Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Healing Through Art

After an experience of clergy exploitation, we find our voices in many ways. I’ve found mine through words, but there are other paths. The artist M.E. Dunham, whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting through this blog, has found healing from her experience through painting and drawing. She has given me permission to share two of her works here. She says, “Maybe some other traumatized people will be inspired to paint their way out of their painful memories, even twenty years later.”

With thanks to M.E. Dunham, I’m pleased to share these works with my readers.

Rehashing by M.E. DunhamRehashing, 2015. Mixed media, primarily acrylic, on illustration board, 30 in. x 40 in.

Forgetting by M.E. DunhamForgetting, 2016. Mixed media, primarily acrylic, on illustration board, 30 in. x 40 in.

Anger Rises to the Surface

It’s been two and a half weeks since I learned of Kevin’s defrocking and eleven days since the congregational meeting. I’m relieved that the church is free of a dangerous priest, I’m grateful that the bishop called me directly to share the news, and I’m feeling validated since he finally dropped the veil of secrecy around my complaint.

Relieved, grateful, and validated: I wish that’s all I were feeling. I’ve been trying to write a relieved, grateful, validated response to the bishop’s words. But every attempt came out brittle, formal, and fake. Last night, I finally realized why.

Because I’m ANGRY. Once I got over the miracle that the bishop shared the truth at all, I start looking at what he said about my story. And what did he say? That what happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal, and that he still believes he was right to keep it from the congregation. 

WHO IS HE to say that Kevin’s offenses against me “didn’t rise to the level of a Title IV complaint”? What kind of yardstick did he use? Does the church keep a manual that says if it’s only words, or if there’s only one complaint, then it’s okay to brush it under the carpet? (In 2010, the bishop actually told me that’s why he chose a “pastoral” response instead of invoking the canons). What if a priest deliberately misconstrues a directive from the bishop in order to continue meeting with his favorite congregants? What if he spends years working to gain a congregant’s trust, then misjudges and springs the trap too soon? What if he openly tells her that she’s part of a years-long pattern of inappropriate behavior toward “beautiful women”? Is a predator less guilty because a particular prey escaped without physical injury? 

The bishop ignored Kevin’s pattern of grooming, instead focusing on a few words that he spoke to me on a specific day in 2008. Even worse, he ignored the impact of Kevin’s behavior. Author Marilyn Peterson, in her book At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships (Norton, 1992), says that the only reliable measure is the harm an offense causes to the victim. “Determining severity by content alone does not allow a violation to be identified as legitimate or valid unless and until it has progressed to the most severe and overt extreme. … To get a truer, more comprehensive picture, it is essential that degree of pain felt by clients be measured.” My injuries at the time — a serious eating disorder and a diagnosis of PTSD — were severe. Six years after the church closed the case, I’m still trying to process what Kevin and the church did to me. Does this not signal an offense worthy of a Title IV response, and of a stronger warning to Kevin’s next congregation?

And why did the bishop think the congregation didn’t need to know? At last Tuesday’s meeting he told us, “I made a measured decision [not to disclose].” He was vague as to how he measured it, but he has spoken clearly on this question before. When I brought my complaint, he refused to inform the congregation, protesting that Kevin was “the [highest ranking priest] of my [most prominent congregation]!” Church scandals drive people and dollars away, and there was a lot at stake with this congregation. The bishop may have thought he could prevent this damage with secrecy. (I wonder how that has worked out.) Two years later, I was in the room when he told a group of clergy that this kind of news would be a “body blow” to a congregation — as if a group of full-grown Christian adults would be too weak to deal with hard truth. 

The bishop decided to avoid the harsh official sentences, placing Kevin under pastoral direction instead.  “I [required] that he not do certain ministerial functions, and [required] him to do certain other things to address the behavior.” First of all, isn’t that what suspension is — a temporary ban from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry? Second, why use vague language like “certain ministerial functions”? Why not name those functions, as he did with me in January of 2010? The day I filed my complaint, the bishop told me that Kevin was forbidden to offer pastoral counseling during the investigation. Two months later, he extended that ban for another 12 to 18 months. When a church’s senior minister is not allowed to do pastoral counseling, the congregation has a right and a need to know.  

