Pope Francis asks victims and their families to forgive the damage caused by clergy sexual abuse of children. The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune says, “We await acts of repentance… and you must wait for forgiveness.” Amen.
Archive for April, 2014
This spring, I finally found a spiritual director. “Martha” is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She knows that I’m a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. When we met for the first time, I told Martha that I still have a hard time hearing the voice of God. She asked, “What about your own inner voice? Can you hear your own voice?” Now that’s something I can hear. After years of therapy, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m afraid (and of what), what makes me happy, and when to ask my loved ones for support. Martha rocked my world with her next words: “God speaks to us through our own voices.” In a flash of insight, I knew: if I had trusted my inner voice, I would have left my church the first time my pastor made me feel uncomfortable. Ignoring my fears, I ignored the voice of God.
For the past few years, I have experienced God’s voice mostly as a sense of “what’s the next step.” When I left my former church I felt a strong calling to work against clergy sexual misconduct, but I had no idea what it meant to be called. For four years I watched constantly for open doors: a training seminar, a book, an opportunity to connect with other survivors. I have walked through every door, never knowing where the path would lead, only knowing that God would light the next step. In four years I’ve read dozens of books and articles; I’ve connected with national leaders; I’ve written tens of thousands of words (including an article in Sojourners); I’ve helped other survivors on their journeys; I’ve trained dozens of UCC and Disciples of Christ ministers on Sexual Ethics, and I’ve grappled against my former church’s attempt to silence me. In the process, I’ve forged my own healing. I may be on this journey for the rest of my life, but all the time God is with me, lighting the next step.
For the past year, I’ve felt called to write this blog. Writing has helped me heal, and it has led me to other ways to serve. I assumed I would always be called to write. But suddenly, two weeks ago, the call went silent. In fact, I suddenly felt called to STOP. So I stopped… and I waited. I am still waiting. While I wait, I’m thinking about sand mandalas. Tibetan monks create painstakingly detailed pictures from millions of grains of colored sand as a way of blessing the earth and its inhabitants. These images can take a team of monks several days to complete. In the end, the monks destroy their own work. With a nod to life’s impermanence, they sweep the sand to the middle of the table. If my calling was once a mandala, it is now a pile of colored sand.
What’s next? If I were a monk and this were my mandala, I would carry my sand to a river and pour it in as a blessing to the world. But I’m a Christian layperson, and I can only wait. So I work in my garden, do my yoga with greater intention, and take care of my family. To be honest, it’s a relief to take a break from writing about such a painful topic. Right now, taking a break feels like exactly what I’m supposed to do.
While I restore my strength, I wait for God to light the next step. Maybe I’ll get a message from a survivor who needs to talk. Maybe I’ll find an opportunity to write for a larger audience. Maybe I’ll help the church create a more robust and compassionate response to clergy sexual abuse — because this is where I believe our movement has greatest leverage. I was excited to learn that The Hope of Survivors will be partnering with Baylor University on a new research study to learn about survivors’ experiences with the church. To stay informed about this important project, sign up for the HopeSpeak newsletter.
So, for now, this blog will go quiet. I’ll leave it online as a resource, and I’ll add to it when events compel me to write. I would be glad to welcome other survivors’ voices via guest posts. If you have words to share — or if you just want to connect with another survivor (because no one should have to walk this journey alone) — you can find my email address here.
Easter is the way Christians celebrate new life, but life doesn’t usually follow the Christian church calendar. It flows in unpredictable rhythms, breaking forth in unexpected ways. Four years ago at Easter, I felt like I was in that dark tomb. But today — on Easter, 2014 — I feel something new about to break forth. Dear survivors, may your journeys lead you into new life too.
“Just had lunch with a colleague from St. _____’s,” wrote my friend “Karen” in an email last week. “She told me that the membership recently received a letter about ‘Reverend X.’ A charge of sexual misconduct has been brought against him. Because he is Lutheran, that denomination is doing the investigation. My friend said it was a very informative — and shocking — letter.”
Shocking indeed. When I was at St. ______’s, Reverend X was one of our most respected and popular teachers. The truth is, I adored him. We all did. Rev. X is brilliant, erudite, insightful, warm, down-to-earth, and funny as hell. I don’t want to believe that this man is capable of abusing anyone’s trust the way “Pastor Kevin” abused mine. I don’t want to believe it — but I do believe it. I know that ministers with a sterling public presence can do great harm behind closed doors. I know how rare false complaints are, and how hard it is for victims to come forward. I know what a heavy decision it must have been for this man’s victim. I grieve that this kind of abuse continues at my former church, and I grieve for the immense pain of Rev. X’s victim.
But while I grieve, I also celebrate. It seems my former church is making progress. The “informative and shocking” letter to the congregation came from the same bishop who totally concealed my complaint four years ago. He had allowed my offender to stay on the job throughout the investigation; now he is suspending Rev. X from all ministerial duties while the Lutheran church investigates the complaint. On one hand, I feel bitter and envious. The bishop’s secrecy caused harm that still affects my life today. How I wish he had handled my complaint with this kind of transparency! On the other hand, I rejoice in the signs of progress. If the bishop made these decisions on his own, without pressure from the Lutheran church, then it seems he has learned from my painful experience. I pray that is true. Transparency is essential not only for the victim’s sake, but also for the congregation’s. It’s impossible to heal around a dangerous secret.
Transparency is essential — but it isn’t enough to protect the victim from harmful gossip. In the bishop’s letter, which I have not seen, I hope he said something like this:
“Complaints of sexual misconduct are among the most difficult concerns that church leaders have to deal with. No matter how fair the church’s response, there will be pain on all sides. I ask you to pray for the Lutheran church leaders who will investigate the complaint against Rev. X.
“I also ask you to pray for the complainant, who showed enormous courage in bringing this complaint. Without prejudicing the investigation, I can assure you that she is a person of good character, committed to the welfare of this church. She is still struggling to understand the events that led her to raise a concern, and now she must endure the difficult process of the church’s investigation. If you discuss this matter with other members of the congregation, please show utmost respect and compassion toward the complainant.
“I ask you to pray for Rev. X. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, we can acknowledge Rev. X’s enormous contribution to the life of this congregation. He has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation.
“Finally, please pray for yourselves as a congregation. Pray that your leaders, including your bishop, will seek God’s guidance as we take steps to heal this wound to our community. Pray that we can avoid the temptation to pretend these events never happened. Pray that we can learn from this painful experience, and that in our healing we can be a light to other churches.”
Finally, a word to the victim. If you are reading these words, please know that you are not alone. Know that what happened was not your fault. Know that I will be praying for you, without ceasing. If you need more direct support, you are welcome to contact me. You’ll find my email address here. If that’s a little too close to home, I understand. In that case, please consider The Hope of Survivors. They can connect you with a volunteer counselor who understands the experience of clergy sexual misconduct.
Above all, have hope. Many, many of us have healed. I promise: you will heal, too.