Open letter to Bishop Knisely about sexual assaults and cover ups at St. George’s school

This is an open letter from St. George’s alumna Jocelyn Davis to Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island and Honorary Chair of the school’s Board of Directors. St. George’s is a prep school in Middletown, Rhode Island where sexual abuse was covered up by those in power for decades.


Davis emailed Knisely on February 16, and he has not responded to her yet.

If you would like to send your own letter to the Bishop, please feel free to cut and paste from this one if that’s helpful to you. The more voices he hears calling for change, the more likely he is to take action. The bishop’s email is

You can find more useful information about how to contact the people in power about  abuse at St. George’s on It’s important to write them because so many of those in power, such as Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice William Robinson are connected to the case.

If you’re not familiar with the St. George’s sexual abuse and rapes, you can find all of Reel Girl’s posts about the school after the letter.

Here is Jocelyn Davis’s letter.

Dear Bishop Knisely,

I am an alumna of St George’s School (class of 1980). I understand the school is chartered by the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Rhode Island, and that you are Honorary Board Chair. You therefore have an extra measure of influence over the governance of the school, and that’s why I’m writing to you.

I have learned of the past abuses with a dismay I’m sure you share. A number of my classmates were affected. My dismay deepens, however, when I read about the actions of school leaders—leaders still in place today.

Dozens of children were raped or molested over decades. School leaders have condemned the abuse and funded an investigation; well and good. But what about those leaders who until a few months ago (and in some respects up until now):

– Failed to report the abuse to Rhode Island authorities, as required by law
– Failed to notify institutions where abusers were later employed, even after being specifically asked to do so by survivors
– Quibbled about the reporting laws as a way to excuse their inaction
– Placed gag orders on survivors, telling them what they can and cannot talk about
– Were dismissive of those survivors who mustered up the courage to demand meetings
– Denigrated survivors as malcontents, gold-diggers, or substandard students
– Reacted to the news not with heartfelt apologies, self-examination, and personal ownership, but with facile reassurances that “all that was in the past and everything is fine now”
– Have been dragged kicking and screaming by attorneys and the press, every step of the way—and then have had the gall to complain about “unfair” lawyers and media

I am aware of the ongoing independent investigation, and I can appreciate that it is impossible for you to take action until it is complete. Nevertheless, I urge you to reflect on the above points. I further urge you to use your influence, as soon as possible, to help bring about a wholesale change of leadership at St George’s, so a fresh start can be made.

For a specific plan to that effect, please see the website , created by my fellow alums Chris and Philip Williams.

One last thought: In my senior year at SGS, we read Dostoyevsky’s story of “The Grand Inquisitor.” I’m sure you know it well. In the fable, Christ returns to earth and is arrested. The Grand Inquisitor, pillar of the Church, visits him in his cell to tell him the Church no longer needs him; indeed, that the Church rejects his message of “individuals first” in favor of Satan’s message of “institution first.”

I can’t help but wonder whether Christ is knocking at the door of St George’s School right now. Forty-plus individuals, courageous survivors of abuse, are standing at his side, calling for justice. I hope you will open the door and stand with them.

Sincerely yours,

Jocelyn Roberts Davis ‘80



Reel Girl’s posts about St. George’s are below. If you read them, you will see that as an alumna of the school, I started to write about the institutionalized sexism I witnessed at the school long before I learned about the rapes and cover-ups.

Why is a justice who argued against statutory rape laws on the R. I. Supreme Court?

St. George’s school continues to hold back information in sexual assault investigation

St. George’s releases report on sexual assaults at the school

St. George’s alumna creates fund for survivors sexually assaulted at school

Comments on petition asking St. George’s for fair investigation into assaults make me cry

St. George’s School continues to flub investigation into sexual assaults

Lawyer investigating St. George’s sexual assaults is partner of school’s legal counsel

‘There’s no sense of why so many assaults happened at St. George’s, what the school did to create cultural backdrop that allowed and encouraged rape.’

Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

Women, class, and the problem of privilege: Everything I learned about sexism, I learned at boarding school

Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

Dear Pope, having kids can be selfish too

Dear Pope Francis,

Today, you told the world that “the choice not to have children is selfish” referring to a “greedy generation” who is not reproducing enough. Since you don’t have any kids yourself, and I’m the mother of three, I thought it might be helpful to hear about my experience. Becoming a parent is probably the most selfish thing I ever did, and I’m far from unique.


Before I had children, like lots of people, I was busy contributing to society. I created a non-profit organization to foster and train ethical women leaders, produced top-rated talk radio programs, and wrote about politics and culture for newspapers, magazines, and the internet. I also spoke on radio and TV programs about these issues. At that time, I dated, but had no interest in having children or getting married ever. But when I was 32, I fell in love. I was so into this guy that I started to wonder what it would be like to create another human with him. The idea that you could make a baby with someone you love seemed  crazy magical to me, so beautiful, like a miracle. I decided I wanted to have that experience. He felt the same way.