Toward the end of last Tuesday’s meeting, the bishop had harsh words for the people of St _____’s. “I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” he said. “We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job.” What?!? How can the bishop blame the congregation for responding badly to something that officially “never happened”? Instead of disclosing the truth, the bishop left my reputation in the hands of the priest who was then writhing under the humiliating restraints of pastoral direction. What did he think Kevin was going to say about me? Now, six years later, he blames the congregation for not being nicer to me? I’m going to be brutally honest with you, bishop: you set those good people up for failure. You don’t owe them a scolding; you owe them an apology.

Finally, the bishop admitted that his official silence was no match for the real voices of hurting, angry people. “What I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter.” He shouldn’t have been surprised; this is exactly what I told him I would do. When he wrapped up my case, I warned him that I was going to tell my friends why I was leaving the church. “I can’t carry the burden of this toxic secret any longer,” I said. He told me that if I did, I would “lose control” of the information. He was right; my words to a few trusted friends triggered an ugly wave of ostracism. I stopped talking for a while; I now speak through this blog. Although I’m not writing for my old churchmates, it seems that a few of them read it. If my strong voice helped the bishop find his, then I’ve done something right and I’m proud.

The waters are starting to settle. In my next post, I’ll be sharing the power and beauty of a very different kind of voice in response to clergy misconduct. Stay tuned.


What The Bishop Said

The bishop opened last Tuesday’s meeting in prayer. “It might feel like I’m praying too much,” he said, “if such a thing is possible.” He wasn’t the only one praying. I could see others praying; I was praying myself. A lot of healing hung on what the bishop was about to say — and he took his time saying it. He spent half an hour explaining how Episcopal church discipline works. He was wise to slow things down; it gave all of us time to prepare for what we were about to hear. I won’t share everything from those thirty minutes, only what readers will need to understand how “Kevin” lost his credentials as a priest.

First, expectations. The church expects its clergy to be loyal to church doctrine, discipline, and worship; to obey their bishop; and to pattern their lives after the teachings of Christ. These vows are formalized in the service of ordination. To help clergy keep their vows, the church adds safeguards like boundary training; limits on frequency of pastoral counseling; and regular notices to congregants about how to recognize and report sexual misconduct. When clergy fail to keep their vows, the church’s Title IV process (the fourth of the five Canons, or governing laws, of the Episcopal Church) kicks in.

When any person believes they have been harmed by a member of the clergy, they contact an intake officer, who receives their information and helps them file a formal report. In most cases, the church investigates the complaint. When the bishop receives the result of the investigation, he or she has three options.
1. The bishop may dismiss any complaint that can’t be substantiated or that the bishop feels is not serious enough to warrant a formal response.
2. The bishop and the respondent (the clergy member who is the subject of the complaint) may come to accord, or agreement, on the appropriate ecclesiastical sentence.
3. Failing agreement, the bishop may order the appropriate sentence.

Title IV provides for these three sentences for misconduct of any type:
1. Admonition, or public reprimand;
2. Suspension, a temporary ban that prevents the offending priest from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry; and
3. Deposition, or permanent prohibition against exercising any of the gifts of ordained ministry. A priest deposed is no longer a priest.

To prevent the bishop from single-handedly controlling the process, Title IV requires collaboration. The bishop must consult his or her Standing Committee on any matter of consequence. In addition, a Hearing Panel (similar to a jury) may be convened if the bishop and respondent can’t reach an accord. But just as most court matters are resolved by settlement or plea bargain, most Episcopal disciplinary matters are settled by accord between bishop and respondent.

Title IV requires the bishop to offer appropriate care for all affected parties, and (notwithstanding any provision for privacy) allows the bishop to share information about the offense and any accord or order when the bishop deems it pastorally appropriate. The bishop told us, “The bishop is one who holds in tension the sometimes competing goods of transparency and confidentiality, of healing and justice.” (I’ll have more to say about these words in another post.)

At this point he paused and took a breath, and said, “Now let me talk about the matter at hand. And this is where it gets the most painful, because we are talking about real people.” This next piece – the bishop’s account of what Kevin did and how the church responded – has huge emotional impact for me. If I paraphrased, I might introduce my own bias against Kevin. To keep this post fair and objective, I’m going to use the bishop’s own words. I have omitted a few redundant phrases, and I’ve changed names to protect identities; otherwise the words in the next four paragraphs (italicized) are the exact words of the bishop.

