Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

After three years of blogging, I’m taking a much-needed sabbatical, but I can’t ignore the opportunity to share a message I just learned about. Every year on the last night of the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, one minister is invited to deliver prophetic words at the Berry Street Conference. This year’s Berry Street Essay came from the Rev. Gail Seavey, whose work I wrote about last August.

Gail Seavey asks what happens “If Our Secrets Define Us.” She sets the stage with a scene from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Nazis have stolen the Ark and captured Indiana and Marion. As they begin to open the Ark, Indiana shouts, “Don’t look, Marion! Whatever you do, don’t look!” Marion doesn’t look, but the bad guys do, and we in the audience do, and we see the bad guys turn into corpses and dissolve into dust. Implying, of course, that some things should never be seen. 

“The movie was wrong,” says Seavey. “Some things SHOULD be seen.”

She tells the story of her first ministerial internship, under the supervision of the Rev. Frederica Leigh, in a struggling Southern California congregation haunted by stories of “screwing around” in the 60s and 70s. When a retired minister died, a line of elderly women came to Frederica’s office seeking pastoral care, needing to tell the secrets they’d carried for decades. A few years later another minister died, and another line of women came seeking care. Frederica Leigh provided care to legions of victim/survivors during those years. She “insisted on impeccable boundaries… and advocated that her colleagues practice clear ethical guidelines concerning clergy sexual abuse,” writes Seavey. As a result, some colleagues shunned Frederica Leigh, but others became champions for victims of misconduct who chose to report. Seavey says that “the lessons I learned from Frederica laid the foundation for my career.” 

Seavey took these lessons to her first settlement in a church in Minnesota. When church leaders refused to tell her why the previous minister left, she insisted that “I had to know church-wide secrets or I could not accept a call there.” The next day she learned that the minister had arrived single, married a long-term congregant, divorced her to marry a second congregant whom he’d been counseling, and been asked to leave quietly. Seavey asked the first wife what she most needed. “She asked only for one thing, that the previous minister never come into the building.” Seavey made it happen. For the next eight years the departed minister lobbied for a chance to guest-preach; Seavey faithfully and consistently said “no.”

Just as Frederica Leigh had, Seavey had to deal with massive distrust from her wounded congregation. Just as Leigh did, Seavey practiced impeccable boundaries with her new congregation and slowly regained their trust. 

In the late 1990s Seavey became active with national UUA. Working with the association of female ministers and with the UUA’s guidelines committee, she tried to address the issue of clergy sexual misconduct. She and her colleagues explored “the differences between confidentiality and secrets. Confidentiality requires protecting someone else’s story; keeping secrets involves hiding our own stories.” This work began to feel as if they were looking into Indiana Jones’ Ark. “Several women reported that [prominent New York UU minister] Forrest Church had had affairs with them when they were members,” “a wider circle of colleagues started to confide in me their painful secrets,” and even “alleged sexual misconduct by UUA staff members who were involved in an official response to clergy sexual misconduct.” The longer they worked, the more ugliness the task force uncovered.

As they pushed for transparency, the UUA began to push back. They disenfranchised the task force, blackballed its convener, Deborah Pope Lance, and told her “she would never again work for the UUA or any UU Group.” But survivors, impacted congregations, and after-pastors continued to seek support from Deborah and the task force.

In 2005, Seavey accepted a call from First UU of Nashville. “I was attracted to them because they were open about their history as a congregation that had suffered and healed from clergy misconduct” by past minister David Maynard. Anna Belle Leiserson, the only one of Maynard’s victims who dared to report her experience, was “harassed, bullied, and shunned by the minister’s supporters. That first year, her hair turned pure white. She says that the attempts to exile her from the congregation were even more painful than the original betrayal by the minister. Healing began in the following year when First UU held a ‘Listening Process’…”

Healing began, but it is far from complete. Seavey, Leiserson, and their colleagues discovered more and more layers of institutional secrecy and resistance to justice. Leiserson served as liaison for victim Amanda Tweed in 2005. To this day, Amanda Tweed has never been told the official results of her investigation.

