Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for January, 2016

A Letter to Three Brave Women

I’ve been trying to explain to my friends what it’s like to be unexpectedly freed from the bishop’s long public silence. It’s as if I’d been paraplegic for six years and suddenly started feeling sensation in my legs; as if I’d lived six years with cancer and suddenly went into remission; as if a loved one had been missing for six years and was suddenly found. These metaphors aren’t quite right, but they give a notion of how big this change is. My world is different now. Finally I have a defense against malicious hearsay — but I have more than that. I have the beginning of welcome. On Tuesday night, several people went out of their way to greet me. One offered an apology, two crossed the room to greet me, and one wrapped me in such abundant warmth that I never felt the fear I had expected. The welcome may not have been universal, but it was enough and then some.

My outer world has changed, but it will take longer to rebuild my inner. For six years I’ve built my life around the fact of silencing and shunning. Some of my adaptations — like finding home in a new church — are permanent. But others can be changed. I can learn to release the sense of exile and begin to accept the hand of friendship. 

I have more to say about Tuesday night’s meeting, but first I need to acknowledge that these events aren’t about me. I am only free because “Kevin” harmed three women badly enough to lose his ordained ministry. I cannot celebrate while these women and their families suffer. So today I offer these words to the three who found the courage to come forward, speak truth, and demand justice.

          Dear Sisters,
          I don’t know who you are. You each have a name, a face, and unique roles in your family and church and community, and I know none of those things. I don’t know what kind of pain led you to seek Kevin’s help. I don’t know how he violated your trust, nor what you risked to come forward against him.
          But I know that you suffer. I know how brave you are. I can imagine how special and safe he made you feel (safe — the irony!!) I can imagine the crippling burden of the secret you had to carry; the heartbreak of losing friends when you began to share your story; the heavy cost of enduring the church’s process.
          Did the three of you come forward together? If not, I pray you are together now. For survivors, sisterhood (and brotherhood) is solace and strength. I pray you already knew that you weren’t the first, that you aren’t suffering a new shock reading these words. I always expected I’d learn about other women like me; I just thought they’d be in Kevin’s past. It breaks my heart that they — you — were in his future.
          Now, we are all part of his past. God willing, there will never be another.
          Sisters, I am praying for you. If it feels right to you, you are welcome to get in touch. You can find my email here. If that feels too close to home, I understand. I hope you have people in your lives who can help you heal, and that you’ll consider contacting The Hope of Survivors. They have wonderful resources and volunteer counselors to help you begin to move forward.
          God bless you as you walk the path of healing. Perhaps one day we will be in each other’s lives. Until then, may you walk in God’s protection.
          In sisterhood,
          Catherine

A Litany for Healing and Repentance

The ground underneath me has shifted. I’m still stunned and awed, aware of joy but not yet able to feel it. It’s still too soon to process last night’s healing in my own words, so I’ll share another’s. The bishop concluded the congregational meeting with this shared litany. I can’t properly credit the author without revealing the name of my former church, but it is too beautiful not to share. On the author’s and the bishop’s behalf, I share these words for all survivors and all congregations wounded by clergy misconduct.

 

A Litany for Healing and Repentance

Together we lift our prayers to you, O God of love, healing and forgiveness.

God the Father, you breathe life into your whole Creation.
Help us breathe deeply of your peace and presence.

God the Son, you give us yourself to make our joy complete.
Help us give our fear, pain, and grief to you.

God the Holy Spirit, you move through our lives in unexpected ways.
Help us move in concert with your life-giving motion.

Holy Trinity, One God, accept our thanks and praise for all the blessings of this life, especially for those blessings that our present circumstances make difficult to see.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Shed the light of your healing love on all affected by misconduct in your church, that they may find new wholeness illumined by your grace.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Knit together in your love all whose relationships have frayed, that they may find reconciliation and new beginnings.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Help us to see and accept our own responsibility in the harm that has been done and for which we repent and seek forgiveness. Give us the wisdom to be a healthier and safer church. May we see that we all participate in this holy, hard and good work.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Hold in the palm of your hand all who are most affected by misconduct in your church both in these days and through the generations. May our repentance move us to a renewed life as a community of the beloved.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Grant all who turn to you the courage to participate with you in restoring this broken world to wholeness, that everyone and everything may share in the hope of your kingdom.
Hear us, O Lord of Life. 

Let us name before God those for whom we offer our prayers.

O God, who calls us to new life: Touch us with your healing powers and give us the will to be co-creators with you of a renewed creation. Heal us, restore us, and transform us. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, the one betrayed and yet the bearer of perfect love. Amen.

Prayers Answered

God is good.

The bishop spoke truth with courage and compassion.

More words soon. But now, just grateful prayer and rest.

A Plea for Truth and Transparency

Dear readers, please pray with me that the bishop will share the truth at the congregational meeting this week. Here is the email I sent to him this morning.

Dear Bishop _____,
Thank you for reaching out to me last week. The news about _____’s new offenses has awakened powerful memories and emotions. It was helpful to get the news directly from you.
When we met, I urged you to disclose the fact of my complaint to the congregation. I feel strongly about this. Your continued silence prevents my full healing, leaves my reputation at the mercy of the rumor mill, and — by feeding a culture of secrecy and innuendo — makes healing harder for new victims of abuse at St. ____’s.
With this email I am giving you my permission and my urgent plea to disclose the fact that _____ received at least one substantiated complaint during his tenure at St ____’s. Especially now, the congregation deserves to know the truth.
Respectfully,
Catherine Thiemann

The World is Safer Today

The world is a tiny bit safer today.

After an investigation of serious complaints by at least two women in his new congregation, “Pastor Kevin” has been stripped of his credentials as an ordained minister. 

Kevin took a prestigious job in a church in another city in 2012, two years after I filed my complaint. My bishop had assured me that he would notify any future employer of Kevin’s offense against me, so I was shocked at this news. Why would any church accept a minister with a record of sexual misconduct? Had the bishop broken his promise? I had spoken up solely to protect other women. Had I endured the trauma of being silenced and shunned for nothing? 

I couldn’t take a chance that the new church didn’t know. So a few weeks before Kevin was installed as their new rector, I sent an email to his new bishop, the heads of his pastoral search committee, and the church’s governing board. I told them in brief how Kevin had harmed me. “To my knowledge,” I wrote, “I was the only complainant, but I strongly believe that I was part of a larger pattern. I’ve had no contact with [Kevin] since I left the church, and I don’t intend to have any future contact. So although I hope he has reformed, I will never know. I have to assume the potential for harm is still there.”

A week later, when I’d gotten no response, I sent a similar note to the clergy and staff at his new church. I described Kevin’s pattern of behavior and told them, “If he is still a risk, your awareness will help create a safer environment.”

And that’s where I had to leave it. There was nothing more I could do. 

And now this news.

The bright note is that I didn’t learn this through the grapevine. On Tuesday afternoon, I got a phone call from my former bishop. Yesterday we met for an hour in his office. Knowing how this news might affect me, he wanted to share it directly and give me a chance to ask questions. He has sent a letter to my former congregation, inviting anyone with concerns about Kevin to contact him directly and confidentially. He’ll be holding a congregational meeting next week, and he’s given me the OK to be there. 

The bishop also told me that despite his words to me at the time — his finding that Kevin had sexualized the pastoral relationship — he hadn’t, in fact, made a finding of sexual misconduct. Instead he had “dismissed” my complaint as not being serious enough to warrant a canonical response. In light of new events, the bishop is now questioning that decision.

It has taken two days for my emotions to settle enough to name my strongest feeling, and that is relief. Six long years after I filed my complaint, finally — finally!! — I am confident that “Pastor Kevin” will never harm another woman. Why? Because “Pastor Kevin” no longer exists. There’s only Kevin now. No pulpit, no “Reverend,” and no pastoral counseling couch. 

I’ll have more to say in coming weeks. For now, I’m just thanking God.

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