Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Hiding Behind the Collar

For most of my life, I was a voracious reader. I loved a good story; I could get lost in a book for hours. That changed about a decade ago. Was this loss connected to my church trauma? Perhaps. To enjoy the pleasure of reading, we need to feel deep down that we deserve it. A lingering sense of shame can get in the way of “deserving.”

But I have found a book that may unlock the joy of reading once again. I ordered Catherine Britton Fairbanks’ Hiding Behind the Collar because it looked like a good fit for the Survivors’ Bookshelf. I didn’t expect it to be such a page-turner. I got lost in this book for hours, and when I finished I went back to page one and read the whole story again. Was it because I could see myself in her story? Like Fairbanks, I grew up with the exquisite liturgy of the Episcopal Church. Like Fairbanks, I trusted the wrong priest at a vulnerable time in my life and was silenced and ostracized for reporting his harmful behavior. Our stories have a lot in common — but our similarities alone can’t account for the sheer pleasure of turning pages in Fairbanks’ skillfully rendered tale.

Catherine Britton Fairbanks met her exploitive priest in spring of 1997. She filed a complaint against “Leanne” a year later, and she spent the next 18 months trying unsuccessfully to navigate the mazelike Episcopal clergy discipline process. By the time she published her story two years later, she had gained enough distance to see her offender’s true colors. But she was still close enough to remember how it felt, and to bring us along on that journey.

It is a journey that will feel all too familiar to survivors. No matter what denomination we come from, no matter what our offender’s age or gender, or whether we were married, or whether we “consented” — no matter what the specifics of our story, we all know how safe and cherished our exploiters made us feel at first. We know how our defenses were taken away and our vulnerabilities exposed, layer by layer. We know what it felt like to be “special,” to be our pastor’s healer and secret-keeper, and we know far too many of our pastor’s secrets. We know the red flags we ignored, the too-close hugs, the escalation of intimacy, the role confusion (pastor or friend? pastor or lover?), and the need to hide all of this from the congregation. We know the hot-and-cold, close-and-distant games, the constant fear, the spiritual confusion and despair and loss of faith.

And if we tried to alert the church, we know how confusing that process was, and how impossible it was to get our questions answered. We know what it felt like to be silenced, ignored, and discredited. We know the twist of reality that made our pastor’s actions “OK” or “just an indiscretion” and made us the problem instead — or we know what it felt like to be blamed for “ruining” a good pastor’s career. We know how other clergy turned away so it became almost impossible to get pastoral support (or a job, if the church was our livelihood) anywhere. We know the pain of lost friendships, perhaps almost every friendship that gave our life meaning.

But, like Catherine Britton Fairbanks, we also know the strength of our own voices and the resourcefulness of our minds and bodies. Because Hiding Behind the Collar was published so soon after the abuse, the book ends at a point before Fairbanks’ healing really begins. After she published her book, Fairbanks became a leader in the movement to end clergy sexual abuse. She served as an advocate for many survivors from her denomination. Today, she finds healing through art. Her book may have ended — but her story, and her journey of healing, continues.

Comments on: "Hiding Behind the Collar" (2)

  1. Have ordered this one! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Ann Wingert said:

    sign me up & help spread the word

    I am an American afraid to practice my religion. I am hoping that you will help protect the children. VIRTUS training – How to spot a pedophile: They believe they are above the law; usually by claiming to follow God’s Law. It isn’t just the Catholic Church; it is all religions where the pastor is seen as God on earth. The evidence is that college’s are NOT QUALIFIED TO DEAL WITH SEXUAL ABUSE. The vatican is WORSE.

    After fleeing in terror from the Church this year, I found the documented evidence. The Australian canon lawyers published two documents. The first is a legal report entitled “Canon Law – A Systemic Factor in Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.” (free download from National Catholic Reporter) The second is the lay version “Potiphar’s Wife.” (buy on line for real money) Both explain the Misprision of Felony laws that must be enacted to FORCE THE BISHOPS TO TURN THE RECORDS OVER TO POLICE. This should also be another tool in law enforcement’s belt to force witnesses to testify. They would need to be written to protect witnesses from violence.

    I was a 50 year plus Roman Catholic watching the pedophile crisis in horror, especially when the previous entity in possession of the vatican compared women who want to be priests to pedophiles. Then the PA bishops ordered all the priests to blatantly lie about PA Bill 1947 which extended the statute of limitations on pedophiles. I complained to my local priest; who handed out the “Catholic’ League’s Essay “Women’s Moral Descent” with its theme that men have the right and moral obligation to decide which women deserve to be raped. I called my daughter at college, crying, saying that all the priests were depraved perverts totally dedicated to worshipping their dicks. Her response, “Duh, Mom!. I’m sorry you had to figure it out in such a painful way.” I fled the Church in terror and will never set foot in a Catholic Church again.

