Clergy sexual misconduct: one survivor's voice

Archive for the ‘Church Response’ Category

UMC Protecting a Predator

Dozens of young Methodists are in immediate danger.

This Sunday, July 31, unless leaders in the UMC take action, at least three youth groups from Greater New Jersey will arrive at Olivet Blue Mountain Camp in eastern Pennsylvania to spend a week under the leadership of a known sexual predator. 

Here are the facts.
* In 2013, “Lisa” (not her real name) filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against then-Rev. Darryl Duer. He wasn’t her minister, but he was the minister who led the summer service project that she had attended with her church youth group since she was in junior high. Duer had begun giving Lisa love notes and personal gifts when she was only 15. When she turned 18, he offered pastoral support, but very soon began demanding sex. He abused her for several years, telling her that his sexual abuse was God’s way of loving her. He knew of her history of abuse growing up, and he correctly assumed she wouldn’t know she was being abused. But eventually she figured it out.
* Bishop John Schol of the UMC’s Greater New Jersey jurisdiction received Lisa’s complaint. Rather than launching a formal investigation, Bishop Schol simply asked Duer to hand in his ministerial credentials. He later characterized Lisa’s complaint as “serious and substantiated,” but at the time he chose to cover it up. He hid the truth from Duer’s congregation, his fellow ministers, and the parents of the youth who had participated in those summer camps over the years.
* In 2014, Lisa learned that Duer was again offering the camp, and that three of Bishop Schol’s ministers were bringing their youth groups. After a great deal of effort on Lisa’s part, and with the involvement of the national church office, Bishop Schol agreed to inform those three ministers of Duer’s offense. In response, Duer canceled the camp.
* Lisa thought this was the end of the story. But in early 2015, Lisa saw online postings for Duer’s camp on one of the same three church websites. She wrote to the minister immediately. He assured her it was “old information,” and he promised to take down the posting. She believed him at the time, but later that summer she found evidence that this minister had brought his youth group after all, despite Bishop Schol’s warning in 2014. This youtube video shows the youth group’s presentation afterwards. Duer’s face is prominently shown in one of the slides.
* The horror continues. A few weeks ago, Lisa learned that Duer is still running the camp, and the same three churches are still bringing their youth. On July 5, Lisa sent a powerful email to Bishop Schol and a to key contact in the denomination’s national headquarters. She waited two weeks for a response, then wrote to a higher authority in the national church. She also reached out to the bishop in Eastern PA where Duer’s camp would take place. Although she’s heard from the national office, she has yet to receive a response from either bishop, and the national office seems to lack the power to take action.
* Lisa posted a comment about this situation on Bishop Schol’s facebook page. An administrator immediately took down her comment, but at least she had their attention. The bishop has finally agreed to speak with Lisa by phone about how he handled her case. He has also promised to “talk to” the three ministers when their youth groups return from Darryl Duer’s camp. But with a full week left before the train wreck, Bishop Schol said it was too late to stop his district’s youth from attending, or to inform their parents of the danger. 

Where is the leadership? Where are the shepherds who are supposed to protect the sheep from wolves like Darryl Duer? Does it really fall to an obscure blogger to get this word out? The odds that any of my readers know any of those parents is infinitessimally small. Still — if you do know someone involved, please share this warning. Young people have a right to expect a safe experience when they attend a church-organized camp, and parents have the right to know if their children are about to walk into a viper’s nest.


Update, afternoon of July 28. I’ve now spoken with the bishop of Eastern PA. She had not received Lisa’s email; she is very concerned and has promised to do what she can to keep UMC youth safe.


Update, January 2017: Bishop Schol’s excellent response.

“If Our Secrets Define Us”

After three years of blogging, I’m taking a much-needed sabbatical, but I can’t ignore the opportunity to share a message I just learned about. Every year on the last night of the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, one minister is invited to deliver prophetic words at the Berry Street Conference. This year’s Berry Street Essay came from the Rev. Gail Seavey, whose work I wrote about last August.