He wanted to get married, and I didn’t. For most of my life, I thought marriage was oppressive to women, taking his name, wearing virginal white, being given away by your father to another man etc. If you’re committed, you don’t need a piece of paper. But something happened to change my mind. I I live in San Francisco, and gay people were organizing and fighting hard for the right to get married. Witnessing people advocate for something I’d always taken for granted forced me to rethink the institution. I realized that since Biblical times (and even earlier) when women were property traded by men, marriage has been evolving and will continue to. Being a part of that movement felt inspiring, so we got married.


Over the next six years, we had two more kids, mostly because making babies and raising humans is as selfishly magical as I expected. It’s really fun creating little people and watching them grow. I love my children and my husband deeply, but in no way were the choices I made generous to society. I mean, you’re reproducing yourself. And after having kids, in some ways, I struggle to keep my world from getting smaller and myopic. I long for more time to write, create, and contribute to the world at the rate that I used to.

Women are the world’s biggest untapped resource. The status and education of women is directly linked to how many babies they have. The more children they have, the poorer women are.  We all lose out. Deciding to have kids or not is a personal choice, but I have a lot of admiration for people who don’t. People like you, Pope Francis, who dedicate their lives to pursuing what they believe in to make the world a better place. Don’t you think women deserve to make that choice too?


Margot Magowan

Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers and online sites. She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” CNN, Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. For  many years, Margot worked as talk radio producer creating top-rated programs. In 1998, Margot co-founded the Woodhull Institute an organization that trains young women to be leaders and change agents. Margot’s short story “Light Me Up” is featured in the anthology Sugar In My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and she is currently writing a Middle Grade novel about the fairy world. Margot lives with her husband and their three daughters in San Francisco.


Art creates reality: Imagining gender equality in the fantasy world

Some good quotes here. Let me know what you think

Bono on Jay-Z in November’s Vanity Fair:

In music, we love the idea of the screwed-up, shooting-up. fucked-up artist. The one bleeding in the garret having cut his own ear off. Jay-Z is a new kind of 21st-century artist where the canvas is not just the 12 notes, the wicked beats, and a rhyming dictionary in his head. It’s commerce, it’s politics, the fabric of the real as well as the imagined life.


Stephen Mitchell in Can Love Last, the Fate of Romance Over Time

It is the hallmark of the shift in basic psychoanalytic sensibility that the prototype of mental health for many contemporary psychoanalyitc authors is not the scientist but the artist. A continual objective take on reality is regarded as neither possible nor valuable in contrast to the ability to develop and move in and out of different perspectives of reality.


New York Times, October:

Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.

Jezebel reacting to New York Times piece:

The New York Times today would like to suggest that storytelling is powerful, that, in the whole art/life dynamic, it’s life that imitates art, not the other way around, at least not when it comes to kids imagining viable career paths for themselves.


Whoopi Goldberg:

Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.


In the fantasy world, anything is possible, so why do little kids see so few female heroes and female protagonists on TV and in the movies? While boy “buddy stories” are everywhere you look, why is it so hard to see two females working together to save the world? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in fantasy world? Why are TV shows, movies, and books about boys “for everyone” while shows and movies about girls “just for girls?” When we pass on stories to our kids, what are we teaching them about gender, about who they are right now and who they will become?

One more quote for you from neuroscientist, Lise Eliot:

“Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”

Eliot believes: “Simply put, your brain is what you do with it.”So let’s all use our brains to imagine gender equality in the fantasy world, take actions to manifest that vision, and see what happens next. I bet it’ll be amazing.

What would Patti Smith do?

After posting that I was unsure what to teach my kids regarding God and prayer, I was reminded how, at San Francisco’s amazing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival last Fall, Patti Smith, in the middle of rocking out (I think to “Gloria”) pulled a crumpled paper from her coat and recited the prayer of St. Francis. “San Francisco!” she said to us, all watching her, wide-eyed and smiling, standing there in the fog and sun under all those Eucalyptus trees. “Be happy!” Patti said. “Work hard! Love one another!”

Here’s Patti’s prayer. I may try reading it to my kids tonight; they are San Franciscans, after all.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Kids and God

What do you tell your kids about God? And praying? Anything?

I didn’t learn how to pray until I was 26 and someone taught me this simple skill (and I do look at it as a skill) that changed my life forever. I’d love to teach my kids so they know about it much earlier than I figured it out. Praying can be so incredibly cool and calming. But the prayer I was taught, the only one I do really, seems way too grown up for them.

I was told to get on my knees every single morning and say:


I am totally powerless over people, places and things and my life is unmanageable. I’ve come to believe a power greater than myself is restoring me to sanity and I’m turning my will and my life over to that power.”

I did not believe a single word of this prayer. Most of the time, I still don’t.

But I was told then: what you believe doesn’t matter. If you want to get better, try getting on your knees and saying this. You’ve tried everything else, and nothing has worked. So, why not this? Is it any stupider than sticking your finger down your throat and making yourself throw up several times a day?

I had to admit, it was not.

I don’t know how praying works or why it works. I don’t even care anymore. All I know is that if something is bothering me or obsessing me, and I get on my knees and ‘turn it over,’ instantly, I feel calmer and happier. Remarkably and paradoxically, I also get the energy and focus to move forward and ‘do the next right thing.’ After praying about how powerless I am, I act. Happens every time.

