* NOTE: This is a work of imagination. I learned last week the specific lies my offender told after I left the church, and to whom. “Pastor Kevin” has never spoken or written publicly about this matter. But if he did, and if he were honest, this is what he might write.
Four years ago, Catherine Thiemann filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against me. I don’t mind sharing her real name, because she has openly identified as the complainant. After Bishop ______ closed the case, she talked with some of you, her most trusted friends. After you heard from her, you came to me with very reasonable concerns. As you visited my office one by one, I shared what happened from my perspective. I set your minds at ease, but I have not slept an easy night since. I didn’t tell any outright lies, but I chose my truths so carefully that I made you believe a lie. In short, to protect my reputation, I destroyed hers. I know that some of you shunned Catherine as a direct result of my testimony to you. Words cannot convey the shame I feel today. In an effort to make amends, I am setting the record straight.
Here is what I have told some of you: “Catherine Thiemann told me she was attracted to me. My biggest mistake was not ending the pastoral counseling relationship once she revealed her attraction.”
Here is what actually happened: Catherine did reveal these feelings, but her words could never be construed as a come-on. At the beginning of the fourth year of our pastoral relationship, she acknowledged that “transference” had developed. She knew that her feelings might mean an end to the pastoral relationship. At that point, I should have referred her to another counselor. Even better, I should have done so years before. By meeting every two months for years on end, we were within the letter of the bishop’s guideline, but our meetings violated the spirit of that law. I took advantage of Catherine’s ignorance of the law because I wanted the relationship to continue.
When Catherine revealed her feelings by email, I invited her to meet with me to discuss them. At our next meeting, two months later, I was the one who brought up the subject. Obviously shy on this topic, Catherine answered my questions with scant “yes” or “no.” Undeterred, I went on. I told her that from the beginning, I had been attracted to her as a woman. I told her that if we were both single and I weren’t her priest, I would be asking her for a date. When she left my office, I think we both felt strong emotion.
A week later, I heard back from her. She reminded me that after three years of pastoral counseling, I knew exactly how vulnerable she was. She said that my words had put her emotional and spiritual health at risk. And she ended the pastoral counseling relationship. I asked if we could continue meeting as “partners on the spiritual journey.” She said we could consider it, but not until many months had passed.
I knew she was right, but my strong feelings overcame my better judgment. A few weeks later, I invited Catherine to co-author a book with me. I told her we could meet as often as necessary to move the project forward. That spring, we met nearly every week. I had intended to work on the book during my sabbatical. But as summer approached, I became concerned about Catherine’s feelings for me. On the last day before my sabbatical, I told her I had changed my mind and would not be working on the book that summer. I was hoping that she would give up on the project, and that is what she did. But she was justifiably angry. She had already done a great deal of work to get the book started.
I came back from sabbatical refreshed and renewed. Catherine kept a chilly distance. I felt guilty about having withdrawn a project that had been important to her, but even more I still felt shame over having expressed my sexual feelings for her a year earlier. I wanted to help with her healing, so I created what seemed like the perfect job, and she accepted. Catherine worked for a year at St. ______’s as the Associate for Peace and Justice Ministries. We were proud to have her representing the church in our community. You can read about all she accomplished in our church’s January 2010 Annual Report.
I don’t know why Catherine waited two years to file her complaint. But I do know that when she spoke, she spoke the truth, and that she took action out of her concern for other women. I had already acknowledged to her that she was part of a pattern in my life. She felt she saw that pattern continuing with specific women at St. ______’s. Indeed I had seen some of those women for pastoral counseling over many years. I pray that I didn’t cause harm to any of them. I no longer offer long-term pastoral counseling to anyone, man or woman. I now abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
It pains me to write these next words, but a full accounting demands them. When some of you visited my office, I gave you the impression that Catherine was emotionally disturbed. If there was any truth to that, I understand that my behavior was the cause. If you doubt Catherine’s character or stability, I refer you to her immense contribution toward our church’s mission while she was here, and to her role as a leader in our city’s social justice work ever since.
I wish I’d spoken this truth four years ago. But Bishop ______ chose to handle the matter confidentially. I couldn’t have spoken publicly without directly disobeying my bishop. Even more important, I didn’t want to cause my dear wife any more pain than she already felt. I regret that I didn’t show more courage.
All this is history, of course; the damage is long done. Catherine has severed ties with the Episcopal Church, and I doubt she will change that decision. I doubt that any of the shattered friendships will be rebuilt. I tell this truth today not to change the past, but simply to correct the record and clear her name. Catherine Thiemann does not deserve the hostility she has received from our church. Today, I take full responsibility.