Gail Seavey asks what happens “If Our Secrets Define Us.” She sets the stage with a scene from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Nazis have stolen the Ark and captured Indiana and Marion. As they begin to open the Ark, Indiana shouts, “Don’t look, Marion! Whatever you do, don’t look!” Marion doesn’t look, but the bad guys do, and we in the audience do, and we see the bad guys turn into corpses and dissolve into dust. Implying, of course, that some things should never be seen. 

“The movie was wrong,” says Seavey. “Some things SHOULD be seen.”

She tells the story of her first ministerial internship, under the supervision of the Rev. Frederica Leigh, in a struggling Southern California congregation haunted by stories of “screwing around” in the 60s and 70s. When a retired minister died, a line of elderly women came to Frederica’s office seeking pastoral care, needing to tell the secrets they’d carried for decades. A few years later another minister died, and another line of women came seeking care. Frederica Leigh provided care to legions of victim/survivors during those years. She “insisted on impeccable boundaries… and advocated that her colleagues practice clear ethical guidelines concerning clergy sexual abuse,” writes Seavey. As a result, some colleagues shunned Frederica Leigh, but others became champions for victims of misconduct who chose to report. Seavey says that “the lessons I learned from Frederica laid the foundation for my career.” 

Seavey took these lessons to her first settlement in a church in Minnesota. When church leaders refused to tell her why the previous minister left, she insisted that “I had to know church-wide secrets or I could not accept a call there.” The next day she learned that the minister had arrived single, married a long-term congregant, divorced her to marry a second congregant whom he’d been counseling, and been asked to leave quietly. Seavey asked the first wife what she most needed. “She asked only for one thing, that the previous minister never come into the building.” Seavey made it happen. For the next eight years the departed minister lobbied for a chance to guest-preach; Seavey faithfully and consistently said “no.”

Just as Frederica Leigh had, Seavey had to deal with massive distrust from her wounded congregation. Just as Leigh did, Seavey practiced impeccable boundaries with her new congregation and slowly regained their trust. 

In the late 1990s Seavey became active with national UUA. Working with the association of female ministers and with the UUA’s guidelines committee, she tried to address the issue of clergy sexual misconduct. She and her colleagues explored “the differences between confidentiality and secrets. Confidentiality requires protecting someone else’s story; keeping secrets involves hiding our own stories.” This work began to feel as if they were looking into Indiana Jones’ Ark. “Several women reported that [prominent New York UU minister] Forrest Church had had affairs with them when they were members,” “a wider circle of colleagues started to confide in me their painful secrets,” and even “alleged sexual misconduct by UUA staff members who were involved in an official response to clergy sexual misconduct.” The longer they worked, the more ugliness the task force uncovered.

As they pushed for transparency, the UUA began to push back. They disenfranchised the task force, blackballed its convener, Deborah Pope Lance, and told her “she would never again work for the UUA or any UU Group.” But survivors, impacted congregations, and after-pastors continued to seek support from Deborah and the task force.

In 2005, Seavey accepted a call from First UU of Nashville. “I was attracted to them because they were open about their history as a congregation that had suffered and healed from clergy misconduct” by past minister David Maynard. Anna Belle Leiserson, the only one of Maynard’s victims who dared to report her experience, was “harassed, bullied, and shunned by the minister’s supporters. That first year, her hair turned pure white. She says that the attempts to exile her from the congregation were even more painful than the original betrayal by the minister. Healing began in the following year when First UU held a ‘Listening Process’…”

Healing began, but it is far from complete. Seavey, Leiserson, and their colleagues discovered more and more layers of institutional secrecy and resistance to justice. Leiserson served as liaison for victim Amanda Tweed in 2005. To this day, Amanda Tweed has never been told the official results of her investigation.

And yet this same secret-keeping, justice-blocking UUA invited Gail Seavey to deliver the Berry Street Essay. 

What if our secrets define us, asked Seavey? “When we don’t tell the truth about a minister who betrayed our trust and yet another person becomes invisible to our community, who are we? How does keeping our UU institutional secrets about abuse and trauma define us? Are there actions or rituals … that would allow us to walk again on Holy Ground and see what we do not want to see?” 

