Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for October, 2013

The Hope of Survivors in Australia

More good news from down under! The Hope of Survivors has just been incorporated as a nonprofit in Australia. THOS began conducting programs in Australia seven years ago. Now, as an approved nonprofit organization, they can accept donations in that country and broaden their outreach. Along with the Safe Church Project of Australia’s National Council of Churches, this is good news for Australian survivors and churchgoers.

The Hope of Survivors played a critical role in my healing. I learned about their Hope & Healing conference in the summer of 2011 and signed up immediately, eager to meet other survivors for the first time. But when I got there, I realized I was still in too much pain to meet anyone. For most of the day, I sat in the back of the room, silently wiping tears. Talking with my husband afterward, I couldn’t remember most of what I had heard. But I did remember this: every speaker repeated the same beautiful words: “This was not your fault.” I drank in those words as if they were rain on parched earth.

Hope & Healing doesn’t happen every year, but it happened again in 2012. What a difference a year makes! Instead of weeping in the back row, I was able to listen, ask questions, and engage with other survivors, including the four women whose testimony sent Patrick Edouard to prison. I remember far more of what I heard that day. But more important, I could clearly see how much I had healed in a year. The difference was nothing short of a miracle.

It’s hard for most survivors to travel to these meetings. Thankfully, THOS is just a phone call away. If you’d like to talk with a trained volunteer counselor who can help you understand your experience, you can find THOS phone numbers hereBesides Australia and the U.S., THOS also operates in Canada and Romania. In the U.S., survivors can ask for a Spanish-speaking counselor.

I’m off to Seattle on Sunday for the FaithTrust Institute’s “Responding to Clergy Misconduct” training. The training is meant for “judicatory or organizational leaders (clergy and laity) who are responsible for responding to complaints of clergy misconduct.” I’m not in that group, but FTI generously allowed me to sign up anyway. I’ll share my insights as a survivor of a less-than-ideal church response, and I’ll look to the insights of my fellow trainees who are doing this painful and difficult task. This training will equip me for the next phase of my work. I’ll be teaming up with fellow survivor Erik Campano to reach out to recent survivors from the Episcopal Church. Church leaders are now studying how the 2009 revisions to Title IV (the canon that addresses clergy discipline) has affected the clergy who receive complaints. Erik and I will find out how the new canon has affected complainants. We’ll share what we learn with the church, and I’ll share it with readers here. If you’d like to stay informed, click the “Follow” button on the right.

Progress in Australia! Can It Happen Here?

I have a dream… that one day, national leaders from all faith traditions will gather to solve the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

I have a dream… that these leaders will include survivors in their work, listening to our voices and learning from our experience.

I have a dream… that they will enlist ordinary clergy and congregations in this work, finally aligning all of our interests and creating real solutions.

Friends, are you sitting down? This is not a dream! This gathering actually happened in Australia, and has happened since 2004. The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune just spent three weeks “down under” as the guest of the Safe Church Project of the National Council of Churches in Australia. She led trainings in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne and keynoted the Safe As Churches? conference in Sydney. (Imagine your denomination inviting Marie Fortune to keynote a convention! At this year’s national gathering of the UCC, I couldn’t even find one workshop on safer churches, much less a keynote address.)

Marie Fortune has worked with churches in Australia since the late 1990s. Ten years ago, she began to notice “efforts across denominations to put policy and procedures in place to address complaints of clergy misconduct.” This year, she was thrilled to see 180 people from a variety of faith traditions gathering to learn, strengthen relationships, and plan for an even greater future.

Something good is happening in Australia. I still get chills watching an address by the Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, last June. As his army investigated allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, Morrison gave the strongest possible message to his troops. If I shared all the words I admire, I would be quoting his entire speech. You owe it to yourself to watch General Morrison’s message.

We need a David Morrison. Obviously the church is not an army, so what we really need is an army of David Morrisons: individual church leaders who will stand up, speak boldly, and unite with other leaders. I hope every U.S. bishop and judicatory leader will read Marie Fortune’s Australian trip report, pick up the phone, and call a colleague in another faith tradition.

We often pray for the church “that we may all be one.” Is there any issue that calls for Christian unity more than this one?

Why Does Healing Take So Long?

“Isn’t it time to move on?”

As survivors, we hear this question all the time: sometimes directly, more often in silence and a change of subject. Our loved ones may have many reasons for not wanting to talk about it. Maybe our experience triggers memories of sexual offenses that they have endured, or that they have inflicted on others. Maybe they don’t want to know the harm that their beloved pastor or church caused in our lives. Maybe they genuinely want the best for us and genuinely believe that we won’t heal until we can “leave it all behind.”

