Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for February, 2014

Striking Gold with the United Church of Christ

Good news for readers from the United Church of Christ! After I wrote last week about the Canadian church’s superb policy for responding to clergy sexual abuse, I did some more digging into my denomination’s resources. I already knew about the UCC Safe Church policies (here’s the boilerplate text that local churches are encouraged to follow) and the national church’s Oversight of Ministries resource, but I had never been able to find a comprehensive UCC response policy for clergy sexual misconduct. The Safe Church policy offers some information on the process, but not enough to reassure a victim who needs to know that it will keep her safe. The Oversight policy offers a detailed response process for “concerns related to a person’s fitness for ministry,” but it never mentions what those concerns might be.

After attending the FaithTrust Institute’s “Responding to Clergy Misconduct Leadership Training” last November, here’s what I now look for in a church’s response policy:
1. Are the policy and procedures for responding to pastoral sexual misconduct grounded in the church’s theology?
2. Can church members easily find a document containing that policy and those procedures?
3. Does the document clearly explain the behaviors that make up pastoral sexual misconduct?
4. Does it spell out the response process so that even a traumatized person can make sense of it?
5. Does it distribute power so that no single person can control the process?
6. Does it clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all persons involved in the response process?
7. Does it support the victim, keep her or him informed, and involve her or him in the process as appropriate?
8. Does it make sure that the congregation is appropriately informed and supported?

The Oversight manual does a great job distributing power and defining roles, but it falls short in all other areas. But this week I found a new and stunningly helpful document: the Guidelines for Resourcing Committees on the Ministry. When UCC leaders also use the Guidelines, the policy meets almost every point on my checklist. If this blog were a class and I were the professor, I would make the Guidelines required reading. It even outperforms the Canadian policy in one area: it includes an insightful set of “Learnings” about persons who have been abused, persons who abuse, and congregations where pastoral trust has been betrayed (pages 39-46).

And the church really uses this document. The Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, who serves in the national setting of the UCC as the Minister for Ministers in Local Churches, told me, “We use [the Guidelines] in every training for Committees on Ministry and response teams, and encourage their use during actual fitness reviews. We continually refer COMs and response teams to both the Manual on Ministry as well as the Guidelines. Where sexual misconduct is raised as a concern, this document is critical for our committees.”

But the UCC policy still falls short in two areas.
1. It isn’t based in theology. The Oversight manual begins not with a statement of beliefs, but an intellectual treatise on the word “oversight.” How much more powerful would the policy be if it began with a clear statement, “This is what we believe as Church, and this is why we care so much about the issue of pastoral sexual misconduct.”
2. The policy manual is hard to find. When I searched with obvious terms like “UCC clergy sexual abuse,” I found only the Safe Church policies. When I asked leaders at all levels in the church, they invariably referred me to the Oversight manual, and to find that manual online, I had to use the insider term “fitness review.” Most UCC churchgoers wouldn’t be familiar with that term. I only found the Guidelines after three years of searching and sheer dumb luck with my search terms.

Why is it so important to make church policy easy to find? Because clergy sexual abuse destroys its victims’ sense of self. It can take years for a victim to come to terms with the fact that a trusted minister has exploited her. It can take even more years to build up the courage to file a complaint. If a church has a good process but fails to make churchgoers aware, victims of clergy sexual abuse may never feel safe enough to come forward, and their abusers may go on to hurt other vulnerable people. If the UCC and other churches are serious about preventing abuse, they needs to open their policies not only to victims who have already reported, but to all of us.

United Church of Canada Sets a Shining Example

The United Church of Christ (UCC) and the United Church of Canada may soon be in full communion. What does this mean, and why is it good news for the UCC?

When two churches are in full communion, they agree on essential doctrines. They recognize one another’s clergy as valid ordained ministers within both traditions. The leaders form a closer relationship. The churches learn from one another. Ideally, the two churches strengthen each other’s weaknesses. If the UCC and the United Church of Canada come into full communion, it will be good news especially for victims of clergy sexual abuse in the UCC. The Canadian church’s policy for responding to abuse stands head and shoulders over the policies in any church in the U.S.

What makes the United Church of Canada’s policy so strong?

1. It’s easy to find. Anyone can search “United Church of Canada sexual abuse” or similar terms and locate the church’s Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Policy and Procedures manual.

2. It is grounded in theology; specifically in the church’s creed. For example, the creed calls the United Church of Canada to “seek justice.” The statement shows sexual abuse to be a justice issue, and it holds the church responsible for a just outcome.

