Clergy sexual misconduct: one survivor's voice

Sometimes we are blinded by our own knowledge. I’ve spent so many years reading and writing about clergy sexual abuse that I sometimes forget how naïve I once was. Most people still live in that state of naiveté, unaware of the scope and danger of CSA. The scope is huge: more than three percent of churchgoing women have suffered sexual advances from clergy as adults. And the danger is huge: The Hope of Survivors lists consequences of CSA including depression, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, suicide attempts, impaired relationships, and loss of faith.

Before I became a victim, I knew none of this. I thought it was fine for unmarried pastors to date their unmarried congregants. If my pastor and I had both been single, we might have “dated” (meaning: his sexualization of our pastoral relationship might have escalated to the physical) — and it would have made for an even bigger nightmare.

Erik Campano survived this experience with a female minister, and he tells the story here. Sadder and wiser, Erik now writes with great power and clarity on this issue. I plan to share his superb article Eleven Reasons Why Pastors Should Never Date Their Parishioners with my friends and family who still live in that state of innocence. I hope they will understand my experience better, but even more, I hope they’ll join the growing number of churchgoers who are willing to “see something, say something.” An informed congregation can help keep clergy from crossing the line.

How I admire Erik Campano’s resilience! It took me years to be able to write about my experience, and he is sharing the horrors of his church’s response only months later. He has had to overcome the same stigma we all do, and more: if it’s difficult for a woman to come forward, it’s even harder for a man. And while I choose not to name my abuser in my writings, he holds his abuser, church and denomination publicly accountable. For that, I commend him.

You can read Erik’s interview with another survivor, Michele, at his blog, Accurate and Courageous Journalism of Religion.

Comments on: "Profile in Courage: Erik Campano" (1)

  1. Thank you so, so much for your kind words, Catherine. So many survivors — including yourself — have exhibited so much courage! CSA is a problem that we can solve. It just requires us to keep speaking, writing, telling stories. We need to describe the phenomenon in more and more detail and to audiences of all different kinds. Sooner or later we’ll reach a tipping point — and institutional change will happen automatically, as religious leaders become aware that they’ve got to answer to society’s evolving awareness about the dangers of clergy sexual abuse.

    By the way, I’ve written a full account of my story here:

    Please note that the New York Post article which is linked to in the post above contains a lot of factual inaccuracies — and greatly trivialized the case. Episcopal leaders struck a legal deal with the paper to misreport the events. That was, sadly, a move away from transparency. But as long as survivors and their support team keep telling the truth, churches won’t be able make such secret agreements. The Internet helps a lot to this end; information that used to be controlled by wealthy churches, who could exert influence over a few media outlets, now can be brought to light by anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. The old methods of suppressing cases are becoming less and less effective.

    To that end, I wrote a letter to Bishop Andrew Dietsche of New York this week, suggesting that the diocese put together a yearly anonymous list of sexual misconduct complaints, with description and action taken. Some universities are pioneering this. For churches, such a document would make great strides toward calming public fears about silencing of victims. As I explain in my full story, various diocesan officials have given me various numbers about the frequency of misconduct complaints. One priest formerly at the diocesan offices said she dealt with 13 cases over 7 years. Dietsche, however denies that there were so many. I haven’t gotten a response from Dietsche to my latest letter, but it is cc:ed to another Bishop with whom I worked with quite closely, Clay Matthews, who is the Episcopal Church’s head for pastoral care and clergy development. (He’s on vacation right now.)

    Yale has provided examples of such sexual misconduct complaint reports here: The latest report came under a lot of fire because the university did not expel students thought to have committed sexual assault. The format of the report, however, is comprehensive and responsible, and I’m hoping that somehow, somehow, we can get denominational leaders to consider producing something similar.

    Your work is amazing. As more and more voices like yours speak out, people will learn about the dangers of pastor-parishioner relationships, and churches will become places where people can go without being at risk of sexual exploitation. That’s a future that’s brighter for congregants, clergy — everyone.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: