Marie Fortune lists the seven things that a victim of clergy sexual abuse needs: truth-telling, acknowledging the violation, compassion, protecting the vulnerable, accountability, restitution, and vindication.
Vindication is the final key to freedom. Along my journey I’ve been vindicated in small ways: A former colleague asking my forgiveness for her part in my shunning. Marie herself, in my presence, telling my church leaders that secrecy is harmful and wrong. Sojourners accepting my story for their series on sexual violence.
But I’m still looking for the big vindication. I should be able to walk into my old church without seeing a sneer of disgust from a beloved pastor emeritus (this actually happened last fall, and at a memorial service no less.) I know I acted with integrity and courage; I know my pastor took shameful advantage of my trust. If justice prevailed, everyone in the congregation would know it too. But the church’s secrecy makes this impossible.
I can’t have justice for myself, but I can seek it for other victims. So I do this work, and I look for signs of progress. This month, three stories give me hope.
* Over 1400 people have signed the G.R.A.C.E. petition calling on Christian leaders to stand on the side of CSM victims. “When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy… have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the ‘little ones.’ ” I hope you will sign it, too.
* Churches are beginning to listen to survivors. From the UK arm of The Hope Of Survivors: “[Our volunteer] Anthony met with the safeguarding officer of the Baptist Union recently and she took away one of the THOS brochures. She has read it through and found it very helpful. The Baptist Union, which oversees 2000+ churches in England, have pulled their safeguarding policies from their website in order to re-write them. This, I understand, is as a direct result of our experience. The BU safeguarding officer has asked us to give them advice on what needs to be in their new policy.” The new Baptist Union policy will protect thousands of vulnerable women and men.
* The experience of Irene McCormack Jackson, the first victim to publicly accuse Mayor Bob Filner. I have utmost compassion for what Irene is suffering now, and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything — but in a way she is living my dream. She came forward under the protection of one of the nation’s most respected attorneys. City, state, and national leaders immediately and very publicly denounced her offender. By the end of the week, six more women, prominent leaders all, had come forward with similar charges. (The total is now eight). We still don’t know whether Filner will leave office, whether he’ll face criminal charges, or whether Irene will get the financial settlement she deserves. But even with all that uncertainty, Irene has already won. The world stands on her side. Her offender is publicly (very publicly ) shamed.
I plan to follow this story closely. “Plan” might not be the right word; the truth is I’m obsessed with it. I want Irene to win. But regardless of how the story plays out, I’ve already claimed some vindication. Justice for Irene, even just in the court of public opinion, is justice for all of us.