Whatever their reasons, they can’t understand why it takes so long for us to heal, and they get frustrated. I get frustrated too. When I reported my pastor in January 2010, I knew I was in for a few rough months, but I figured life would be back to normal by summertime. But that summer, I was still in treatment for an eating disorder brought on by the abuse. Nearly four years later, life still isn’t back to normal. I have gained substantial wholeness, but my previous “normal” is gone forever. My new “normal” is wrapped around scars. And four years later, the pain sometimes still feels fresh.

Why does healing take so long? Here are some of my thoughts.
1. On a pain scale, clergy sexual abuse is near the top. The Rev. Pamela Cooper White calls CSA “soul stealing.” Dr. Martin Weber, president of the board of The Hope of Survivors, served as a police chaplain for many years. At a survivors’ gathering two years ago, Dr. Weber told us about going with police officers when they had to notify next-of-kin. He would sit with the bereaved through the first shock of grief and loss, often in the middle of the night. Even after witnessing these searing scenes, he says he has never seen greater suffering than he sees in victims of clergy sexual abuse.
2. Our wounds may be invisible, but they are deep. I have a brave young friend who fell last summer while climbing a difficult rock cliff. “Cassie” may be tied to a wheelchair for life. How insulting would it be for me to insist that she “move on” and “put it behind her”? Yet that is what CSA survivors hear. Having struggled for years to “move on,” and having watched other survivors do the same, I have come to believe that our experience is the emotional and spiritual equivalent of falling off a 35-foot cliff.
3. We lose community. If we report our offending pastors, we are most often silenced and ostracized. If we quietly leave our churches, we become the butt of gossip. Even our most loyal friends may walk away when they realize the price they pay for standing up with us. We must face the most painful and confusing experience of our lives — alone. For many of us, the loss of community is more traumatic than the abuse itself.
4. Beyond the spiritual and emotional pain, we may have tangible losses. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse may lose our marriages. We may become estranged from parents or siblings still loyal to the church. If we worked for the church, we may lose our livelihood. If the abuse happened in seminary, we may lose our sacred calling. We may fall into addictions. The emotional damage may make us unemployable for months or years. We may suffer permanent changes to our health. We may even attempt suicide. (Please, if you have considered suicide, click here for hope and help.)

So what can we tell our friends and families? If they are secretly carrying baggage as victims or perpetrators of sexual offenses, we may need to just give them time to come to terms with their experience and ours. If they are so loyal to our offending pastor or church that they feel they can’t support us in our healing — well, there’s nothing we can do about that. We can be grateful for the other ways those people are a blessing in our lives. And if there are no “other ways,” we may need walk away from those friendships.

But the people who genuinely love us want to help us heal; they just may not know how. Here are some things we can tell them.
1. “Just by listening, you are helping me.” Our friends may want to offer tangible help. If we have husbands, they may want to “fix” our pain. We need to tell them how much it means to us when they are willing to simply listen.
2. “What I need now is …” a hug. Or a Bundt cake. Or a friend’s presence in a scary situation (my husband came with me to meet with the bishop in 2010; my friend S. came with me when I visited my former church last week). We can name our specific needs and boldly ask our friends for help. The chances are, they will love the feeling of being needed.
3. “I don’t know how long healing will take or what it will look like, but I am committed to healing.” Share the steps you are taking to recover: therapy, prayer, healthy friendships, twelve-step programs for addictions, meditation, singing, knitting… and ask your loved ones to help you see when any of these pursuits gets out of hand. Believe it or not, it is possible to knit too many scarves.
4. Finally, “I promise I won’t be this sad forever.” While you are saying these words to your family and friends, say them to yourself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about emotions, it’s that they don’t stand still. What I’m feeling now I won’t be feeling even an hour from now. Some hours it gets better, sometimes worse — but over time, as we discover new resources, new ways of coping, and new people whom we can trust, it does get better. My friends tell me that they see me growing more whole every year.

We can never go back to the person we were before the abuse; we can only go forward. We will never trust anyone as unquestioningly as we once trusted our abusive pastors, and that’s a good thing. As we learn to discern whom we can trust, and for what, we can form friendships with more realistic expectations. And when we do find someone whom we can trust with our deepest hopes and fears, we’ll know exactly how blessed we are.


Working With the Law: Making CSA Illegal

A few months ago, I was talking with my dad about my work on this issue. I told him that in many states, pastors can go to prison if they have sexual contact with a congregant. I could see the skeptical look on his face.

“You seem surprised, Dad,” I said. “Why?”

My dad asked, “Why is it the state’s business who a priest has sex with?” In other words: what’s wrong with a little canoodling between consenting adults?