And yet this same secret-keeping, justice-blocking UUA invited Gail Seavey to deliver the Berry Street Essay. 

What if our secrets define us, asked Seavey? “When we don’t tell the truth about a minister who betrayed our trust and yet another person becomes invisible to our community, who are we? How does keeping our UU institutional secrets about abuse and trauma define us? Are there actions or rituals … that would allow us to walk again on Holy Ground and see what we do not want to see?” 

“It can start by telling a secret — a secret that is your story to tell… So therefore I say, let us open our eyes and see. May we continue to weave sacred stories together until we form new rituals of re-membering… Maybe then the exiled will be safe to return. Maybe then we will discover what freedom, love, and justice really feel like. May it be so.”

You can read Rev. Seavey’s essay in full here. You can watch her deliver it here

I told a lie last month. I told myself (and my readers) that it didn’t hurt much when I found out that the leaders at Scott’s new church had called my complaint “meritless” even after he had proven himself a predator in their midst. 

Three days later, I wondered why my life felt so unexplainably wrong. I felt off-balance, hurt, afraid, and angry, and I didn’t know why. Then I remembered: “meritless.” Of course. That word wasn’t just a reminder of an old wound; it was a brand-new wound. A whole new congregation, hundreds of miles away, now believed I was a nut, a slut, or a liar. And who had inflicted this wound? Ultimately, “meritless” had its roots in whatever Bishop Mathes told Bishop Andrus about me and my complaint. Mathes may have been (mostly) forthcoming at the January 2016 meeting at St Paul’s, but he seems to have told a different story in 2012 — a story that continues to harm my reputation. 

As I was thinking about this chain of events, I remembered the upcoming healing service at St Paul’s. They were planning this offering for the 14th of May. I’d been talking with the priest in charge of the project (for whom I have enormous respect), and I’d asked my own pastor if our church could co-sponsor. I knew that Bishop Mathes would play a role in this service. I had some qualms about accepting healing from a man who continued to publicly minimize my story — and who had explicitly told me to stop contacting him — but I wanted to support the church’s good effort. I’d told the organizers I would be there, and I promised to share the word with my churchmates and my readers.

“Meritless” changed everything. I felt sick just thinking about being at the service, or even being in the same room with the bishop. As much as I wanted to support the church’s effort, I couldn’t expose myself to the harm of being present — and I couldn’t recommend it to other survivors. With regret, I told the organizer that I wouldn’t be there, and I told her why.

Then I stopped thinking about it. With my older son planning a visit, May 14 took on a happier and lighter meaning. Then, the afternoon before the service, a friend forwarded me this notice from the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral: 

“Contrary to prior announcements, Bishop Mathes will not be present.” 

It took me less than a minute to make up my mind to go.

The healing service was holy ground. By coincidence (?), I ran into a trusted friend at the door, so I didn’t have to sit alone. The liturgists had chosen beautiful readings: Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 139:1-17Luke 8:43-48, and Luke 14:1-6.  The litany of healing from the January 26 meeting was woven into this service too. The hymns were comforting (except for the line “let me forgive as one forgiven;” forgiveness is complicated for survivors of CSM.) The priests offered words of reflection after the gospel readings; those were beautiful and helpful too. With the priests’ permission, I may share those words in this blog.

There were only about a dozen of us there. The service was so intimate that we gathered in the chancel; we were a small group surrounding the altar. After the readings, we were invited to receive prayer with laying on of hands. When I went forward, I asked the priest to pray not only for me but for the congregation. That is my fervent prayer; we all need to heal together. 

Finally, we were offered communion. Receiving the wine was the scariest moment for me. The woman holding the chalice, formerly a dear friend, had shown me great unkindness after I reported Scott. But as she held out the sacramental cup, she gave me a warm look of welcome. I knew she wasn’t there by random chance. She had to have volunteered for this role. I choose to see her actions as an offering of peace. For that, I am grateful.

