Five years ago, inspired by my friend T, I conducted a year-end review of my life. What had I learned in 2010? What had I accomplished? How had I spent my time? The lessons I learned that year were dark: people are irrationally loyal to institutions, friends will desert you in a heartbeat, and the church doesn’t care two cents about its victims. But my accomplishments were huge and full of light: I reported an abusive minister, committed to a course of treatment for anorexia and PTSD, joined a healthy new church, and began to learn to trust again. Seeing my progress on the printed page, I was so encouraged that I decided to make it an annual tradition.
In 2011’s review, I created a special “healing” category to track my steps toward wholeness. I traced my steps toward healing in 2012 (told my former minister’s new bishop about his record of abuse), 2013 (started this blog), and 2014 (stood up to a threat from my former bishop).
This year, I decided to drop the “healing” category. Although I will never be the person I was before the abuse, I’ve grown fully into my new self. And this year, clergy sexual abuse was not the biggest hole in the fabric of my universe. In February, I wrote about separating from my husband. This year, most of my energy went into the questions “How can I save my marriage?”, “Can I save my marriage?,” and finally “How can I end it in a way that gives as little pain to my family as possible?”
Is the failure of my marriage connected with the church abuse? Of course, but I can’t say one thing caused the other. The rifts in my marriage made me vulnerable to ministerial abuse. The resulting trauma may have been the straw that broke the marriage’s back.
I would never willingly repeat this brutal experience, but I am grateful for what I learned. If I’d had this kind of clarity and strength twenty years ago, I might have addressed the holes in my marriage before it was too late. But it’s never too late to put hard-earned lessons to use. With my newfound wisdom — and in cooperation with my husband who is doing his own learning — I am building a good divorce.
Update, April 2016. Two months ago, I asked my husband if we could put the divorce on hold. He agreed, I’m back home, and we are deciding whether we can repair our marriage. This happened a few weeks after my offender, Scott Richardson, was defrocked following complaints by three women at his new church, and after Bishop Mathes finally disclosed my complaint to my former church at a congregational meeting. Friends have asked me, did these steps toward justice not only bring healing to me, but to my marriage? It’s possible. If so, it’s one more example of the profound, deep harm the church does when they enable pastoral misconduct and cover up the truth — and of the profound, deep healing that truth and justice can bring.