An Anglican priest who founded his congregation on antigay dogma used his position to commit sexual abuse against numerous young men, according to a new report from an independent watchdog group.
An investigation by a group called Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or GRACE, found that Rev. Eric Dudley of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Tallahassee, Fla., frequently touched men in a sexual manner without their consent, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Dudley was forced to resign from the church in August 2018.
Dudley was rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, also in Tallahassee, from 1995 to 2005. He departed after announcing from the pulpit that he was leaving the Episcopal Church due to its "deeply unrepentant heresies" -- specifically, the elevation of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, to the position of bishop, a first for the denomination. He then founded St. Peter's, which is part of the Anglican Church in North America, formed in opposition to the Episcopal Church's acceptance of LGBTQ people. Dudley is married to a woman and the father of three.
But as leader of St. Peter's, he frequently made advances to other men, usually vulnerable young men whom he mentored and showered with gifts, according to the GRACE investigation. On trips with the men, he "secretly arranged on multiple occasions for only one bed in hotel rooms," the Democrat reports. Men who spoke to GRACE said the touching often occurred in bed, with Dudley in his underwear, sometimes reaching under the other men's clothing.
At least once Dudley said he was becoming sexually aroused while lying on top of another man, according to the GRACE report, released Tuesday. The man pushed Dudley off him and said he wasn't interested in sex with the priest. The next day, Dudley told the man it wasn't a sexual come-on. The man recalled Dudley saying, "I don't want to run away to California. I'm not gay. I'm not into that. I just, I need your, I'm an affectionate person. I need to be touched by you."
Another who woke up in a hotel bed with Dudley rubbing his back and chest told investigators he was shocked because the behavior was so at odds with the priest's antigay stances. "Part of me is going like, 'This is super strange,'" he said. "And another part is going, 'This can't be happening.' Eric is known as the guy who hates gay people. We're the church that built our church based on anti-homosexuality. He kind of has a caricature out there, so no way this guy is coming on to me. I'm misreading him."
Another man, who worked at the church, said Dudley essentially stalked him. The priest would frequently call or text him, and if he didn't respond immediately, Dudley would appear at the man's home or office. "It was so bizarre," the victim said. "I think he thought we were in some kind of romantic, intimate relationship or something."
In all, GRACE interviewed 51 people and obtained audio and video recordings, emails, and text messages, and other evidence. Many of the incidents were similar. "The reported victims' accounts often corroborated each other, even though they were not aware of other reported victims at the time," the GRACE document notes.
Dudley had been accused of misconduct for years, but the church did nothing until new claims emerged last year, the Democrat reports. When he resigned, he "admitted to harassment, unwanted touching and alcohol abuse," according to the paper, but the GRACE report says he should have taken more responsibility for his deeds, having apologized for them only in a "vague" manner. He did not cooperate in the investigation and declined comment to the Democrat.
The report recommends that the church adopt new policies on sexual misconduct and establish a process for addressing abuse and assisting victims. Church officials said Dudley's victims are receiving financial compensation, counseling, and other help.