“It can start by telling a secret — a secret that is your story to tell… So therefore I say, let us open our eyes and see. May we continue to weave sacred stories together until we form new rituals of re-membering… Maybe then the exiled will be safe to return. Maybe then we will discover what freedom, love, and justice really feel like. May it be so.”

You can read Rev. Seavey’s essay in full hereYou can read the response by the Rev. David Pyle here.

Unitarian Universalist Association: Awakened by One Bold Survivor

Plenty of churches get it wrong when it comes to clergy sexual misconduct. Who’s getting it right?

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is blazing a trail that other churches would do well to follow. They just wrapped up their 54th annual General Assembly, “Building a New Way.” In a move that may be unprecedented in any faith tradition, the UUA GA program included not one but three workshops on clergy sexual misconduct, as well as a plenary address by UUA trustee Susan Weaver on the church’s new initiatives.

These were the workshops:
* In Sexually Safer Congregations: Building a New Commitment, the Rev. Debra Haffner, co-founder of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, shared the UUA’s new process, goals, and model policies, and urged UU congregations to renew their commitment to preventing misconduct and abuse. UU World senior editor Michelle Bates Deakin had written in 2013 about early steps in this effort.
* In Building Restorative Justice in Cases of Clergy Sexual Misconduct, the leaders of the UU Safety Net described the steps they are taking to improve the church’s process for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. UU World senior editor Elaine McArdle summed up this workshop here.
* In Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Breaking the Silence, clergy and lay leaders shared the Sacred Listening Process that leaders in Nashville are developing along the lines of the StoryCorps model.

The UUA’s 2015 program reflects decades of dedicated hard work. The church in the 1970s “could feel like a carnival or a Roman Bacchanal” in the words of UU minister Deborah J. Pope-Lance. By the 1990s, things were beginning to change. Individual UU ministers were beginning to write about the need for appropriate boundaries and standards of sexual ethics, as Pope-Lance did here, and as the Rev. Sam Trumbore did here. At the 2000 General Assembly, then-Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery offered a public apology to victims and survivors of sexual misconduct by UU clergy. Over the next two decades the UUA moved forward in many areas.

But according to survivors, only in the past decade has the UUA made real progress. In this effort, no survivor has been more influential than Anna Belle Leiserson of Nashville. In 1993, disappointed with the UUA’s response to her complaint, she asked church leaders for changes in the process. She stayed with the church and became a leader, speaking at General Assemblies and serving on panels. Eventually, the quiet resistance of church leaders wore her down. In 2006, she writes, “I gave up. Or so I thought.” But a few months later, she suddenly realized that her congregation — First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, or FUUN — had “a powerhouse of potential activists.” In 2007, Leiserson led this team to create the UU Safety Net. After a slow start, which Leiserson writes about here, the Nashville effort has become a model for the national church.

One of Leiserson’s partners in this effort was FUUN’s minister, the Rev. Gail Seavey. She had served as an after-pastor in several settings early in her career, and had inexplicably thrived. She talks about her surprising success here, and about the lessons she learned from the challenging role of after-pastor. Another Safety Net leader, Dr. Doug Pasto-Crosby, has written about why the church tends to ignore and discredit the voices of survivors. He also writes about the traumatic impact on congregations after an instance of clergy sexual misconduct. Pasto-Crosby insists that the congregation can only heal when they help the survivor to heal. “Restoring the connection between survivors and their church community is the most important work a congregation needs to do after ministerial misconduct.”

When I named this blog “Survivors Awaken the Church,” I imagined it as a future event. Together, we survivors will awaken the church. But the awakening has already begun. Thanks to the brave and persistent Anna Belle Leiserson, the Unitarian Universalist Church has opened its eyes.

Reporting Your Abuser? How to Survive the Process

I thought the nightmares were behind me, but I had another one last week. I dreamed that a counselor had violated my sexual boundaries in a way that he could deny and I could never prove. I moved through that dream in a state of frozen fear. I knew I should file a complaint, but I also knew what would happen: I’d be called liar, seductress, madwoman, or all three. In despair I asked, “Again?”

Of all the stages in the process of clergy sexual abuse, this one may be the most grueling. Even if the abuse has ended, we still live with a terrible secret. Often, the people we count on for support (our families, our friends at church) are threatened by our story. Instead of comforting us, they blame us, or they tell us to hush up, move on, and “forgive.”

