In my earlier survey of denominational online resources, I missed a valuable offering from The Episcopal Church: a Model Policy for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Adults. The church began developing this resource in 1999 after discovering that not a single Episcopal diocese had an effective policy to prevent sexual exploitation. By 2006, every diocese was required to develop such a policy, and to help congregations in developing theirs.
As far as I know, my congregation still didn’t have a policy in 2009 when I was preparing to file my complaint. They seemed to lean half-heartedly on the diocesan policy, which leaned half-heartedly on the Model Policy. For instance:
* The Model Policy limits the number of counseling sessions to “no more than 4 or 5 on any particular life issue.” My diocese raised the limit to 6 sessions per life issue. My pastor chose to interpret that as “6 sessions per year,” for years without end, and he told me we could ignore that limit if we needed to. Between meetings, he maintained the intimate connection by engaging me in a constant, highly personal, sometimes flirtatious email conversation. None of the policies mentioned email.
* The Model Policy requires pastoral offices to have an unobstructed window on the door and businesslike furniture: no “couches, loveseats, beds, or futons.” Our diocesan policy required windows but said nothing about furniture. My pastor’s office had a windowless wooden door — always closed for our meetings — and a big beige sofa.
My diocese was not the only one to fall short of the mark. When Erik Campano tried to report a soon-to-be-ordained priest for sexual abuse in 2011, not one but two dioceses failed him. The abuse took place in Paris; his abuser was ordained in New York; but neither the European nor the New York diocese gave him justice. The bishops of both dioceses, and eventually even the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, found no evidence that Erik had ever been in a pastoral relationship with his abuser. Yet the Model Policy — which these top church leaders should have read — makes clear that any clergy person who administers a sacrament already has a pastoral relationship with the recipient. Erik’s abuser did far more than that: she sat with him in the church and heard his deepest anxieties. She prayed for him the way a priest prays for a penitent. She quoted to him the same spiritual writers that my offender quoted to me. She cared for him pastorally, and she used that care to seduce him sexually.
What point am I trying to make? That churches fail to live up to their own standards? That they ignore their own rules with impunity? Yes — but also, that churches occasionally try to do the right thing. The authors of the Model Policy worked hard to create a resource to make the whole church safer.
What can survivors do? We can educate ourselves about our church’s policies, and we can hold those standards up when church leaders try to take shortcuts. We may not get the results we want, but by shining a bright light on procedural and ethical sloppiness, we can make it harder for the church to ignore its own laws.
P.S. Happy birthday to this blog! I started it a year ago today.