Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Anger Rises to the Surface

It’s been two and a half weeks since I learned of Kevin’s defrocking and eleven days since the congregational meeting. I’m relieved that the church is free of a dangerous priest, I’m grateful that the bishop called me directly to share the news, and I’m feeling validated since he finally dropped the veil of secrecy around my complaint.

Relieved, grateful, and validated: I wish that’s all I were feeling. I’ve been trying to write a relieved, grateful, validated response to the bishop’s words. But every attempt came out brittle, formal, and fake. Last night, I finally realized why.

Because I’m ANGRY. Once I got over the miracle that the bishop shared the truth at all, I start looking at what he said about my story. And what did he say? That what happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal, and that he still believes he was right to keep it from the congregation. 

WHO IS HE to say that Kevin’s offenses against me “didn’t rise to the level of a Title IV complaint”? What kind of yardstick did he use? Does the church keep a manual that says if it’s only words, or if there’s only one complaint, then it’s okay to brush it under the carpet? (In 2010, the bishop actually told me that’s why he chose a “pastoral” response instead of invoking the canons). What if a priest deliberately misconstrues a directive from the bishop in order to continue meeting with his favorite congregants? What if he spends years working to gain a congregant’s trust, then misjudges and springs the trap too soon? What if he openly tells her that she’s part of a years-long pattern of inappropriate behavior toward “beautiful women”? Is a predator less guilty because a particular prey escaped without physical injury? 

The bishop ignored Kevin’s pattern of grooming, instead focusing on a few words that he spoke to me on a specific day in 2008. Even worse, he ignored the impact of Kevin’s behavior. Author Marilyn Peterson, in her book At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships (Norton, 1992), says that the only reliable measure is the harm an offense causes to the victim. “Determining severity by content alone does not allow a violation to be identified as legitimate or valid unless and until it has progressed to the most severe and overt extreme. … To get a truer, more comprehensive picture, it is essential that degree of pain felt by clients be measured.” My injuries at the time — a serious eating disorder and a diagnosis of PTSD — were severe. Six years after the church closed the case, I’m still trying to process what Kevin and the church did to me. Does this not signal an offense worthy of a Title IV response, and of a stronger warning to Kevin’s next congregation?

And why did the bishop think the congregation didn’t need to know? At last Tuesday’s meeting he told us, “I made a measured decision [not to disclose].” He was vague as to how he measured it, but he has spoken clearly on this question before. When I brought my complaint, he refused to inform the congregation, protesting that Kevin was “the [highest ranking priest] of my [most prominent congregation]!” Church scandals drive people and dollars away, and there was a lot at stake with this congregation. The bishop may have thought he could prevent this damage with secrecy. (I wonder how that has worked out.) Two years later, I was in the room when he told a group of clergy that this kind of news would be a “body blow” to a congregation — as if a group of full-grown Christian adults would be too weak to deal with hard truth. 

The bishop decided to avoid the harsh official sentences, placing Kevin under pastoral direction instead.  “I [required] that he not do certain ministerial functions, and [required] him to do certain other things to address the behavior.” First of all, isn’t that what suspension is — a temporary ban from exercising some or all of the gifts of ordained ministry? Second, why use vague language like “certain ministerial functions”? Why not name those functions, as he did with me in January of 2010? The day I filed my complaint, the bishop told me that Kevin was forbidden to offer pastoral counseling during the investigation. Two months later, he extended that ban for another 12 to 18 months. When a church’s senior minister is not allowed to do pastoral counseling, the congregation has a right and a need to know.  

Toward the end of last Tuesday’s meeting, the bishop had harsh words for the people of St _____’s. “I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” he said. “We’ve had two complaints in the past six years, and it has not been easy for those who have been the complainants. I think this community can do a better job.” What?!? How can the bishop blame the congregation for responding badly to something that officially “never happened”? Instead of disclosing the truth, the bishop left my reputation in the hands of the priest who was then writhing under the humiliating restraints of pastoral direction. What did he think Kevin was going to say about me? Now, six years later, he blames the congregation for not being nicer to me? I’m going to be brutally honest with you, bishop: you set those good people up for failure. You don’t owe them a scolding; you owe them an apology.

Finally, the bishop admitted that his official silence was no match for the real voices of hurting, angry people. “What I’ve come to realize is how broadly both Jones and the complainant had talked about the matter.” He shouldn’t have been surprised; this is exactly what I told him I would do. When he wrapped up my case, I warned him that I was going to tell my friends why I was leaving the church. “I can’t carry the burden of this toxic secret any longer,” I said. He told me that if I did, I would “lose control” of the information. He was right; my words to a few trusted friends triggered an ugly wave of ostracism. I stopped talking for a while; I now speak through this blog. Although I’m not writing for my old churchmates, it seems that a few of them read it. If my strong voice helped the bishop find his, then I’ve done something right and I’m proud.

The waters are starting to settle. In my next post, I’ll be sharing the power and beauty of a very different kind of voice in response to clergy misconduct. Stay tuned.


Comments on: "Anger Rises to the Surface" (14)

  1. Catherine, I imagined there would be an unfolding of emotions for you. I guess you have to peel it like an onion, taking off one layer at a time, and giving yourself permission to feel each one. I’m so thankful that you have chosen to blog about them, as each piece has taught me so much about my own story.
    Much like the evolution of a serial killer, a predatory pastor doesn’t start off physically molesting people. A serial killer may set a fire or two, then move up to killing animals, and even with a first human kill, will leave hesitation marks showing his ineptness. It’s a process, and one that is perpetrated and perfected over time. If the Bishop couldn’t see the signs of what was to come, it isn’t because he is unaware, or uneducated. It’s because he didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to deal with it, or hoped ‘Kevin’ would stop or women wouldn’t step forward. Perhaps he thought he could just keep blaming the women who have been so badly hurt. I’m so thankful for the courage you and these other women have shown.
    Prayers as you work through these emotions, and find normal again. Hopefully this time, when you find that peace, Kevin, nor the Bishop, nor anyone else will be able to take it away again.

    • Juls, it means a lot to me that my words help you understand your experience. This is why I write: to connect with other survivors, to find community, to help others heal just as they help me. Thank you so much for your prayers and friendship.

  2. Your post today reminds me of my own anger, rekindled most recently by the 2015 Baylor questionnaire’s inquiry, “How many times were you abused?”

    Some things are neither quantifiable nor measurable.

    • I had that same feeling from the questionnaire. My abuse wasn’t physical, so I felt my experience didn’t meet their criteria of importance..

      • Juls and ME, I’ve been thinking about your comments all day. It’s so sad that it feels as if our pain is being minimized even by an organization that’s trying to gather data to help churches do a better job responding. I know that Baylor also interviewed many survivors. I hope they heard from many of us how much it hurts when the church acts as if “nothing happened” just because the offense wasn’t physical. I hope this comes through clearly in their results, and I hope the church will listen.
        Meanwhile I’m so sorry that you received pain from yet one more source.
        Praying for healing for all of us.

  3. Arleen Armstrong said:

    Brilliant post! Anger is the flip side of pain/damage, and I am saddened by the depth of your continuing pain. Too bad the bishop was not honest and big enough to say: “I was wrong and I am sorry.” This truth is now undeniable.

    A fundamental concept of tort law is that “you take your victim as you find him.” As you point out, the relevant fact is the actual damage inflicted on the victim. The fact or extent of physical contact is entirely irrelevant. Intercourse is not the most significant aspect of most adult relationships. It is appalling that the bishop does not know this. Fight on, my friend. Onward Christian soldiers!

    • Thank you so much, Arleen. Some of my anger is continued from the past, but some of it is new: I’m angry that the first time the bishop spoke publicly about what happened to me, he minimized the offense and said nothing of its impact on me. I used to bury my anger at the church’s injustice; now I speak it freely. I hope that will help me heal, but just as important, I hope it will help other survivors recognize and embrace their anger. Most of us are women, socialized to be nice and turn the other cheek — but anger is the healthiest response when we’ve been violated.
      It’s great to know that the law recognizes the importance of impact on the victim. Even though I have no intention of bringing the law to bear, it feels good to know that such a powerful force supports my position.
      And you’re right: “I was wrong and I am sorry” is what I needed to hear.

  4. I believe those little words – “I was wrong and I am sorry” would be so positively powerful. I hear so many sermons on reconciliation, and I wonder, what in the world does that look like for the abused, and especially if the abuser/abusers (those in the church who re-victimize), are unwilling to say these simple words. Why should the victims bear the full weight of reconciliation and the abusers take no responsibility at all. I’ve been out of the church where I was abused since July of 2011, took me 4 years to heal. I ran into my abuser in a store last fall and he put his hands on me again. This let me know he finds nothing wrong with what he did, and doesn’t care that he caused me so much pain. Took about 3 seconds for him to bring all that pain back, and I’m still struggling 5 months later. I can forgive, but the reconciliation things, it’s a real mystery to me at this point.

    • Juls, I agree that the church puts too much burden of forgiveness & reconciliation on the shoulders of victims. I personally don’t think we are ever called to reconcile with our offenders. As for forgiveness: we each need to walk our own path of healing. Some survivors can forgive, some can’t, and some (like me) spend years trying to figure out what forgiveness even means. I can sometimes pray for my offender, I can wish him healing and wholeness, but I can’t absolve him of harm done to me or others.

  5. Catherine, when I saw this post, I felt relief; relief that you were angry!! When I read your recent posts outlining the response from your Bishop, I felt very uneasy and very angry. If your complaint about Kevin was, in the first instance, treated seriously and dealt with properly, others could have been spared the hurt and trauma that you have experienced! It is extremely frustrating to know that the abuse of adult women has not, and still is not, being taken seriously. It is completely unacceptable for priests to say or do anything that violates their boundaries with a congregant. I do not care how lonely they are or what issues they have; they have access to resources and counselling to help them with their ‘human weaknesses’. They have a trusted and sacred role and must be reminded of that. I believe there should be a zero tolerance stance on any priest who violates their boundaries or who grooms and encourages a congregant into a relationship with them. In any other professional role, they would be struck off!! In contrast, priests get help and are moved on, but often the problem persists. There is simply no deterrent for them or for other clergy who are behaving in the same exploitative fashion. Even if a congregant initiated anything, the priest must retract and behave in accordance with his boundaries. The damage caused by men like Kevin is never really fully grasped by some congregants and, sadly, by many in the hierarchy. But the damage is real; it’s ugly and long term. What happened to you was a big deal! It deserved a big and better response. Catherine, I am glad that you have a big and a strong voice; your voice helps me and others feel big when, normally, we feel small and swept to the side or under the carpet! People like Kevin are still out there practising in their parishes. Our voices need to be heard!

    • Yes! Amen!

    • God bless you, Ana. I’d been feeling off balance and anxious because of the bishop’s response to that note (more on that in another post), and because of other stresses in my life. Your words brought tears to my eyes; they are exactly what I needed to read. I am so grateful for the community of survivors.

  6. I can completely understand your anxiety and mix of emotions. This has been another massive test for you. We are survivors, but the truth is that we are still vulnerable – a consequence of the deep emotional and psychological trauma that we have endured at the hands of our priest/minister! Indeed, the very fact that we have and continue to suffer because of a priest is ridiculous! It should never happen, ever! Sadly, we can, initially, be so grateful for any morsel of an apology that the hierarchy offer us; any acknowledgement of our pain and suffering feels liberating. But the reality is that the response we receive, and sometimes accept, simply isn’t good enough. It is not adequate. We need to be more matter of fact. The hierarchy can attempt to minimise the behaviour of errant priests, speaking eloquently as they attempt to sugar coat their statements/explanations to congregations but the reality is: a priest harming a congregant and violating his boundaries is ALWAYS wrong! We should learn to accept less and demand more. Catherine, you are amazing for all that you have gone through. Your blog keeps us strong and united.

  7. * mistake in my last post – the sentence ‘We should learn to accept less and demand more’ should have read as: ‘We should learn to stop accepting less and to begin demanding more.’ (Apologies -writing quickly stopped me from proof reading.)

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