3. The policy is clear, concrete, and rigorous. It clearly defines the behaviors that fall under the term “sexual abuse.” It clearly states who may file a complaint (victims, parents of minors, and people with first-hand knowledge). It clearly states that the church will not respond to anonymous complaints, and that allegations must be supported with clear and convincing evidence.

4. It distributes power so that no single person controls the process. It defines the roles of all involved in the process. It provides a step-by-step checklist for every person in every role. The manual spells out the process for handling complaints, and illustrates it with an easy-to-read flowchart.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 7.54.09 PM

(Copyright © 2013, The United Church of Canada)

5. It gives special protection to legal minors. When the victim is a minor, the policy requires church officials to report suspected abuse to law enforcement first, and only to open a church investigation when it won’t interfere with the legal process.

6. It requires all church responders to read and understand the policy, attend a training, and be familiar with the local resources for victims (educational, therapeutic, legal, medical, etc).

7. It keeps the victim informed and supported at every step. She or he is given a copy of the policy and procedures at the very first meeting, along with specific resources for pastoral care or counseling support. When the investigation ends, she or he is given a copy of the investigator’s report. If the church wishes to resolve the case informally, church officials must first ask the victim for permission. (Oh, to have had this kind of support from my former church!)

Even with a strong, clearly articulated policy, responding to clergy misconduct is difficult at best. No doubt there have been and will continue to be bumps in the road for the United Church of Canada. But their policy gives responders a clear road map. Since I now make my home in the UCC, I am praying for full communion, and I’m praying that my church adopts this superb policy and process.

Survivors’ Voices Make a Difference

Trigger warning: this article is about sexual assault and callous institutional response — but it’s also about hope. I’ve muted the details of the assaults in the main article; I’ve attached a warning to the link that describes those attacks.

“Sara,” a junior at Columbia University, was raped by her friend “Tom” after a party. Tom’s former girlfriend “Natalie” had endured more than a year of intimate partner violence and non-consensual sex while they were dating. “Josie” had to fight Tom off when he followed her into a supply closet and tried to overpower her. All three women reported Tom’s assaults to Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct; none of the women received justice. Sara endured a seven-month investigation only to be told Tom was “not responsible.” Natalie was pressured to attend rushed hearings at the end of the spring term; the university concluded that Tom had not violated any school policy. Investigators found Tom responsible for Josie’s assault, but they overturned that decision on appeal.

Columbia had resisted pressure for months to release data about sexual assaults, even after hundreds of students signed a petition demanding transparency; even after the New York Post galvanized public response with this article. But then the wheels began to turn. On January 22, 2014, President Obama announced a task force to address the epidemic in college sexual assault. The next day, Columbia’s BWOG (the blog for the undergraduate magazine The Blue & White) published Anna Bahr’s detailed account (trigger warning: rape) of the three women’s stories. On January 26, the Student Affairs Committee of the University Senate released this open letter to Columbia’s administration.

Finally, on January 29, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger sent this letter to the community, promising greater transparency. Student activists, including my friend and fellow CSA survivor Erik Campano, have pledged to hold Bollinger to his word.

Why do I tell this story in a blog dedicated to ending clergy sexual abuse? Because we who work for church reform can learn from survivors in other arenas. “Look what student activists at Columbia did right,” says Erik Campano. “They gathered stories from survivors of sexual assault. They surveyed students to find out how big the problem was. They didn’t go straight to the university president with this information; instead they approached their natural allies, the leaders in student government. With those leaders on board, they organized a campus-wide action through the petition and rallies. When the administration still dragged their feet, the students got a major media outlet to carry the story. All these elements worked together. With President Bollinger’s commitment, Columbia now has a chance to lead the nation in creating an effective policy that supports victims of gender-based sexual offenses and holds their offenders accountable.”

In other words: gather evidence, build relationships with allies, and let them pave the way with the top brass.

It won’t be easy to do this within the church. Campus organizers can find survivors by tabling at student events or posting flyers on kiosks. It’s harder to find survivors of clergy sexual abuse — but it can be done, and Erik and I are taking the challenge. Through this blog, I’ve met Erik and several other survivors of Episcopal clergy sexual misconduct. To the extent that each survivor’s healing allows, we are putting our heads together on a plan to reach out to the working group now considering changes in Title IV, the church’s clergy disciplinary policy. If you experienced clergy sexual abuse or misconduct in the Episcopal Church and you’d like to be involved at any level, please get in touch — you’ll find my email here.  If you hope to organize in a different denomination, I invite you to follow our journey. You can learn from our missteps as much as from our successes.

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct: our voices matter. Whether we tell our stories openly or not, whether we use our own names or a pseudonym — even if we just tell one person what happened — we are adding to the river of truth that will one day lead to justice and real reform.

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