It has been five weeks since I found out about the disparaging label “meritless.” I wanted to write more about it, and I wanted to write about my plans to stay away from the service, but all of it hurt too much to think about. I’m now glad I didn’t write. My silence may have made room for the bishop’s grace-filled decision to stay away.

It’s been five days since the service. Before I shared here, I needed to let the waters settle. Paradoxically, the church’s welcome opened the lid on my excruciating memories of being shunned. I needed time to deal with that pain, and I needed time to figure out what this healing service meant. Did it make a difference? Yes. The service didn’t erase my wounds or my scars, but it opened the door for me to be part of the community again. I don’t think anyone expects me to rejoin the church — but now I know I’ll be genuinely welcome when I visit.

Here is another measure of healing. Next Monday, my pastor will co-lead a candidates’ forum with the dean of St Paul’s. Before this service, I would have felt a pang of loss on seeing the announcement: “This will be a great event, but I’m not wanted there.” But now? I happily put the forum on my calendar. A church that was once my beloved spiritual home, and then was scorched earth, has been restored to me. 

My life is one degree more whole. 

The journey of healing continues.

Last month I came across this article about church response to clergy sexual misconduct. It was so clear and strong! It’s rare to find writing this good on church response. I wondered, “Who wrote this?” Then I looked at the byline. Of course — the Rev. Dr. Darryl Stephens, a former leader from the United Methodist Church’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Stephens now writes and teaches, and I’m sure his work helps many, but he is painfully missed by victims and survivors within the UMC. During his tenure on the Commission, he provided extraordinary support to at least one survivor whom I know. No one has yet filled his shoes, but at least the Commission is still working to protect and promote the dignity of women. A Commission executive described that work here in 2012, saying “We are getting more requests than we can handle.” 

Unfortunately, the Commission may soon be turning down all requests. The quadrennial UMC General Conference is happening this week in Portland, Oregon. While the media focuses on the church’s positions on hot social issues like human sexuality, they’ll likely give a collective yawn to church governance issues. Yet some of those changes have enormous implications! Within the next few days, the church will vote on whether to adopt “Plan UMC Revised.” Hidden deep within this dull-sounding plan: it would eliminate the Commission on the Status and Role of Women

I’m sure the UMC would tell me not to worry. The commission on the Status and Role of Women may be going away (as well as the Commission on Religion and Race), but the vital work will continue via a newly constituted “United Methodist Committee on Inclusiveness.” Golly, isn’t that a fine-sounding name? Unfortunately, I believe it’s a hedge. Rather than explicitly naming the needs of women and racial minorities, the church only says it’ll be “inclusive.” Considering the fact that the UMC still punishes ministers who perform same-sex weddings, even though those marriages are legal in all 50 states, it’s clear that “inclusive” is actually quite selective. By replacing commissions on gender and race with an ill-defined office of “inclusiveness,” the UMC waters down its promise to fight against racial and gender bias.

This is happening in other institutions as well. I spoke this week with a friend whose husband leads the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training for a branch of the U.S. military in his region. My friend told me some sad news. “My husband’s old C.O. knew how important this work was, but his new C.O. told him ‘Spend as little time as you can on this issue. Just keep the Pentagon off our backs.’ “ Under the new command, my friend’s husband has to divide his time between SAPR and racial sensitivity training. He is no longer a SAPR trainer; he’s a “diversity officer.” He now has to do two full-time jobs, without the time or resources to do justice to either one.

It’s hard to stay optimistic when I learn that a major denomination is eliminating an office that made such a difference to survivors of CSM. It seems lately that anytime I hear good news (like when the local bishop finally disclosed my complaint against Scott to the congregation at St Paul’s), there’s bad news right behind (like when leaders at Scott’s new church publicly call my complaint “meritless.”) “Spotlight” notwithstanding, as a society we are still massively in denial about the scope and impact of clergy sexual misconduct. 