    Then it got even worse. I checked this with one of the Australian writing collaborators and the legal firm named in the movie “Spotlight.” Pre Benne Dick, I wouldn’t have believed any of this. Now, I believe every word. The “mercy” prayer”, endorsing men murdering wives by false claims of adultery helped convince me.

    I knew that the incompetence of the Church over the pedophilia crisis and everything else could not possibly be accidental. It had to be deliberate. Both books are both enlightening and explained a lot of things I had seen in the Church that didn’t make a bit of sense before.

    37. 100 Years ago – RATHER THAN ADMIT THEY COULD BE CAPABLE OF MAKING A MISTAKE, AND FREAKED OUT BY THE THOUGHT OF RADIO, (remember the effect of the printing press) THE POPES WROTE CANON LAWS THAT EFFECTIVELY TURNED THE CHURCH INTO A ‘LEGAL’ WORLDWIDE, CHILD PROSTITUTION RING! – I.E. DETAILED DOCUMENTATION THAT THE MOST DANGEROUS MENTAL HANDICAP IS THE MALE EGO. (Confession is good for the soul, unless you are the pope, then it is a great evil.)
    May 27, 1917 was the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of ‘legal’ pedophilia in the Catholic Church; because that was the day that pedophilia became a “crime” with NO PUNISHMENT! DO NOT FORGET THAT THE VATICAN IS ITS OWN SEPARATE COUNTRY. On that day, the vatican decided that pedophilia wasn’t a crime IF NO ONE KNEW ABOUT IT. The law made secrecy about pedophilia paramount and all cases had to be handled directly by the vatican; which had no provisions for punishing them. The penalty for breaking the vow of silence was AUTOMATIC EXCOMMUNICATION.

    Both books are useful tools to document the process and the legal remedies that can be taken to stop them and force the bishops to turn over the records. (Now I see where Marino got the inspiration to create his legal drug pushing rings!) Misprision of felony was abolished in most jurisdictions. The canon law requires the bishops to obey civil law where THEY ARE LEGALLY REQUIRED TO REPORT. It is getting worse. Francis was all – We are a nation of pedophiles – in front of the UN.

    The vatican has proudly and effectively proclaimed that Christ is the Great Penis in the sky to which you must sacrifice children. I WILL LITERALLY BE DAMMED IF I WORSHIP THE GREAT PENIS IN THE SKY TO WHICH YOU MUST SACRIFICE CHILDREN!
    8 – THE vatican-EXPLAINS DIVINE MERCY TO ME

    Then we have the evidence of the vatican mercy prayer written for the year of ‘mercy’. (2015 – 2016)
    The second example: The “adulteress”
    From the account in the Gospel, it was doubtful that she was guilty of anything. She was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees and the scribes. Assuming the woman had a choice, which is doubtful as a starting point; the fact that she was there solo immediately indicates she is a pawn in a political game. The law would have had both the man and woman condemned. The religious authorities were making a mockery of the Law by using her as a trap for Jesus and as the scheduled entertainment of the day. If he had had her stoned, the Romans would have convicted him of murder. If he had simply let her go, the scribes could have claimed he wasn’t following the law.
    Remember, the ‘honor’ killings of women in the mid east did not start with ISIS. They were popular back then as well. A lot of the point was the practice of the religious leaders terrorizing women. Think of the public humiliation. The vatican demonstrates jealousy of the ability to publically and mortally terrorize women with this example. Did they stop to think that this would have been the fate of the Virgin Mary if not for the incredible miracle that was St. Joseph? I’m sure they had checked into the local gossip of Nazareth. They were not so subtlety calling Jesus the son of a whore.
    The story contrasted the evil and misogyny of the religious authorities to that of respect and love of women Christ continually displayed. The Divine Mercy was to the religious authorities for twisting the law for their own aggrandizement.
    What Jesus did that day was more miraculous than his ‘parlor trick’ of raising Lazarus from the dead. He would have remained just a Jewish miracle worker if that was all he did. He did something greater that day. He changed society that day. He struck a mighty blow against those making a mockery of justice and whose concept of religion was – I belong to the magic group that means I get to kill people.
    The vatican – It was only the woman who was guilty and that the next greatest sin is a woman having sex except with her owner’. It also implies that it is perfectly acceptable for a man to murder his wife on trumped up adultery charges.
    So the prayer is just further proof that the ‘mercy’ of the vatican applies ONLY to unrepentant pedophiles.
    Coming soon – Men Explain Religion to Me, i.e. subverting God to promote greed, torture, xenophobia, pedophilia, etc. I had to hire the publisher’s artist as I don’t draw

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