Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Swept Under the Carpet

Remember that letter I sent to the pastoral search committee at my offender’s new church? I referred to the letter here. I never heard back from the search committee or their bishop, so I assumed they had swept my warning under the carpet.

Now I’m not so sure. The spring 2016 issue of Cow Hollow Church News (the newsletter of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco) carries a detailed account of the congregational meeting that followed Scott’s defrocking on pages 20-22. “The vestry pledged transparency,” the article begins. Did they deliver on that promise? Let’s find out.

The church’s Junior Warden spoke first. She spoke of her “personal struggle” with the news. She had admired Scott’s spiritual gifts, as had many in the congregation. (As had I, in fact.) “He was a compassionate and helpful pastoral counselor for her on several occasions as she navigated some of life’s challenges,” the article states. I can’t read those words without shuddering; that’s exactly how Scott worked to gain my trust. 

The Senior Warden spoke next. He praised the vestry for having held the burden of confidentiality during the proceedings. Then he
“addressed a decision made when Scott was called to St. Mary’s three years ago. At the 13th hour in that process, he revealed, a few members of the Search Committee and the vestry learned of a Title IV complaint charged to Scott in San Diego. The individuals went to Bishop Marc. He confirmed that there had been a complaint but that after a thorough investigation, the complaint had been found to be meritless. Given this information, the small group did not pass this information on to other members of the Search Committee or vestry.”

Meritless??

Meritless??!!??

Thank God for six years of healing. Rather than triggering a new wave of trauma, “meritless” only caused a few minutes of irritation. Of course my complaint wasn’t meritless! In the congregational meeting at St. Paul’s on January 26, 2016, Bishop Mathes confirmed that I had been speaking the truth. “After assessing the facts, which were not in dispute,” he told the congregation, “I made the determination that the matter did not rise to the level of a Title IV complaint, but was a serious error.” He placed Scott under pastoral direction, a consequence so severe that it becomes a mandatory part of any background check. Indeed, when Scott became a candidate at St Mary’s, Bishop Mathes revealed this fact to Bishop (Marc) Andrus. Mathes may or may not have tried to characterize Scott’s offense against me as “minor”; he may or may not have told Bishop Marc that Scott caused me enough harm to merit a settlement from the Episcopal Church’s insurance arm. But even if Bishop Marc didn’t hear that from Bishop Mathes, he (and the vestry and search committee heads) had that fact from me directly, via my “13th hour” letter.

Did Bishop Mathes describe my complaint to Bishop Marc as “meritless”? I doubt it. Did Bishop Marc use that word when he talked to the vestry and search committee? Did the Senior Warden use that word when he spoke at the congregational meeting? Or was it simply a word that the article’s author chose to summarize her understanding of the case?

I will never know where “meritless” came from. But regardless of who said what to whom, it still appears that the truth of Scott’s harmful behavior in San Diego has been swept under the carpet by at least one of the voices in that chain of communication. I’m angry at yet one more lie told about my story, but at the same I’m proud of the Senior Warden for publicly acknowledging my effort to alert church leaders. Even if he handled my communication imperfectly, at least he made the congregation aware I had tried. So — I give St Mary’s vestry credit for transparency.

But let’s get back to the meeting. The next speaker was the Associate Rector, whom I can’t praise highly enough. She revealed she had been the first of the complainants against Scott at St. Mary’s. How much courage it must have taken for her to continue her role as a minister, even as she may have been hearing congregants trying to “blame the victim”! Yet, as she says, “You lost your rector. I didn’t want you to lose your associate too.” St. Paul once gave advice to the church in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” To the church in Cow Hollow: you can find no better example than the way Rev. Claire shone during this crisis.

The new Interim Priest concluded the meeting. Rev. Don rang a clear bell of truth with these words: “No matter what circumstance, the priest in a congregation always holds the power; and when that power is misused it has to be dealt with.” In other words: it is always, always the minister’s responsibility to keep things safe. It is never, never, ever the congregant’s fault if “spiritual” becomes “sexual.” 

Now, let me share Rev. Don’s final words with you: “To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

What was that, Rev. Don?

“To sweep this under the rug is to invite a similar thing to happen again.”

Can you say that one more time?

“TO SWEEP THIS UNDER THE RUG IS TO INVITE A SIMILAR THING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.”

The whole reason I reported Scott was to protect other women. The whole reason I wrote that “13th hour” letter was to protect the women at St. Mary’s, to prevent what happened to me from happening to any of them. And yet. I wonder if Rev. Don, or anyone, felt the irony in his words.

On the justice-making journey: one step forward, a thousand miles to go.