But the work continues. I take courage from the good things that are happening, like the study on church response to CSM, coming out this fall from Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work. (Please note the survey is now closed.) I have faith that when I need a break from the work, there will be others to speak truth and carry the baton forward. 

Swept Under the Carpet

Remember that letter I sent to the pastoral search committee at my offender’s new church? I referred to the letter here. I never heard back from the search committee or their bishop, so I assumed they had swept my warning under the carpet.

Now I’m not so sure. The spring 2016 issue of Cow Hollow Church News (the newsletter of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco) carries a detailed account of the congregational meeting that followed Scott’s defrocking on pages 20-22. “The vestry pledged transparency,” the article begins. Did they deliver on that promise? Let’s find out.

The church’s Junior Warden spoke first. She spoke of her “personal struggle” with the news. She had admired Scott’s spiritual gifts, as had many in the congregation. (As had I, in fact.) “He was a compassionate and helpful pastoral counselor for her on several occasions as she navigated some of life’s challenges,” the article states. I can’t read those words without shuddering; that’s exactly how Scott worked to gain my trust. 

The Senior Warden spoke next. He praised the vestry for having held the burden of confidentiality during the proceedings. Then he
“addressed a decision made when Scott was called to St. Mary’s three years ago. At the 13th hour in that process, he revealed, a few members of the Search Committee and the vestry learned of a Title IV complaint charged to Scott in San Diego. The individuals went to Bishop Marc. He confirmed that there had been a complaint but that after a thorough investigation, the complaint had been found to be meritless. Given this information, the small group did not pass this information on to other members of the Search Committee or vestry.”

Meritless??

Meritless??!!??

Thank God for six years of healing. Rather than triggering a new wave of trauma, “meritless” only caused a few minutes of irritation. Of course my complaint wasn’t meritless! In the congregational meeting at St. Paul’s on January 26, 2016, Bishop Mathes confirmed that I had been speaking the truth. “After assessing the facts, which were not in dispute,” he told the congregation, “I made the determination that the matter did not rise to the level of a Title IV complaint, but was a serious error.” He placed Scott under pastoral direction, a consequence so severe that it becomes a mandatory part of any background check. Indeed, when Scott became a candidate at St Mary’s, Bishop Mathes revealed this fact to Bishop (Marc) Andrus. Mathes may or may not have tried to characterize Scott’s offense against me as “minor”; he may or may not have told Bishop Marc that Scott caused me enough harm to merit a settlement from the Episcopal Church’s insurance arm. But even if Bishop Marc didn’t hear that from Bishop Mathes, he (and the vestry and search committee heads) had that fact from me directly, via my “13th hour” letter.

Did Bishop Mathes describe my complaint to Bishop Marc as “meritless”? I doubt it. Did Bishop Marc use that word when he talked to the vestry and search committee? Did the Senior Warden use that word when he spoke at the congregational meeting? Or was it simply a word that the article’s author chose to summarize her understanding of the case?

I will never know where “meritless” came from. But regardless of who said what to whom, it still appears that the truth of Scott’s harmful behavior in San Diego has been swept under the carpet by at least one of the voices in that chain of communication. I’m angry at yet one more lie told about my story, but at the same I’m proud of the Senior Warden for publicly acknowledging my effort to alert church leaders. Even if he handled my communication imperfectly, at least he made the congregation aware I had tried. So — I give St Mary’s vestry credit for transparency.

But let’s get back to the meeting. The next speaker was the Associate Rector, whom I can’t praise highly enough. She revealed she had been the first of the complainants against Scott at St. Mary’s. How much courage it must have taken for her to continue her role as a minister, even as she may have been hearing congregants trying to “blame the victim”! Yet, as she says, “You lost your rector. I didn’t want you to lose your associate too.” St. Paul once gave advice to the church in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” To the church in Cow Hollow: you can find no better example than the way Rev. Claire shone during this crisis.

