In the task force, we were talking about the difference between confidentiality and secrecy. Here’s how I understand it:
Confidentiality protects the complainant. It gives her* the power to decide when, where, and to whom her story is told.
Secrecy protects the institution. It gives the church the power to silence the complainant, or to discredit her if she insists on speaking.
How can a church protect the complainant without keeping secrets from the congregation? With transparency. Share the basic facts (we received a complaint, we’re investigating, we’ve put the pastor on leave, here’s what we learned, here’s what we’re doing about it) as soon as they are known. Don’t share the complainant’s identity or the details of her complaint. Do respect her right to share those things herself.
* or him. Men and boys can be victims too.
A few weeks ago I reported good news from the Episcopal Church: a call from top leaders for the church to repent for having mishandled complaints of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. The letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies called for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer, but did not offer any specific prayers.
I have more good news. A newly formed task force in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, the Task Force for the Compassionate Care of Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct*, has provided those prayers. The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, co-author of the forementioned letter, has published San Diego’s revised Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence to the whole church. Here’s the announcement and here’s the litany.
Episcopalian readers, please consider encouraging your parish priest to use this litany on Ash Wednesday.
* Full disclosure: I serve on this task force, which is good news in and of itself. I no longer belong to any Episcopal congregation, yet the diocese invited me to serve. When I started this blog in 2013, I named it “Survivors Awaken the Church” more out of hope than experience — but it seems that if we are patient and persistent, we really can open eyes. Have hope, fellow survivors!
I am pleased to share a new online resource from Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. In a follow-up to the school’s landmark 2009 study of clergy sexual misconduct, Baylor surveyed and/or interviewed 280 survivors in 2015 to learn more about how churches respond to complaints of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. The research team, led by Dr. David Pooler, found that only 8% of survivors felt supported by their church after the abuse occurred, only 9% found their church process helpful, and only 7% of churches had policies in place to support complainants. Eighty percent of surveyed survivors agree that the abuse harmed their spiritual life. On the bright side, while only 35% of survivors say they have recovered, 78% feel that they are on the path to recovery. You can dig into those statistics here.
You can also find:
* A Best Practice Guide for church response, based on interviews with survivors
* A short article explaining why clergy shouldn’t try to counsel their congregants
* A summary of the 2009 Baylor study of clergy sexual misconduct by the late Diana Garland: how prevalent it is, how it happens, and how churches can prevent it.
… and much more, by exploring Baylor’s home page for clergy sexual abuse research.
Please share widely.
Former Michigan State University gymnast Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Dr. Larry Nasser of sexual abuse, was the last victim to speak at his sentencing hearing. In addition to being an athlete, a wife & mother, and a lawyer, Rachael is also a devout Christian — and an intelligent, thoughtful, insightful woman. Christianity Today’s Morgan Lee interviewed Denhollander after the trial. Ms. Lee’s article is very much worth reading. I’ve shared three favorite Rachael Denhollander insights below (it was hard to choose just three!)
On the church’s blindness to victims’ pain. “Christians… tend to gloss over… any kind of suffering but especially sexual assault, with platitudes like ‘God works all things together for good’ or ‘God is sovereign.’ … When [Biblical truths] are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.”
On forgiveness and justice. “Every single Christian publication or speaker that has mentioned my statement has … focused on the aspect of forgiveness. Very few… have recognized what else came with that statement, which was a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice. Both of those are biblical concepts. Both of those represent Christ. We do not do well when we focus on only one of them.”
On the evil of the church’s self-protection. “The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.”
Please don’t miss this superb article on the Christianity Today website.