
more than 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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