The new Interim Priest concluded the meeting. Rev. Don rang a clear bell of truth with these words: “No matter what circumstance, the priest in a congregation always holds the power; and when that power is misused it has to be dealt with.” In other words: it is always, always the minister’s responsibility to keep things safe. It is never, never, ever the congregant’s fault if “spiritual” becomes “sexual.” 

Now, let me share Rev. Don’s final words with you: “To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

What was that, Rev. Don?

“To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

Can you say that one more time?

“TO SWEEP THIS UNDER THE RUG IS TO INVITE A SIMILAR THING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.”

The whole reason I reported Scott was to protect other women. The whole reason I wrote that “13th hour” letter was to protect the women at St. Mary’s, to prevent what happened to me from happening to any of them. And yet. I wonder if Rev. Don, or anyone, felt the irony in his words.

On the justice-making journey: one step forward, a thousand miles to go.

A Very Good Good Friday

On Good Friday, we’re supposed to contemplate the suffering of Jesus on the cross. But what if Good Friday brings such a procession of miracles that sorrow is impossible? I have no authority to say this, but I’m saying it anyway: our emotions don’t have to match the church calendar. On Easter six years ago, I felt like dying, and wondered what was wrong with me. Today, on Good Friday, I feel more like Easter. And there’s nothing wrong with me at all.

Here’s how it happened. A friend from my current church invited me to join her at the Good Friday service at St Paul’s. After some hesitation, I accepted. I couldn’t be more grateful that I did. Here are a few of the blessings I received.
* At the entrance, an old friend greeted me warmly. She gave me a big hug. Standing next to her was a leader who had spurned me when I reported Scott six years ago. He had no interest in greeting me today either, but that didn’t matter. My friend’s greeting made me feel welcomed and loved.
* The music (Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, beautifully performed by two vocal soloists and a small string ensemble) was exquisite! It filled my soul with joy despite the sorrowful theme. The three homilies were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Despite our rift, I felt comfortable listening to the bishop delivering the final message, and he seemed comfortable with my presence.
* As I was leaving, I recognized an old friend, a woman of deep faith and prayer. Though I’ve never spoken with her about what happened, she knows my story. She looked straight at me and said, “I’m really glad to see you here again. This is healing!” Did she mean my presence was a sign that the church is healing? Or that my presence helps the church heal? Either way, her words strengthened my sense of being welcomed and wanted. 

Perhaps the greatest blessing was in the printed bulletin: a prominent announcement for the upcoming series on clergy misconduct. This is such good news that I’m going to share it in full.

SERIES — “A SACRED TRUST: Clergy Misconduct Education”
April 10: Ordination and Power: Theolog(ies) and Practicalit(ies) of Ordained Ministry. What power does (and doesn’t) ordination confer? What ethical standards guide priests besides the Bible? What about sin? What’s the process for discipline?
April 17: How Misconduct Happens: Understanding the Dynamics of Clergy Sexual Misconduct. What do studies reveal about common patterns in leaders, communities, and events involving misconduct? How is this different from “an affair” or “romance”? Why is it so often very traumatic?
April 24: Where Do We Go From Here? Building Safer Communities. How can we all participate in developing a culture where this is less likely to happen? What’s so great about boundaries? Why are we still talking about this?

A young husband & wife team of priests will teach the first session. I’ve known them both for many years; I trust and respect them immensely. A well-respected local psychologist will lead the second class. From the description, it’s clear she will be sharing the groundbreaking study by Baylor University. The third class will be led by the new dean of St Paul’s. I don’t envy her having to lead a congregation that has been so profoundly betrayed. Being an after-pastor is so difficult that when I asked expert Mark Laaser what advice he would give one, he said, “Don’t take the job.” But Dean Penny has the job, and she has my prayers. 