So I’d like to teach my kids about this because it’s so damn useful.

Also, my seven year old daughter has started to ask me about God. What she’s picked up, somehow, somewhere, just as I did when I was a kid, is that praying is all about asking for stuff. And then if you’re ‘good,’ you get what you asked for.

But the kind of praying I do isn’t like that at all. More like the opposite. Still, those things I say– which as I wrote, I often don’t believe– seem way too heavy to put on a little kid. As is the whole powerless/powerful paradox. I don’t even get it!

I could tell my daughter: just tell God what you’re grateful or thankful for, but that seems sanctimonious, and it’s not what I do either.

Please let me know if your kids have asked you about praying or God, and if you’ve had any luck in teaching them anything. Especially if you don’t know if you believe in God.

Guest Post: The Holy Hot Button, Unveiling the Vote

This is great piece by Beatrice Bowles. As she writes, people are afraid to talk about money and sex,but especially God/ religion/ spirituality in an open way. In my earlier post today, it mentions the Vital Voices event I attended, where retired Bishop William Swing of the United Religions Initiative said, “A lot of times religion keeps women from taking a place at the table.”

Here is Bowles’s piece about that issue:

Before the sixties, sex, money and, God forbid, religion were considered off-limit topics–three subjects we were supposed to never discuss.  In the sixties, sex became more open and sexologists’ once-scandalous insights became common knowledge–from the joys of orgasm to the horrors of abuse.  The subject of money, too, has become anything but taboo.  Whether in the media or in political debate or at the dinner table, we assess the uses and abuses of wealth.  We debate the design of our economic system–free-market or regulated?  Books on economics for adults and children flourish.  Economic reformers and white-collar criminals make the news about equally.

Still the subject of religion remains on shaky ground.  The comfort, guidance, and inspiration that religions offer stand in stark contrast to the prejudice that can breed within and between them.  Despite freedom of religion (and/or from religion) being a tenet of our society, a dangerous propensity for intolerance shadows faith.  In some places, the scientific teaching of evolution is banned by doctrinal literalists.  In others, doubt or discussion of religious differences is considered heresy.

Caught in the quagmire, intellectuals flail about.  Cultural gadfly Christopher Hitchens pushes for a new atheism in “God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything.”(2009)  In his New Yorker article, ‘God in the Quad,’ scholar James Woods retreats cautiously towards the holiness of science as grounds for faith.

So far, spiritual leaders have us failed, too.  Asked recently if there was anything new in spiritual education that might ease the muddle, a top Christian cleric assured me, “Nothing.”   Religions persist in misguided conflicts with science and/or with each other.

Yet a solution lies within reach if we establish two grand and desperately needed distinctions.  First is that religion and science are parallel but different levels of thought.  Science attempts to explain physical matter, its laws, properties and energetics, at a whole level above and beyond science.  Religions attempt to explain the abstract meaning of life: why are we here, how shall we best live, what vast intelligence lies behind creation, what happens when we die?

Secondly, all religions, being abstract in essence, are relative in nature–no matter how grand, prescriptive, helpful or precious each may be to their leaders and followers.  Is there only one right deity?  Only one right prayer?  One right ritual?  Only one sacred story?  No more than there is one right flower or river.  No religion can ever trump another.  In a democracy, no religion should be allowed to trump freedom of faith.  As we know too well, the worst abuses of spiritual authority seem to arise in religions which claim infallibility and demand blind, unthinking obedience from their followers.

Properly defined, religion and science cannot and do not negate each other.  Scientific thinking and mythic thinking are complementary, not contradictory, forms of thought.  Conflicts arise when either realm attempts to deny the validity of the other.  Ask Galileo.  Sorrily, our educators seem stymied by fear of offending devout worshippers of one tradition or another.  Rather than teaching students about tolerance, respect, and appreciation for the varieties of religious expression, for the most part, nothing of the sort is taught.

Politicians behave equally poorly.  When French President Sarkozy banned women from wearing the head scarf in public, he double-faulted.  First he denied Muslim women’s freedom of religion as well as all women’s right to wear what they want.  Second he failed to assert the over-arching requirement of citizenship in a democracy.  Why not rule that women have the right to wear veils, but that they must show their faces when the public good requires–as when applying for driver’s permits and identity papers, answering police inquiries, or performing other such public duties?  Such acts of intellectual ineptitude on a politician’s part only inflame zealotry.

Since we are left to educate ourselves, as a start, I propose reading some of the world’s great sacred myths in which heaven is almost always envisioned as a beautiful garden where the fruit of a central tree holds knowledge of good and evil.  Human nature almost always appears as both tricky and powerful, and love and kindness are deemed paramount.  When we discover the striking similarities beneath the vast diversity, all we risk is deepening our spirituality, widening our humanity, and bolstering our respect for freedom.  Such awareness might help to dethrone power-mad hierarchs, haters, and holy war mongers.  After all, we delight in the food of many lands.  Why should we and our children not dine on Earth’s divine wisdom as well?

Beatrice Bowles, writer and storyteller, creates award-winning CDs of world mythology through her company, Harmony Hill Productions