In November of last year, the Diocese of _____ received multiple complaints against “Kevin Jones.” In a brief investigation and follow-up, Jones agreed to accept a sentence of deposition, no longer being a priest. An alternate sentence of suspension was posited by the Bishop of _____. Jones chose the sentence of deposition. The sentence was imposed pertaining to three complaints against Jones for multiple charges under… and I’ll read the canons and tell you what they mean. The first was Canon IV.4.1.h.1 which is any act of sexual misconduct. The canons define sexual misconduct [with adults] as sexual behavior at the request of, acquiesced to, or by a member of the clergy with an employee, volunteer, student, or counselee of that member of the clergy, or in the same congregation as the member of the clergy, or a person with whom the member of the clergy has a pastoral relationship. The second canon referenced in the deposition was Canon IV.4.1.h.6, conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. I think that one speaks for itself. Canon IV.4.1.h.8 is the last one referenced: ‘conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy.’ [To] anybody who’s a veteran, that language probably feels familiar to you. It comes out of the military code of justice. It’s sort of a catch all [for] anything that’s not a stipulated part of the code of conduct. These behaviors violate the vows undertaken by clergy at the time of ordination. 

Now, I want at this point to share with you another piece of information that’s particularly relevant to this congregation. In January of 2010, I received a formal complaint against Kevin Jones while he was [priest-in-charge] of St. _____’s. The complaint resulted in a thorough investigation conducted by someone independent of my office. Jones and the complainant fully cooperated with this process. After assessing the facts, which were not in dispute, I made the determination that the matter did not rise to the level of a Title IV complaint, but was a serious error. I placed Jones under a pastoral direction. I’ll define what pastoral direction means for you. You may remember in the ordination vows it talks about “pastoral direction of the bishop.” The canons provide for the bishop to be able to give specific direction to clergy in extraordinary situations, that if that pastoral direction were not followed, it would be grounds for discipline as well. So it is a very serious thing. It is so serious that when we do our background check process, one of the questions on that is, “Have you ever been placed under pastoral direction by your bishop?” And so in this instance I put Jones on pastoral direction requiring that he not do certain ministerial functions, and requiring him to do certain other things to address the behavior. I subsequently gave a full briefing on this case as well as my response, to [the vestry of this church]. That was in June of that year, following the completion of this case.

 When Jones was a candidate in the Diocese of _____, our church [did] what our church does in these situations. We do background checks. We use a group called Oxford Documents. I received a request from Oxford Documents for Kevin Jones and truthfully filled it out, answering the questions, marking that a complaint had been made, that he had been under pastoral direction, that he had been accused of ethical violations. I further [gave a brief narrative description] and invited the Bishop of _____ to be in touch with me for further details, which he was. And we had an oral briefing as well.

It’s tempting to see these events, and our response, as an error in light of subsequent events. I assure you that I continue to ponder that, what we knew in 2010, and to turn that over and over in my mind. However, what we now know does not make what happened a different thing. We take these things in real time and process them in real time. Permit me to address another aspect of this. I made a measured decision then to disclose to the [congregational] leadership, and not the whole community. At the time that decision was made, it seemed commensurate with the matter at hand. It still does, looking it [in] real time at that moment. However, what I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter. And in hindsight, it would have been helpful for me to make a statement to the community at that time, stating from my position how the matter was adjudicated. I offer this information to you for two reasons at this time. One is that the complainant in the matter has given me consent to do so. In addition, the complainant has stated that it would be helpful to that individual’s healing. And that is a very, very important consideration. 

The bishop continued: ““Our challenge tonight and in the days ahead is to process this difficult information.” Response to clergy misconduct is an obligation not only of bishops, but of the whole community. The bishop acknowledged that Kevin had done “some wonderful things at this church and over his three decades of service. But he also did some things that were so grievous that he can no longer be an Episcopal priest. There are injured persons. He has hurt people. And let me be as clear as I can on this point: the injured people are not to blame. It would be a violation of my ordination vows to tolerate blame of those upon whom there has been trespass. It is not consistent with my vows, and beloved, it is not consistent with yours.”

He stepped away from the podium. The moderator stepped forward and invited questions. Some congregants asked about Kevin: “Why did he choose deposition if suspension were an option?” (The bishop refused to speculate on Kevin’s motives.) “How do we pray for Kevin?” The bishop responded, “there are people in this room who have been harmed. The notion of praying for someone who has been disciplined for misconduct may be hard to think about right now.”