I couldn’t have designed a better program if I’d had a year to work on it. I am incredibly grateful to the lay and clergy leaders whose courage and persistence made this day possible. I am hopeful for the congregation at St Paul’s, and for the priests who lead them. I’ll be praying for them; I hope you will too.

So on this Good Friday, I’m full of Easter feelings: gratitude, hope, triumph and joy. For survivors who have made it to this place of healing: I celebrate with you. For those who are still struggling: you have my prayers — but  I hope you also have hope. The journey of healing is long and painful, but don’t ever give up. Keep on doing the next right thing for yourself and your healing. Keep putting one foot in front of another, and one day you’ll find yourself blessed in ways you can’t begin to imagine today.

Wishing all my readers a very good Good Friday.

A leader at my former church sent me a heads-up: “Our Easter flower donations list includes several donations by parishioners in appreciation of Scott and [his wife].” This leader didn’t want me to be blind-sided if I attended Holy Week or Easter services. I told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness. It feels good to have a church leader thinking, “How will my decisions affect someone who was harmed in my church?” 

But she could have taken it a step further. I’m glad the church didn’t refuse the tribute donation, even though it honors a man who caused me such harm. The congregation loved Scott. Grief is a long and painful process, and we need to remember that denial and anger are part of the process. It may take years (or a lifetime) for Scott’s admirers to accept the fact of his guilt. Meanwhile, they are doing what they can to show their love.

Even given in love, these flowers create a hostile environment for victims and survivors. If Scott had harmed another woman at St Paul’s, and if she were trying to decide whether to come forward, the floral tribute might silence her forever. 

How might church leaders address this problem? To balance things out, they could invite donations of flowers to honor the voices of survivors of abuse, or they could pass the hat at the staff meeting and make that donation themselves. They could include an awareness message in the service bulletins — unusual during Holy Week, but all the more impactful. They could pump up the publicity for the the classes on clergy misconduct. 

Yes, you read that right! Next month, St Paul’s will offer a three-week series on clergy misconduct during the Sunday adult education hour. I was thrilled when I heard about it. I don’t plan to attend; the congregation needs to have an honest conversation, and my presence might make that difficult. But I am delighted they are doing this work. So — in response to the flowers honoring Scott, the church could make a stronger effort to get people to those classes.

Even more important: church leaders could recognize the grief in those floral tributes. Along with the educational effort, they could embark on a conscious course of healing for the congregation. It wouldn’t be easy; it would take a lot longer than three weeks. Rebuilding trust and vibrancy could take years. Hopkins & Laaser’s Restoring the Soul of a Church (Liturgical Press, 1995) tells stories of congregational healing; the leaders at St Paul’s might use these stories to generate their own process, including a liturgy of healing — because no one does liturgy like Episcopalians.

Speaking of liturgy: later this spring, St Paul’s will offer a service of healing for survivors of clergy misconduct. It will be open to all denominations. Even though I consider myself substantially healed, I’ll be at that service. I don’t expect any miracles; I know even the best liturgy can’t undo the damage or erase the scars of my experience. But then again, a floral tribute can’t erase Scott’s disgrace or restore him to the priesthood either. A healing service, like the floral tribute, is a gift of compassion and love.

And I accept with gratitude.

When Spotlight came out, I didn’t want to see it. Already steeped in the stress of divorce, I wanted to let my sleeping trauma lie. I let the blog go silent for more than two months; I had too much on my plate already. Then one of my friends — a survivor whom I trust — said, “You need to see this movie.” But whom to see it with? By that time, my friends had already seen it. During a meeting with our divorce team, I finally asked my husband. (Paradoxically, the divorce process was easing tensions between us). He happily agreed, but we never found a date that worked. 

Then the news broke about “Kevin.” It re-opened old wounds. The bishop’s truth-telling brought both healing and anger, which itself brought more healing. As my church-inflicted wounds healed, so did some of the wounds in my marriage — not by osmosis, but because of my husband’s strong support and affirmation. As the church took steps toward justice, Michael and I began to take steps toward reconciliation. I realized I was strong enough to take my own self to see Spotlight. 