It’s a wonder any of us finds the courage to speak the truth.

For my readers who are about to take this step, I offer my prayers, my gratitude and admiration, and a few lessons from my experience. I learned some of these lessons the hard way; perhaps you won’t have to.

1. When you meet with your church’s intake officer, bring a friend or spouse for support. Their presence will give you strength, and they’ll remember details that you miss. Ask them for a ride: you may be too emotionally charged to drive safely before or after the meeting.

2. Remember that the abuse was NOT YOUR FAULT, even if you believe you gave consent. My bishop said these words almost as soon as I walked into his office. I hope you hear the same words from your church. Even if you don’t, know that these words are true. The abuse was absolutely, positively not your fault.

3. Prepare a written statement, but don’t bring it to the meeting. Writing the statement will help you tell your story more clearly. During the meeting, you may get a better understanding of what information the church needs. By waiting until after the meeting, you’ll have a chance to expand and clarify your statement before submitting it.

4. Ask your church officer for a copy of the policy and procedures they’ll be following. Ask how long the process will take. Ask what will happen next, and when. Ask about the range of possible outcomes. Ask how the church will keep you informed. Ask whom you should contact if you have questions.

5. You will need support while the church investigates your complaint. Ask the church to refer you to a counselor right away. Even during a brief investigation, the stress can take a toll on your health. My church’s investigation took only two months, but it was enough time for a borderline eating disorder to flare out of control, requiring months of expensive treatment. Getting support now could protect you from a life-threatening crisis.

6. Debrief with your support person as soon as the meeting is over. Ask them to stay with you, calm you, and help you understand what was said in the meeting. Ask them if you can call them in a few days (or sooner) to talk about it again. Let them know how grateful you are for their support, now and in the months ahead.

7. Prepare for a time of painful and unsettled emotions. The church will respond imperfectly, your offender may try to discredit you, cherished friends may turn against you. I wish I could offer words that could ease this pain. All I have is this: speaking the truth will eventually bring healing and growth beyond what you can imagine today. But meanwhile you need to survive this painful experience. Build good habits of self-care: eat well, attend to health concerns, and be gentle and patient with yourself. Now is the time to reach out to friends whom you trust. Don’t isolate — connect. It may save your life.

To readers who have already survived this process: I hope you’ll share your wisdom in the comments.

To all readers: please lift a prayer for those who are about to embark on this journey.

A Great Victory for One Survivor

“Ocian in view! O! The joy!”
— journal of William Clark, on reaching the mouth of the Columbia River.

On a cold November day in 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark rejoiced to see the Pacific “Ocian.” After eighteen months and nearly four thousand miles of hard travel through uncharted territory, this was a great victory. The Corps of Discovery had failed in their primary goal — discovering a shipping passage across the continent — and they still had a cold wet winter and year’s return journey ahead of them. Even so, there’s no doubt that their expedition’s greatest day was November 7, 1805. The U.S. Mint even created a nickel to commemorate the moment.

Every long journey has these buoyant moments. No matter how discouraged and fatigued we are, journeyers get new courage from the miracles and victories along the way. Even with all the new stories of clergy abuse and institutional silencing, I’m constantly encouraged by the small triumphs in the lives of my fellow survivors, and by the support of our allies.

And last week, one survivor accomplished something so great that I feel like Captain Clark. “O! The joy!”

***

Last summer, “Anonymous Girl” filed a complaint against the United Methodist minister who led a service trip for youth groups in his region. A week later, her bishop sent her an email: “Over the weekend, Rev. ____ submitted his clergy orders to my office. This means that he has resigned as a clergy person.”

“Just like that,” reflected Anonymous Girl, “in a week’s time the process was over. It happened quickly and I got what I wanted: this person will not work in a ministerial role in the United Methodist Church with vulnerable populations.”

But it wasn’t over. The hard work of healing had only begun.  Anonymous Girl spent months struggling with emotional pain and with questions about her own role in the abuse. The abuse had not been her fault, but like most survivors she felt she must have done something to cause it. Severely traumatized, she spent most of the winter actively planning to end her life. What was it that gave her the strength to stay? Was it when she found out that a local Methodist pastor had invited her defrocked abuser to lead a Bible study in his church? Did she decide to stay so she could finish what she had set out to do — to keep vulnerable people safe from the man who had exploited and abused her?

Whatever the reason, the world is a safer place because Anonymous Girl is here. A few weeks ago, she was stunned to learn that her abuser would lead the same service project again. Even worse, she learned that several churches had already signed up. Did she feel angry and betrayed? You bet. And did she fight back? Yes, she did. She began by emailing the UMC’s General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. The previous head of the GCSRW had helped Anonymous Girl with her original complaint, but she had never met the new leader. So she had to summon up the courage to tell her story one more time.

After a week, she hadn’t heard back, but she didn’t give up. She sent a stronger letter. This time, the GCSRW reached out to Anonymous Girl’s bishop. The bishop was also slow to respond — and again, Anonymous Girl didn’t give up. She sent the bishop an articulate, respectful email to let him know that at the end of June, she would send a letter to every youth minister in the Conference. She would attach not only the evidence of her own abuse, but the letter the bishop had sent to her, sharing the fact her abuser was no longer a UMC minister.

Finally, the bishop broke his official silence. He sent a letter to every UMC pastor whose church had signed up for the service project. He told them that the leader of the project “admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a young person” who participated in the project. While I don’t like the language — the bishop should have said, “he admitted to sexually abusing a young person” — I like the results. After the bishop sent his letter, Anonymous Girl’s abuser withdrew his offer to lead the service project. By insisting on justice, and speaking up with courage and resolve, Anonymous Girl has made all the youth in her Conference safer.

Anonymous Girl has discovered another truth: her abuser may not have cared about the project after all. You see, he didn’t just step away from the project. He cancelled it altogether. He seems to have seen this service project only as a way to get access to vulnerable youth. If he cared about the project, she writes, “he would have stepped down and allowed it to continue without him. He could have helped someone else take the leadership role.” But she also knows: whatever the value of the project to the youth and the community, it carried too high a cost. She rejoices that the project was cancelled “not because I want to see the project fail, but… because I know the man who hurt me will not be given the option to hurt other youth in the same way.”

This kind of victory is rare. For every triumph of justice against clergy sexual abuse, we hear dozens of tales of abuse, silencing, and victim-blaming. With near-daily bad news, it’s easy to lose hope. But then this amazing thing happens. Against all odds, a solitary victim, still struggling with the trauma of abuse, speaks with so much power and clarity that the whole church hears. A bishop finds his voice. A predator loses access to victims. A whole group of young people will not be this man’s victims.

And every survivor who hears this news stands up a little taller. Anonymous Girl’s victory is a victory for all of us.

How to Screen Out Potential Offenders

Rule #1 in preventing clergy sexual abuse: don’t hire offenders. But how can we tell who they are? Many potential offenders don’t even know themselves, and those who do are hardly going to share their dark truth with a hiring committee.

Last month I highlighted a resource of The Episcopal Church, a model policy aimed at preventing sexual exploitation of adults. The policy includes a sample interview that could identify potential offenders. It’s an excellent tool that could help all faith communities, so I’m sharing it on this blog. The interview starts soft but eventually gets to hard questions about the candidate’s professional, civil, and criminal record. To encourage truthful responses, interviewers may want to begin the interview by saying, “We’ll be doing a standard background check, of course, but these questions will help us understand better how you might handle challenging situations as our pastor.”

According to the Church Pension Group of the Episcopal Church, here are the questions that could help protect congregants and staff against clergy sexual exploitation.

1. Please tell me about the last time a member of your (congregation, youth group, office staff, etc.) demanded too much of your time. How did you handle that?

2. Please give an example of a time in your work or volunteer history when you thought the policies were too rigid. How did you handle that?

3. Please describe a time when you felt a special bond or friendship between yourself and a member of your (congregation, youth group, office staff, etc.).

4. Please give an example of a “boundary violation.” Has that ever happened to you, or has anyone ever said that you violated a boundary of some sort?

5. Has disciplinary action of any sort ever been taken against you by a licensing board, professional association, ecclesiastical body or educational or training institution? Have there been complaints against you that did not result in discipline? Are there complaints pending against you before any of the above-named bodies? If yes, please explain.

6. Have you ever been asked to resign or been terminated by a training program or employer? If yes, please explain. 

7. Have you ever had a civil suit brought against you about your professional work or is any such action pending? Have you ever had professional malpractice insurance suspended or revoked for any reason? If yes, please explain.

8. Have you ever been charged (formally or informally) with any ethics violations, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse or sexual harassment? Are any such actions or complaints pending against you? If yes, please explain.

9. Are you now or have you ever had sexual contact or attempted sexual contact (sexual intercourse of any kind, intentional touching, or conversation for the purpose of sexual arousal) with any person you were/are seeing in any professional context or in a pastoral relationship (i.e. parishioner, client, patient, employee, student)? If yes, please explain.

10. Are you now or have you ever been involved in the production, sale, or distribution of pornographic materials? If yes, please explain.

11. Have you ever had a restraining order, injunction, order for protection or the like issued against you? Have you ever had your parental rights restricted, suspended or terminated or have any of your children ever been in foster care? Have you ever been accused of domestic violence? If so, please explain.

These questions, and the entire model policy, were developed by the Church Pension Group and the Nathan Network for The Episcopal Church. Please note that commercial use of this sample interview, or of the Model Policy, is prohibited by the church’s copyright. To order copies or for more information, please visit the CPG website.

United Church of Canada Sets a Shining Example

The United Church of Christ (UCC) and the United Church of Canada may soon be in full communion. What does this mean, and why is it good news for the UCC?

When two churches are in full communion, they agree on essential doctrines. They recognize one another’s clergy as valid ordained ministers within both traditions. The leaders form a closer relationship. The churches learn from one another. Ideally, the two churches strengthen each other’s weaknesses. If the UCC and the United Church of Canada come into full communion, it will be good news especially for victims of clergy sexual abuse in the UCC. The Canadian church’s policy for responding to abuse stands head and shoulders over the policies in any church in the U.S.

What makes the United Church of Canada’s policy so strong?

1. It’s easy to find. Anyone can search “United Church of Canada sexual abuse” or similar terms and locate the church’s Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Policy and Procedures manual.

2. It is grounded in theology; specifically in the church’s creed. For example, the creed calls the United Church of Canada to “seek justice.” The statement shows sexual abuse to be a justice issue, and it holds the church responsible for a just outcome.

3. The policy is clear, concrete, and rigorous. It clearly defines the behaviors that fall under the term “sexual abuse.” It clearly states who may file a complaint (victims, parents of minors, and people with first-hand knowledge). It clearly states that the church will not respond to anonymous complaints, and that allegations must be supported with clear and convincing evidence.

4. It distributes power so that no single person controls the process. It defines the roles of all involved in the process. It provides a step-by-step checklist for every person in every role. The manual spells out the process for handling complaints, and illustrates it with an easy-to-read flowchart.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 7.54.09 PM

(Copyright © 2013, The United Church of Canada)

5. It gives special protection to legal minors. When the victim is a minor, the policy requires church officials to report suspected abuse to law enforcement first, and only to open a church investigation when it won’t interfere with the legal process.

6. It requires all church responders to read and understand the policy, attend a training, and be familiar with the local resources for victims (educational, therapeutic, legal, medical, etc).

7. It keeps the victim informed and supported at every step. She or he is given a copy of the policy and procedures at the very first meeting, along with specific resources for pastoral care or counseling support. When the investigation ends, she or he is given a copy of the investigator’s report. If the church wishes to resolve the case informally, church officials must first ask the victim for permission. (Oh, to have had this kind of support from my former church!)

Even with a strong, clearly articulated policy, responding to clergy misconduct is difficult at best. No doubt there have been and will continue to be bumps in the road for the United Church of Canada. But their policy gives responders a clear road map. Since I now make my home in the UCC, I am praying for full communion, and I’m praying that my church adopts this superb policy and process.

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