The bishop talked about the role of the congregation. “There’s only so much my position can do,” he said. “We need the collaborative support of all of you. I’m going to be brutally honest with you now. We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job, and that is my call to you.”

I have much to say in response to the bishop’s words. But for now, I just need to share them. I’ve waited six years for this acknowledgement. Sometimes it still feels like a dream. By sharing the bishop’s words here, I make it one degree more real.

Addendum, February 10: I have revised this post to remove a personal story shared by the bishop. He rightly pointed out that the story was his, and not mine to share. I apologize and accept responsibility for this error.



I’ve been trying to explain to my friends what it’s like to be unexpectedly freed from the bishop’s long public silence. It’s as if I’d been paraplegic for six years and suddenly started feeling sensation in my legs; as if I’d lived six years with cancer and suddenly went into remission; as if a loved one had been missing for six years and was suddenly found. These metaphors aren’t quite right, but they give a notion of how big this change is. My world is different now. Finally I have a defense against malicious hearsay — but I have more than that. I have the beginning of welcome. On Tuesday night, several people went out of their way to greet me. One offered an apology, two crossed the room to greet me, and one wrapped me in such abundant warmth that I never felt the fear I had expected. The welcome may not have been universal, but it was enough and then some.

My outer world has changed, but it will take longer to rebuild my inner. For six years I’ve built my life around the fact of silencing and shunning. Some of my adaptations — like finding home in a new church — are permanent. But others can be changed. I can learn to release the sense of exile and begin to accept the hand of friendship. 

I have more to say about Tuesday night’s meeting, but first I need to acknowledge that these events aren’t about me. I am only free because “Kevin” harmed three women badly enough to lose his ordained ministry. I cannot celebrate while these women and their families suffer. So today I offer these words to the three who found the courage to come forward, speak truth, and demand justice.

          Dear Sisters,
          I don’t know who you are. You each have a name, a face, and unique roles in your family and church and community, and I know none of those things. I don’t know what kind of pain led you to seek Kevin’s help. I don’t know how he violated your trust, nor what you risked to come forward against him.
          But I know that you suffer. I know how brave you are. I can imagine how special and safe he made you feel (safe — the irony!!) I can imagine the crippling burden of the secret you had to carry; the heartbreak of losing friends when you began to share your story; the heavy cost of enduring the church’s process.
          Did the three of you come forward together? If not, I pray you are together now. For survivors, sisterhood (and brotherhood) is solace and strength. I pray you already knew that you weren’t the first, that you aren’t suffering a new shock reading these words. I always expected I’d learn about other women like me; I just thought they’d be in Kevin’s past. It breaks my heart that they — you — were in his future.
          Now, we are all part of his past. God willing, there will never be another.
          Sisters, I am praying for you. If it feels right to you, you are welcome to get in touch. You can find my email here. If that feels too close to home, I understand. I hope you have people in your lives who can help you heal, and that you’ll consider contacting The Hope of Survivors. They have wonderful resources and volunteer counselors to help you begin to move forward.
          God bless you as you walk the path of healing. Perhaps one day we will be in each other’s lives. Until then, may you walk in God’s protection.
          In sisterhood,

Walking into Tuesday’s congregational meeting, I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in several years. “Duncan” had always stayed clear of church politics. As far as I knew, he hadn’t been part of my shunning. But more important, Duncan and I had shared the holy work of deathbed watch for a beloved friend eight years ago. This bond made me feel safe greeting him, and he was delighted to see me (“Where have you been??”) We ended up sitting together. As we waited for the meeting to start, we passed the time chatting. We shared notes about our friend Mike who is struggling with illness. We talked about his son in the armed forces. 

Then Duncan brought up the topic of the evening. “I can’t believe Kevin would do those terrible things,” he said. “He’s such a good guy!”

I groaned inwardly. Aloud, I said to him, “Good people can do bad things.”

“Good people do things that some people think are bad,” countered Duncan.

I looked him in the eye and repeated, “Good people can do bad things.”

He looked surprised; he could see I was serious; he changed the subject. The meeting began. The bishop spoke for more than an hour. He talked about church discipline, shared information about Kevin’s known offenses, and (without revealing my name) revealed the fact of my 2010 complaint against Kevin. The moderator took questions. The deacon led us in a healing litany. The bishop blessed us, and the meeting was over. 

I looked at Duncan’s skeptical face. He repeated how hard it was for him to believe the charges.

I told him, “I was the complainant.” 

He stared at me, frozen. I said it again. “I was the complainant.” 

I watched as my words sank in. It’s easy to blame an unknown victim, but now Duncan saw the truth: the complaint against Kevin had come from one of his most trusted friends. He stammered, “Well if it was a woman like you… “ I watched him as he struggled to create one truth out of two opposing beliefs. He started to speak. He paused. He looked at me; his eyes seemed to be begging me to bridge the chasm. “But he’s still a great guy, right?”

I gave the answer I’ve learned to give to Kevin’s admirers. “He is a tremendously gifted priest with great strengths,” I said. “It’s a tragedy that he can’t overcome his weaknesses. The church has lost his gifts, and he has caused a huge amount of harm.” 

Duncan said quietly, “It must have been very painful.” I said yes, it was. He pulled his jacket lapels together and walked slowly toward the door. When he got home, he telephone our mutual friend (I learned this the next day). Even though I had spoken my truth as gently as I could, Duncan had felt it as a body blow. His idol Kevin had feet of clay. He told Mike that the truth felt like a punch to the gut. 

As survivors, it’s not our job to care for the feelings of our churchmates, but sometimes we need to step into that role. If I had told Duncan that Kevin was the most harmful human being I’ve ever met in my life, that in my opinion no woman would ever be safe with him, I might have pushed him right back into denial. I had to let him down easy. It has taken me six years of grieving and healing to get to this point; Duncan had barely sixty minutes. I now remember that for several months after Kevin spoke his harmful intentions, I too tried to believe he was “still a great guy.” When denial is finally broken, grieving and healing take time.

But healing can’t begin until the wound is acknowledged. The bishop made that possible when he spoke truth on Tuesday. The people of St. _____’s have painful work ahead of them, but they’ve taken the first step. I’m proud of the courage they showed on Tuesday; proud of the thoughtful questions they asked; proud of the honest conversations that were happening all around the room. I can’t be a part of their process, but I can pray for them, grieve their pain, and celebrate their steps forward. 

I have so much to celebrate — and all of it the fruit of truth, told with courage and compassion.

The ground underneath me has shifted. I’m still stunned and awed, aware of joy but not yet able to feel it. It’s still too soon to process last night’s healing in my own words, so I’ll share another’s. The bishop concluded the congregational meeting with this shared litany. I can’t properly credit the author without revealing the name of my former church, but it is too beautiful not to share. On the author’s and the bishop’s behalf, I share these words for all survivors and all congregations wounded by clergy misconduct.


A Litany for Healing and Repentance

Together we lift our prayers to you, O God of love, healing and forgiveness.

God the Father, you breathe life into your whole Creation.
Help us breathe deeply of your peace and presence.

God the Son, you give us yourself to make our joy complete.
Help us give our fear, pain, and grief to you.

God the Holy Spirit, you move through our lives in unexpected ways.
Help us move in concert with your life-giving motion.

Holy Trinity, One God, accept our thanks and praise for all the blessings of this life, especially for those blessings that our present circumstances make difficult to see.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Shed the light of your healing love on all affected by misconduct in your church, that they may find new wholeness illumined by your grace.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Knit together in your love all whose relationships have frayed, that they may find reconciliation and new beginnings.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Help us to see and accept our own responsibility in the harm that has been done and for which we repent and seek forgiveness. Give us the wisdom to be a healthier and safer church. May we see that we all participate in this holy, hard and good work.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Hold in the palm of your hand all who are most affected by misconduct in your church both in these days and through the generations. May our repentance move us to a renewed life as a community of the beloved.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Grant all who turn to you the courage to participate with you in restoring this broken world to wholeness, that everyone and everything may share in the hope of your kingdom.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Let us name before God those for whom we offer our prayers.

O God, who calls us to new life: Touch us with your healing powers and give us the will to be co-creators with you of a renewed creation. Heal us, restore us, and transform us. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, the one betrayed and yet the bearer of perfect love. Amen.

Prayers Answered

God is good.

The bishop spoke truth with courage and compassion.

More words soon. But now, just grateful prayer and rest.

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