The problem, of course, is “consent.” It’s hard to say “no” to someone more powerful than yourself. And if you can’t say “no,” your “yes” has no meaning, especially when the “yes” is won by emotional manipulation and deceit. My former pastor gained my trust, and eventually my romantic feelings, by feigning interest in my soul. If he had been open about his lust from the beginning, I never would have given him the time of day. But by the time he spoke, I was completely dependent on his pastoral care. It took me nine days to get the clarity of mind to say, “No.” That one word took all my strength, and ultimately I couldn’t make it stick.

I didn’t share all this with my dad; I just said that the power differential made meaningful consent impossible. Aha! I could see the light coming on. My dad said, “So it’s like when psychologists sleep with their patients!” Exactly right. The Hippocratic Oath prohibits sex with patients, and in all fifty states, a therapist can lose his or her license for being sexual with a patient. In many states, that therapist can end up in prison. And in 13 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia, the fiduciary duty law applies to clergy who offend sexually within a pastoral counseling relationship. The National Organization for Women supports efforts for legal reform in all states.

I’m not a lawyer, so I was glad to find a paper explaining the legal issues on the resources page of the Baylor clergy sexual misconduct study. If you’re curious, you can dive into some of these links. Sexual Misconduct of Clergypersons with Congregants or Parishioners — Civil and Criminal Liabilities and Responsibilities (Helge and Toben) is not easy reading, but it offers a deeper understanding of state laws on clergy sexual misconduct. In 11 of the 13 states, CSM is illegal only when it arises from a formal therapeutic counseling relationship. Only Texas and Arkansas criminalize clergy/congregant sex per se. The Texas law, like an earlier Minnesota law, refers to “the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual advisor.” That clause in the Minnesota law was struck down on the basis of church/state entanglement, and the Texas law still faces challenges. In contrast, the Arkansas law never mentions religious practices; it only requires that the clergyman be “in a position of trust or authority over the victim,” using that trust or authority to engage in sexual activity. The Arkansas law has so far stood up to all challenges.

Even as you read these words, the advocacy team at Predatory Pastor is trying to get clergy added to Virginia’s Fiduciary Code and Criminal Statutes. Jim Wright makes a clear supporting argument on his Crossroads Junction blog. I hope you will join me in signing this petition.

And if you are a lawyer interested in getting something started in California, let’s talk.



Signs of Hope

What a hopeful week!

Three days ago, I was certified as a Sexual Ethics trainer for the UCC and Disciples of Christ in my region. The curriculum, developed by the Rev. June Boutwell, is superb. It incorporates two of the ideas that I offered when I sat in on the training in May. If we are effective here, this curriculum may become the national gold standard for the UCC and Disciples of Christ. It is exciting to be in on the ground floor.

Last night I attended a local event for community leaders. Among the twenty or so guests: a labor organizer who is developing a safe way for unionized low-wage workers to report sexual harassment, and a military officer who is working to prevent sexual assault in the U.S. Navy. (I shared with him the work that the FaithTrust Institute will soon be doing with Navy Chaplains).  I may be the only one in my city addressing this problem in churches, but I’m surrounded by people doing this good work in other settings.

This morning, I will co-lead a four-hour class in Sexual Ethics for clergy in the Disciples of Christ. I’ll be working with the awesome June Boutwell. Early in my healing, I felt a strong call to work against clergy sexual abuse. I didn’t know what form my work would take; I just equipped myself with knowledge and watched for open doors. Now I’m walking through one of those doors. Who knows where this journey will lead?

Finally, tomorrow I’ll be going back to my former church for only the second time since I left four years ago. My friends “Heather” and “David” (a married couple) are being ordained as priests. Heather and I shared an office for a while before she left for seminary. They are remarkable people, and they now understand my experience. I have confidence in them. I am still nervous enough about being in that church that I’m bringing a friend for comfort: last year I went to a memorial service for a dear friend, and I experienced some unkindness. But this year, every time I have encountered former churchmates in public, they’ve been genuinely happy to see me. I expect nothing but joy tomorrow — and if I get any unkindness, I’ll just let it be absorbed in the joy of the moment.

So many signs of hope and healing!

My Bundt Cake Is Here

The title is not metaphorical: I really did receive a Bundt cake today!

Coming to terms with the shunning three years ago, I developed a dark sense of humor. I wept when I realized I could count the friends from my former church on the fingers of one hand. But the day realized I could count them on the thumbs of one hand, all I could do was laugh. And then drive straight to that one friend’s house to tell her the story and cry.

