Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for March, 2016

A Very Good Good Friday

On Good Friday, we’re supposed to contemplate the suffering of Jesus on the cross. But what if Good Friday brings such a procession of miracles that sorrow is impossible? I have no authority to say this, but I’m saying it anyway: our emotions don’t have to match the church calendar. On Easter six years ago, I felt like dying, and wondered what was wrong with me. Today, on Good Friday, I feel more like Easter. And there’s nothing wrong with me at all.

Here’s how it happened. A friend from my current church invited me to join her at the Good Friday service at St Paul’s. After some hesitation, I accepted. I couldn’t be more grateful that I did. Here are a few of the blessings I received.
* At the entrance, an old friend greeted me warmly. She gave me a big hug. Standing next to her was a leader who had spurned me when I reported Scott six years ago. He had no interest in greeting me today either, but that didn’t matter. My friend’s greeting made me feel welcomed and loved.
* The music (Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, beautifully performed by two vocal soloists and a small string ensemble) was exquisite! It filled my soul with joy despite the sorrowful theme. The three homilies were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Despite our rift, I felt comfortable listening to the bishop delivering the final message, and he seemed comfortable with my presence.
* As I was leaving, I recognized an old friend, a woman of deep faith and prayer. Though I’ve never spoken with her about what happened, she knows my story. She looked straight at me and said, “I’m really glad to see you here again. This is healing!” Did she mean my presence was a sign that the church is healing? Or that my presence helps the church heal? Either way, her words strengthened my sense of being welcomed and wanted. 

Perhaps the greatest blessing was in the printed bulletin: a prominent announcement for the upcoming series on clergy misconduct. This is such good news that I’m going to share it in full.

SERIES — “A SACRED TRUST: Clergy Misconduct Education”
April 10: Ordination and Power: Theolog(ies) and Practicalit(ies) of Ordained Ministry. What power does (and doesn’t) ordination confer? What ethical standards guide priests besides the Bible? What about sin? What’s the process for discipline?
April 17: How Misconduct Happens: Understanding the Dynamics of Clergy Sexual Misconduct. What do studies reveal about common patterns in leaders, communities, and events involving misconduct? How is this different from “an affair” or “romance”? Why is it so often very traumatic?
April 24: Where Do We Go From Here? Building Safer Communities. How can we all participate in developing a culture where this is less likely to happen? What’s so great about boundaries? Why are we still talking about this?

A young husband & wife team of priests will teach the first session. I’ve known them both for many years; I trust and respect them immensely. A well-respected local psychologist will lead the second class. From the description, it’s clear she will be sharing the groundbreaking study by Baylor University. The third class will be led by the new dean of St Paul’s. I don’t envy her having to lead a congregation that has been so profoundly betrayed. Being an after-pastor is so difficult that when I asked expert Mark Laaser what advice he would give one, he said, “Don’t take the job.” But Dean Penny has the job, and she has my prayers. 

I couldn’t have designed a better program if I’d had a year to work on it. I am incredibly grateful to the lay and clergy leaders whose courage and persistence made this day possible. I am hopeful for the congregation at St Paul’s, and for the priests who lead them. I’ll be praying for them; I hope you will too.

So on this Good Friday, I’m full of Easter feelings: gratitude, hope, triumph and joy. For survivors who have made it to this place of healing: I celebrate with you. For those who are still struggling: you have my prayers — but  I hope you also have hope. The journey of healing is long and painful, but don’t ever give up. Keep on doing the next right thing for yourself and your healing. Keep putting one foot in front of another, and one day you’ll find yourself blessed in ways you can’t begin to imagine today.

Wishing all my readers a very good Good Friday.

How a Congregation Grieves

A leader at my former church sent me a heads-up: “Our Easter flower donations list includes several donations by parishioners in appreciation of Scott and [his wife].” This leader didn’t want me to be blind-sided if I attended Holy Week or Easter services. I told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness. It feels good to have a church leader thinking, “How will my decisions affect someone who was harmed in my church?” 

But she could have taken it a step further. I’m glad the church didn’t refuse the tribute donation, even though it honors a man who caused me such harm. The congregation loved Scott. Grief is a long and painful process, and we need to remember that denial and anger are part of the process. It may take years (or a lifetime) for Scott’s admirers to accept the fact of his guilt. Meanwhile, they are doing what they can to show their love.

Even given in love, these flowers create a hostile environment for victims and survivors. If Scott had harmed another woman at St Paul’s, and if she were trying to decide whether to come forward, the floral tribute might silence her forever. 

How might church leaders address this problem? To balance things out, they could invite donations of flowers to honor the voices of survivors of abuse, or they could pass the hat at the staff meeting and make that donation themselves. They could include an awareness message in the service bulletins — unusual during Holy Week, but all the more impactful. They could pump up the publicity for the the classes on clergy misconduct. 

Yes, you read that right! Next month, St Paul’s will offer a three-week series on clergy misconduct during the Sunday adult education hour. I was thrilled when I heard about it. I don’t plan to attend; the congregation needs to have an honest conversation, and my presence might make that difficult. But I am delighted they are doing this work. So — in response to the flowers honoring Scott, the church could make a stronger effort to get people to those classes.

Even more important: church leaders could recognize the grief in those floral tributes. Along with the educational effort, they could embark on a conscious course of healing for the congregation. It wouldn’t be easy; it would take a lot longer than three weeks. Rebuilding trust and vibrancy could take years. Hopkins & Laaser’s Restoring the Soul of a Church (Liturgical Press, 1995) tells stories of congregational healing; the leaders at St Paul’s might use these stories to generate their own process, including a liturgy of healing — because no one does liturgy like Episcopalians.

Speaking of liturgy: later this spring, St Paul’s will offer a service of healing for survivors of clergy misconduct. It will be open to all denominations. Even though I consider myself substantially healed, I’ll be at that service. I don’t expect any miracles; I know even the best liturgy can’t undo the damage or erase the scars of my experience. But then again, a floral tribute can’t erase Scott’s disgrace or restore him to the priesthood either. A healing service, like the floral tribute, is a gift of compassion and love.

And I accept with gratitude.

Spotlight: Uncovering the Truth

When Spotlight came out, I didn’t want to see it. Already steeped in the stress of divorce, I wanted to let my sleeping trauma lie. I let the blog go silent for more than two months; I had too much on my plate already. Then one of my friends — a survivor whom I trust — said, “You need to see this movie.” But whom to see it with? By that time, my friends had already seen it. During a meeting with our divorce team, I finally asked my husband. (Paradoxically, the divorce process was easing tensions between us). He happily agreed, but we never found a date that worked. 

Then the news broke about “Kevin.” It re-opened old wounds. The bishop’s truth-telling brought both healing and anger, which itself brought more healing. As my church-inflicted wounds healed, so did some of the wounds in my marriage — not by osmosis, but because of my husband’s strong support and affirmation. As the church took steps toward justice, Michael and I began to take steps toward reconciliation. I realized I was strong enough to take my own self to see Spotlight. 

To any survivors who haven’t seen this movie: if it’s still showing in your town, don’t miss it. The story is not so much about clergy abuse as it is about smart, tenacious reporting by brave men and women who had been raised by the very institution they were investigating. For me, there were three takeaways. First, how important our voices are as survivors. The Boston Globe could not have broken the story in 2002 without Phil Saviano, the survivor who opened the New England chapter of SNAP. Second, how hard it is for us to be heard. Saviano had given a list of abusive priests and victims to the Globe in the 1990s, but as (then Assistant Managing Editor) Ben Bradlee Jr says in the film, “Saviano was a f***ing train wreck five years ago.” The more impaired we are, the easier to discredit. I know I’m not the only survivor to experience this hard truth.

The third takeaway: the real story isn’t about individual ministers who exploit their power. It isn’t even about a pattern of abusive ministers. The real story is about the institutions that protect and enable them. In the movie, the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, urges the four journalists to track the story not down to the priests, but up to the top of the system. If the Globe ran a story about “fifty pedophile priests,” Baron tells his team,
“we’ll get into the same cat fight you got into on [an earlier story about an abusive Catholic priest], which made a lot of noise but changed things not one bit. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the Church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes, time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.” 

I’m now reading Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692. The Salem witch trials fascinate me. Not only have I lived the horror of ostracism by a fearful community, I’m also descended from one of the witches (Ann Foster, who died in a Salem prison in 1692). As the frenzy in Salem grew, Boston’s Thomas Brattle spoke rare words of clarity and prophecy. Quoting Brattle, Schiff asks, “How might anyone involved in the trials not later ‘look back upon these things without the greatest of sorrow and grief imaginable?’ [Brattle] trembled at the thought, the first to anticipate an indelible stain on New England, one that ages would not remove.”

Three hundred years from now, will the Catholic Church bear this same indelible stain? 

Religious corruption is not the sole property of the Catholic Church, of course, nor its sole defining attribute. Noble things can grow side by side with foul ones. New England gave birth not only to the witch trials but to American democracy; the Catholic Church produced the abusive Father Geoghan and the collusive Cardinal Law, but also heroes of compassion and courage like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero. 

And clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition. The Episcopal Church — or at least one leader in that church — seems intent on preventing the indelible stain. I’ve learned that a bishop, presumably Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, has notified all of Kevin’s former congregations of Kevin’s offenses and removal as a priest, just as Bishop Jim Mathes did with my former congregation in San Diego. If this is true, Bishops Bruno and Mathes are leading the way toward transparency, safer churches, and healing for those whom the church has injured.

It is time for me to follow their brave example and remove the protective veil of alias. For the sake of readers who may have been hurt by Kevin at any of the churches he has served, it is time for me to be open. This is the man I’ve been calling Kevin, and these are the Episcopal congregations where he served before his most recent assignment.
1989-1992: curate at St Wilfrid’s, Huntington Beach
1992-1998: rector at St Mary’s, Lompoc
1998-2003: youth minister and associate rector at All Saints, Pasadena
2003-2012: dean, St Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego

The bishops of Los Angeles and San Diego have invited anyone with concerns to come forward confidentially. If you have concerns about inappropriate behavior by this priest in Huntington Beach, Lompoc, or Pasadena (or in Ventura where he served as a youth leader in the early 1980s), please contact the Diocese of Los Angeles. If you have concerns about events in San Diego, please contact the Diocese of San Diego.

Reporting an abusive minister is always scary. We are almost always hurt by the process. There’s no guarantee this won’t happen this time. But there is this safety: the church already knows this priest has a pattern of harm. They won’t be trying to protect him; they’ve already dismissed him. If he has harmed other women, the church is more likely to hear and believe them now.

God bless all who have the courage to shine the light of truth.

Jagged Anger

The artist M.E. Dunham, whose work I shared here, offers this image on the theme of anger. I invite you to zoom in and spend time with Dunham’s painting, and see if it doesn’t connect you with the powerful and cleansing force of your own anger. 

ME Dunham Jagged Anger

Jagged Anger, 2015. Mixed media, primarily acrylic, on illustration board, 30 in. x 40 in.

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