Comments on: "Swept Under the Carpet" (5)

  1. Rev. Mary Donelle Ramsay said:

    I was 27 years old when our new Rector (Episcopal) began his Call in the 1980’s at St Luke’s Episcopal church in Montclair, New Jersey.
    He was in his 40’s. I saw him weekly for “counseling” when in fact he had no training in that at all. I was lonely, overwhelmed, on my own with a 5 year old and a two year old (both sons), my ex husband had taken the only automobile we possessed, and there w
    as virtually no public transportation. I was walking, rain, snow, hot sun, to my house cleaning jobs. I was very happy to be alive, be my children’s mother, and had had a deep sense of “call” to be a minister since I was about 14 years old.
    But I was also sad about all my unrealized potential and many of my earlier choices. I was not sad about my wonderful sons.
    One night, pretty late, I heard a knock on my apartment door. I opened the door, and there stood Walter, our Priest.
    My stomach turned over—-(I was sexually abused as a child from roughly 12-15), and I thought, “oh. This again.”
    Everything spun around me, and I felt I was going to throw up.
    But he asked me for something to drink. There was no alcohol in the apartment, but I offered him tea, or coffee. Though it was getting later, he asked for coffee.
    He initiated a sexual relationship by pulling me into his lap. My head swum around and I was nauseous. I thought “oh. This again”.
    (My dad was a child molester).
    I felt like I was shattering inside. I’d been in Counceling with him. I thought
    of him as “the Father that God sent”.
    Now, the nightmare was unfolding again. I felt I would break apart.
    Of course the secret was out within a matter of roughly 2 1/2 months.
    He told the church that I was “a schitzopherenic”, and “after” him. Some of the women from the congregation, spiritual leaders and/or people who “got things done” were viscous to me. Others just refused to look at me or acknowledge me. I was shunned and vilified for my “lies” about him. I was barely able to hold my life together, and I was “absent” to my children.
    Many years have passed. I had years of psychotherapy. I was a part of one of Marie Fortune’s early women’s weekends, where we found common themes, wounds, having been shunned, and much more, with each other. All had been victimized by trusted clergy and/or church leaders.
    After 30 years of psychotherapy, I’m better, but not “all right” (whatever that means).
    My heart still fills with pain when Walter comes up.
    But I’m an ordained UCC minister, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in NYC, a hospice chaplain, and I’ve moved through that betrayal of trust for the most part.
    I am very grateful for Marie Fortune’s work, and for the women ( survivors) I met through working with her.
    If even one woman (or man) feels less alone after reading this, I am very grateful. Your pain matters. Your being betrayed matters. YOU matter to the One who brought all things into being!
    Thank you for reading my story.

    • Mary, I’m so sorry. So many levels of betrayal. Thank God for the healing you have found in the decades since. I know the pain will always be with you, but thank God for the work you are now able to do. Thank you so much for sharing your story here.

  2. Nicole Kanofski Photography said:

    Rev. Mary Donelle Ramsay and Catherine Thiemann. Your words written clearly resound with me. The trauma, vilification, humiliation and pain associated with Clergy Sexual Abuse is indescribable, I too was sexually abused as a child and the one person whom I confided this too used their position of power and trust to exploit me – sexually. After the fact, people still think of it as an ‘affair’. The damage is done. Why can’t people see there can be no ‘affair’, thats impossible, we know the balance of power is way off kilter in ‘their’ favour. What was done to me was painful enough, but the pain of friends alienating you and taking your abusers side was far more devastating than what my abuser did. Its been 18 months now, Im moving forward (52 counselling sessions with an amazing counsellor) Im recovering, albeit slowly. Investigations are now concluded, was I happy with the outcome? Yes and no, was it swept under the carpet, absolutely! Will it happen again? absolutely….These narcissistic predators are everywhere, its just such a shame they always seem to know how to take advantage of those of us who were already broken and crippled to start with and use us to their own personal ‘sick’ glorification. I have lost my ‘faith’, its was the backbone of mine and my families life, I lived for God, not anymore. Im deeply saddened by this, he took everything that meant dear to me. The one person I liked up too like a father figure, a friend, a confidante, destroyed me when he turned me into his plaything….Im glad you have been able to move forward. I no the mountain that is in-front is high, yet we must climb it, although at times it seems the summit gets farther away! My hope is that accountability will always follow through with transparency, so that ‘everyone’ knows, it is NEVER EVER the VICTIMS fault, the person in the position of POWER AND AUTHORITY is always to blame..ALWAYS.

    • Nicole, I agree with you: the pain of friends blaming and abandoning us is far more painful than the original abuse. For a long time I felt as you did, as if I had lost everything of value in my life. 18 months after I lost my church community through ostracism, I still felt as though the whole I idea of God was a cruel joke. But now, six years after the experience, my faith has come back to life.
      My prayer for you is this: that good people will come into your life, that they will listen for as long as you need to tell your story, that they will keep listening until you finally feel heard. When that happened for me, I was able to recover a sense of God’s presence, and that is my prayer for you.
      I hear you and believe you, dear friend.

      • Mary Donelle Ramsay said:

        I’m so glad that you were not destroyed. These men (and yes, some women) wound us so very massively, yet help comes. It comes. For me it took many years. Years before I went to college ( I had two sons but never had gone) I was led into therapy with a Jungian. I never let myself know he was a minister….and he never acknowledged it until I had been working with him for a few years.
        I’m glad that’s how it went, I would have fled if I had known.
        It took me so many years…almost 20, before I graduated from college and finally braved seminary. It was wonderful! Had anyone told me right after Walter, or even 10 years after, I wouldn’t have believed how healing it was.
        “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” Julian of Norowich.
        We are in good company….many women (and some men) have walked through this devistation. And when we truely are as healed as we can be in this world, we will know truely that we ARE good enough, for whatever Life calls us to. May you both be blessed. 🌺

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