Aside from my church friends — er, friend — there were very few people I could talk to. But a small group of women helped me keep my head above water. Among them, “Lorraine” always seemed to know when I needed a lift. On my worst days, invariably she would call, or a gift would arrive on my doorstep, or she would send me an email full of delicious, satisfying swear words telling me exactly what she thought of my tormentors.

And now she has sent me this:

 Bundt cake

What can lift your spirits higher than a Key lime Bundt cake?

Blinded by darkness, it can be hard to see the light. For a long time, I was so focused on loss that I forgot the gifts I still had. All survivors go through this time of darkness; one survivor shares the experience powerfully here. All throughout those dark months when I felt so abandoned, my fiercely loyal friends stood by me. These women lived in different cities and for the most part had never met, but together they formed a raft that helped me survive the storm.

The Episcopal Church defines sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” This Bundt cake, then, is a sacrament. I thought I was waiting for cake; I now see that what I really wanted was to be heard, believed, affirmed, and safely held. And — I now see that I always was. This outward and visible cake has helped me comprehend the inward and spiritual grace of the constant presence of a handful of precious friends.

And, being a sacrament, it tasted divine.

Waiting For My Bundt Cake

My friend Sandy blogs about her son’s drug addiction. “If Joey were dying a slow death from cancer, the world would reach out with comfort,” she writes. Instead, the world see Joey’s addiction as a moral failure — his and his family’s. Sandy finds healing by raising her voice to end the stigma of addiction. She says, “We’ll know we’ve succeeded once comfort is baked into Bundt cakes, as it is for every other disease.” In the meantime, Sandy struggles in loneliness.

I have also known loneliness. During the hardest part of my journey — filing my complaint, waiting for justice that never came, watching friends pull away one by one — I was offering support to a friend whose daughter was battling leukemia. Whenever Gail posted updates on CarePages, dozens of us sent messages of love and support. I knitted a cap for Sydney’s little bald head, and then I taught her how to knit for herself. I wouldn’t have traded places with Gail for anything, but I envied her circle of care. I envied it bitterly! There is no CarePages for clergy sexual abuse. People respond to cancer with Bundt cakes, knitted caps, and love notes, but they respond to clergy sexual abuse by turning their backs and walking away. Almost every time I told my story, I lost another friend. Finally, I just stopped talking. While I was helping Gail survive her ordeal, I was trying to survive my own — but I couldn’t ask her for support. I couldn’t even tell her I was suffering.

Losing community may be the hardest part of the CSA victim’s journey. I expected to lose a few friends, but I was utterly stunned by what happened. In a matter of weeks, I turned from a respected church leader into a nonentity. In the silence from my beloved community, I felt as if I had drowned unseen in a crowded swimming pool. The water closed over my head, I was gone without a ripple, and no one even raised a cry. It was as if I had ceased to exist, or perhaps I had never existed at all. During these awful months, I had a weekly appointment with a therapist who worked near my old church. I parked several blocks from her office so I could walk along the boulevard on which my friends drove to work. Did they see me as they drove? Could they see my pain? I was pale as a cadaver, gaunt as a famine survivor, hollowed empty by trauma. Why would I want them to see me this way?

Honestly: all I wanted was to be seen at all. I wanted to know that I still existed. Maybe that’s why I joined a new church so quickly: I needed to be real again. Once there, I clung to every bit of evidence: an elderly man who greeted me by name every Sunday. Receiving my official church name tag. My face in the congregational photo (scroll down to see it here. I still look for myself every time I see that picture. It still thrills me to find my face in that beautiful crowd.) By now, the evidence is overwhelming: I am not alone any more. I am real, and I’m part of a very real community.

And yet I still sometimes find myself thinking like a refugee, living in constant protection against the next disaster. I skip church when I feel it becoming too important. I keep a distance from anyone who reminds me, no matter how remotely, of someone from my old church. I even look for reasons to back out of the women’s group that helped me find my soul again. But am I not just cheating myself? Cleaning out my files today, I found a little folded card with the emblem of my church on the outside. Inside, these words: “This is to certify that Catherine Thiemann has been received into full membership of Mission Hills United Church of Christ.” Full membership! Not “temporary asylum,” not “legal permanent visitor,” not “foster child until we change our minds.” I have been accepted into FULL MEMBERSHIP. I need to absorb this gift. It’s time to let the refugee go. It’s time to unpack, put the suitcase away, and move in.

We still have a long way to go before we erase the stigma of clergy sexual abuse. I still don’t talk about it with most of the people in my life, just as Sandy can’t talk about her son with most people. But one word at a time, we will end the stigma and elicit compassion for our fellow sufferers and survivors. And when we do, I’m going to enjoy that Bundt cake.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: