Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Which came first, the seductions of a predatory minister or the victim’s fractured marriage?

My husband and I separated last month. We’re still married, we’re getting along, we’re not seeing other people, we’re parenting cooperatively and we’re supporting each other as well as we can. We have family dinner once a week. We touch base every day, even if it’s only about logistics. For a separated couple, we’re on very good terms. But we are not together, and it’s not clear whether we’ll ever be together again. We’re giving it a year before we make any decisions.

What role did clergy sexual abuse play in this breach?

“Pastor Kevin” didn’t cause the tension in my marriage, but he definitely noticed it. How could he miss the pretty-ish woman sitting alone in the second pew and wiping tears during every Sunday service? I felt invisible in that big congregation; now I understand that my distress made me very visible and interesting to my pastor. I kept my distance out of sheer respect — he was the powerful leader of one of my city’s most important congregations — but eventually (and unwittingly), I gave him an opening when I confided my spiritual struggles after a Sunday service. At his invitation, we began to meet. A year and a dozen “pastoral counseling” sessions later, during a particularly stressful time in my marriage, I ran into my pastor outside the church office. He looked at my face and knew something was wrong. He asked me, “What’s the trouble?”

I started to answer, then stopped. Did I really want to tell another man about my troubled marriage? It didn’t feel right to me — but he pushed right past that boundary. As I hesitated, he prompted me for an answer: “File under…”

“Marriage,” I finally responded.

“Aaaah,” he sighed. “I’ve seen that coming. Why don’t you make an appointment to see me.”

Thus began the escalation. At our next meeting, Pastor Kevin encouraged me to talk about the pain and fear and loneliness I felt at home. With a predatory clergyman, there was only one way this road could go.

So which came first? Did the tensions in my marriage make me more interesting to my pastor? Yes.

Did my pastor’s attentions make more tension in my marriage? Most definitely yes.

My husband has always been leery of organized religion. Twelve years into our relationship, when I returned to my Christian faith, I set off a storm whose waves have never really settled. By the time I met Pastor Kevin, “religion” was well-established as a conversational minefield between us. Unlike me, my husband never trusted Kevin. From the first time they met, my husband saw him as a self-centered opportunist. Later, when Kevin was actively grooming me toward seduction, my husband was at his wits’ end. But what could he say? He felt if he tried to warn me against my pastor, I would hear it as an attack on my faith — and he may have been right. All he could do was watch the train wreck happen, and once it happened he was suddenly living with a traumatized woman. He had no idea how to deal with my frantic grief and fear, or my eating disorder spinning out of control, or the new shape of my body once I started treatment. In short: while I was still trying to recover from the train wreck at church, I now had a wreck at home too. Our marriage never really recovered from those awful months. We got back on our feet as a couple, but trust had been shattered.

And now we are living apart.

If I had never met Pastor Kevin, would I still be living with my husband? Or were our problems so deeply entrenched that the church crisis was only the last straw? I will never know.

I want to be clear: I am not saying that my pastor ruined my marriage. He didn’t do us any favors, but I was aware of being unhappy long before I met him. So why am I talking about my marriage on these pages? Because I know I’m not the only survivor with whose marriage has been affected by clergy sexual abuse. Some survivor couples use the pain to build stronger marriages, but I suspect that most of us don’t. Most of us (and I’m including our spouses) don’t know how. By the time we understand our own pain, we’ve caused too much pain for our partners.

When I write a story of pain, I try to include a note of hope. If there’s hope in this story, it’s this: survivors know how to get through hard times. Compared to the multiple traumas of my pastor’s abuse of power, the church’s attempt to silence me, and the total loss of community through ostracism, marital separation is a cakewalk. I’m not saying it’s easy, only that it’s easier than what I’ve already been through. And that I know how to live with sadness and uncertainty while my husband and I walk through this year, waiting and hoping for the right answer to emerge.

Comments on: "Clergy Sexual Abuse and Your Marriage" (15)

  1. Catherine, I’m so sorry to hear this. All marriages have their struggles, but don’t let the pastor off the hook for the damage he did. Regardless of the issues the two of you were dealing with before or after the abuse, a pastor’s job is to help not harm. In using your earlier struggles to get closer to you, he broke all rules, legal, ethical and moral. He inserted himself into your marriage knowing that was wrong. In his dishonesty he ruined the bond of trust between you and your husband and damaged the ability for the two of you to deal with future struggles. So he is completely at fault in my eyes. I pray for you both.

    • I completely agree with Julie. I am sure the pastor spent careful time studying your struggles. He then exploited them to serve his own needs – how cruel and harmful! Catherine, you have been through so much, but you are strong and you continue to help others. I pray for you and your family. I wish you much happiness as you adapt to a different type of family life.

  2. Catherine, I’m sorry to hear about your marriage. I doubt there is many of us who didn’t have preexisting marriage woes who made the mistake of trusting a predator disguised as a pastor for comfort, guidance and counseling. I have a feeling most of us have also struggled in our marriages because of the horrible aftermath of being victims of spiritual, emotional and sexual violations. I’m afraid I’m reading a hint of the familiar self-blame which all victims struggle with. Regardless of any of the circumstances in our lives that made us vulnerable, the predatory pastor made a deliberate choice to engage in emotionally and sexually abusive behavior toward an innocent and vulnerable congregant under his care. Not even a husband in his failings which played a role in our emotional vulnerability is responsible for the choice(s) the predator made to harm us. Our husbands are also his victims. The predator alone is to blame for his actions, regardless of where he or others wish to place fault. I hope you and your husband can work through your difficulties. I know it is a tough road and one my husband and I are still journeying on. I hope any victim of clergy/pastoral abuse(which should be a crime in all fifty states) are in counseling and therapy with a licensed professional who has the educational qualifications to treat victims of sexual trauma and those suffering from PTSD and who practices independently of any local church or religious institution/ denomination so there is less risk of divided priorities. May the Lord grant us all the healing we need and want.

  3. Julie, Ana, Rena: you are absolutely right. Even now, after years of healing and advocacy, I am still apt to blame myself rather than putting the responsibility where it belongs: on the pastor who abused his power and betrayed my trust when I was vulnerable. I can’t believe am still trying to let him off the hook. Thank you for speaking the truth in such a loving way. You are right. I am still traveling the road of healing, and I still have a long way to go.

  4. “If there’s hope in this story, it’s this: survivors know how to get through hard times. Compared to the multiple traumas of my pastor’s abuse of power, the church’s attempt to silence me, and the total loss of community through ostracism, marital separation is a cakewalk.”

    Truer words were never spoken.

    • Leslie, thanks for that affirmation. Thank God for survivor networks; at least we know we are not alone. I hope you’ve looked into some of the resources for CSA survivors. I’ve listed a few in the “For Victims & Survivors” section of this blog. Feel free to contact me by email if I can help in any way.

  5. Yes Leslie — I’ve posted my email address in the “about” section. I look forward to hearing from you.

  6. As Ana said, we are on this journey with you, and I know I still take the blame on myself at times. Logically, why wouldn’t we. Who could ever imagine a pastor taking advantage of our situations. Yet here we all are, just a small percentage of women who have suffered, I’m sad there are so many of us, but so relieved to have women who can understand and support each other.

  7. I agree, Julie. The pain is real, deep, devastating and isolating. Thank goodness we are able to connect and share our suffering with fellow survivors of this abuse.

    • I wish there were a way we could meet in person and hear each other’s stories. Is there such a meeting?

  8. I wish I lived in America. Is there a way we could connect with each other through email? I have Catherine’s email.

  9. Leslie, there isn’t any such meeting on a regular basis that I know of. The first time I met other survivors in person was at a Hope & Healing event by The Hope of Survivors. They do Hope & Healing events from time to time, and they also have a retreat house in Iowa. I also wish there were a way to gather in person, but it seems impractical given the size of our country (much less the fact that many survivors live on other continents!), and the fact that most survivors remain in the closet. For most of us, it isn’t safe to come out.
    However, I’ve been thinking there ought to be a way for us to establish a community online, using aliases to protect our identities so we can write and share openly. Online support groups can be a tremendous resource for anyone trying to heal from trauma. Let me talk with some knowledgeable people and see if there’s a way to do that via this blog.
    Meanwhile, I would be more than happy to connect any two survivors who independently ask me to connect them (I would need to hear from both people). Just send me an email (see the “about” tab) and I will make the introduction via email. When it comes to healing from clergy sexual abuse, there’s no such thing as too much support.

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