To any survivors who haven’t seen this movie: if it’s still showing in your town, don’t miss it. The story is not so much about clergy abuse as it is about smart, tenacious reporting by brave men and women who had been raised by the very institution they were investigating. For me, there were three takeaways. First, how important our voices are as survivors. The Boston Globe could not have broken the story in 2002 without Phil Saviano, the survivor who opened the New England chapter of SNAP. Second, how hard it is for us to be heard. Saviano had given a list of abusive priests and victims to the Globe in the 1990s, but as (then Assistant Managing Editor) Ben Bradlee Jr says in the film, “Saviano was a f***ing train wreck five years ago.” The more impaired we are, the easier to discredit. I know I’m not the only survivor to experience this hard truth.

The third takeaway: the real story isn’t about individual ministers who exploit their power. It isn’t even about a pattern of abusive ministers. The real story is about the institutions that protect and enable them. In the movie, the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, urges the four journalists to track the story not down to the priests, but up to the top of the system. If the Globe ran a story about “fifty pedophile priests,” Baron tells his team,
“we’ll get into the same cat fight you got into on [an earlier story about an abusive Catholic priest], which made a lot of noise but changed things not one bit. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the Church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes, time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.” 

I’m now reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692. The Salem witch trials fascinate me. Not only have I lived the horror of ostracism by a fearful community, I’m also descended from one of the witches (Ann Foster, who died in a Salem prison in 1692). As the frenzy in Salem grew, Boston’s Thomas Brattle spoke rare words of clarity and prophecy. Quoting Brattle, Schiff asks, “How might anyone involved in the trials not later ‘look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable?’ [Brattle] trembled at the thought, the first to anticipate an indelible stain on New England, one that ages would not remove.”

Three hundred years from now, will the Catholic Church bear this same indelible stain? 

Religious corruption is not the sole property of the Catholic Church, of course, nor its sole defining attribute. Noble things can grow side by side with foul ones. New England gave birth not only to the witch trials but to American democracy; the Catholic Church produced the abusive Father Geoghan and the collusive Cardinal Law, but also heroes of compassion and courage like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero. 

And clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition. The Episcopal Church — or at least one leader in that church — seems intent on preventing the indelible stain. I’ve learned that a bishop, presumably Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, has notified all of Kevin’s former congregations of Kevin’s offenses and removal as a priest, just as Bishop Jim Mathes did with my former congregation in San Diego. If this is true, Bishops Bruno and Mathes are leading the way toward transparency, safer churches, and healing for those whom the church has injured.

It is time for me to follow their brave example and remove the protective veil of alias. For the sake of readers who may have been hurt by Kevin at any of the churches he has served, it is time for me to be open. This is the man I’ve been calling Kevin, and these are the Episcopal congregations where he served before his most recent assignment.
1989-1992: curate at St Wilfrid’s, Huntington Beach
1992-1998: rector at St Mary’s, Lompoc
1998-2003: youth minister and associate rector at All Saints, Pasadena
2003-2012: dean, St Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego

The bishops of Los Angeles and San Diego have invited anyone with concerns to come forward confidentially. If you have concerns about inappropriate behavior by this priest in Huntington Beach, Lompoc, or Pasadena (or in Ventura where he served as a youth leader in the early 1980s), please contact the Diocese of Los Angeles. If you have concerns about events in San Diego, please contact the Diocese of San Diego.

Reporting an abusive minister is always scary. We are almost always hurt by the process. There’s no guarantee this won’t happen this time. But there is this safety: the church already knows this priest has a pattern of harm. They won’t be trying to protect him; they’ve already dismissed him. If he has harmed other women, the church is more likely to hear and believe them now.

God bless all who have the courage to shine the light of truth.

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