Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘blaming the victim’

The Shelf of Shame: A Book to Avoid

Here’s one for the Shelf of Shame: John Thoburn and Rob Baker’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Systems Approach to Prevention, Intervention, and Oversight (Gentle Path Press, 2011). I’m always interested in finding new materials for the Survivor’s Bookshelf, so I bought this title last month. Unfortunately, the editors focus on the needs of clergy and their families to the exclusion of victims. Worse, with sentences like this one, they seem to hold victims responsible for their own pain: “Both pastors and dioceses may find themselves sued civilly because of a pastor’s sexual conduct toward parishioners, even if that sexual behavior is between consenting adults.” (Emphasis mine. Withering scorn also mine.)
You can read my review here. I had fun writing it; I hope you enjoy reading it. If you find it helpful, please vote! I want Amazon to keep my review up as a warning to survivors who might otherwise see this book as a potential resource in healing.

Erik’s Story

Thank God for survivors like Erik Campano, who had the foresight to organize hundreds of pieces of evidence supporting his complaint against a priest and her bishop. After talking with Erik and reviewing his account, I shared his story this afternoon with a few respected journalists. Here’s what I told them:

At the American Church in Paris, new Episcopalian Erik Campano survived a classic case of clergy sexual misconduct. He joined the church, caught the attention of an Episcopal priest-in-training, initially resisted her advances, gradually succumbed, and eventually agreed to a sexual relationship that he had to conceal from his friends at the church. Although he was flattered, Erik was also confused and fearful about being sexually involved with his minister.

Ginger Strickland’s bishop, Pierre Whalon, clearly considered her a protégée. As a candidate for bishop, he had asked Strickland to give his nomination speech. Unfortunately, Whalon placed the newly minted Yale M.Div. in a non-denominational church that had no sexual misconduct policy. When Strickland asked her supervising pastor (not an Episcopalian) if she could date a congregant, she got a green light. Against Episcopal Church protocols and against her seminary training, she went ahead.

And yet it was never a real relationship. Even before she was ordained, Mother Strickland’s power as Erik’s minister made it hard for him to say no, and therefore impossible for him to give meaningful consent. The stress led to serious health problems. Finally, Erik broke off the relationship and reported Strickland for misconduct, but to a bishop who was heavily invested in her success. Bishop Whalon took extraordinary measures to protect Strickland’s career. He misrepresented to Erik which office had jurisdiction to hear the case, he delayed forwarding Erik’s complaint to an Intake Officer for months, he ordained Strickland to the priesthood despite this serious unresolved disciplinary matter, he published in the New York Post his intention to discredit Erik’s story (and may have actually done so through attorney John Walsh), he failed to meet with Erik even once to hear his complaint, and he defamed Erik’s character in his October 2012 report to the Convocation of the Episcopal Churches in Europe.

It is this final action that I address in my letter to Bishop Katharine.

In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman eloquently describes what the Episcopal Church may be doing to Erik Campano. “Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense,” writes Herman. “If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it on herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.”

A powerful institutional church seems to be working hard to silence its victims. And who are the church’s victims? With the Episcopal Church we have worshipped, served, and shared not only our spiritual hopes and fears but also our financial resources. We are, in fact, the church itself. Now we are silenced by the very power we helped to create.

Dear Bishop Katharine

To the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Dear Bishop Katharine,

I had the honor of meeting you at a donors’ dinner when you visited the Diocese of San Diego in 2008. I had organized that event, and I was the sacristan for the clergy eucharist the next morning. You graciously acknowledged how effectively I was working for the church.

I am writing today with a concern about Bishop Pierre Whalon. In the bishop’s October 18, 2012 report to the Episcopal Churches in Europe, he characterized a New York Post article that he said was based on Erik Campano’s statement as “libelous.” Against the unified opinion of the FaithTrust Institute, the Hope of Survivors, and the President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, Whalon called Erik’s accusations of sexual misconduct against Mother Ginger Strickland “completely baseless.” In effect, and without grounds, he accused Erik of lying both to the church and the Post. 

Indeed, the Post did print a clarification (Bishop Whalon mistakenly termed it a retraction) after conferring with attorneys for the church. But the statement doesn’t refute Erik’s claims; instead it addresses a meaningless technicality. Does it really matter whether Mother Strickland had yet been ordained when she sought sexual gratification with Erik? As a candidate for ordination, she was already subject to the church’s sexual misconduct policy. She had received training specifically forbidding her to date a person under her care. (“Don’t do the pew,” as she expressed it to Erik.) And even before she became a deacon, Ginger Strickland was by no means an ordinary layperson. She was in charge of the youth ministry, she recruited Erik as a volunteer, and the congregation knew that she was on the path to ordination.

By way of analogy: if my accounting firm made an error on my taxes, do you think they could avoid responsibility by claiming that the accountant hadn’t yet earned her CPA? Absolutely not. Neither should the Episcopal Church duck out of responsibility to Erik Campano, or allow their bishops to smear Erik’s character publicly and in writing to the entire Episcopal Church in Europe.

In a spirit of full disclosure: I have also endured clergy sexual misconduct in the Episcopal Church. Like Erik, I was also harmed by the church’s response. As an Episcopalian, I pledged generously (my total donations far exceeded my Church Insurance settlement), and I was a leader on the bishop’s Diocesan Council. Since that time, I have co-led a successful $1 million capital campaign for a congregation in the United Church of Christ. I share these facts not to boast, but to let you know that when Title IV fails, Episcopalians may redirect their resources outside the church. The loss to the church can be material. But always, regardless of money, the loss grieves the heart of God.

The Episcopal Church is not the only place where this harmful behavior occurs. In my blog SurvivorsAwakenTheChurch.com, I address the issue broadly. But the Episcopal Church is your flock, Bishop Katharine. You can’t change all churches, but you can make your church safer for the “little ones.” I hope you will ask Bishop Whalon to retract, publicly and in writing, his character-defaming words against Erik Campano, and I hope you will lead a reform of the whole system. The new Title IV offers strong protection to complainants. If bishops would consistently follow the canon and protect the vulnerable, people like me might still be in your church.

Yours in the struggle toward truth, justice, and healing,

Catherine Thiemann

Vindication for Irene

Marie Fortune lists the seven things that a victim of clergy sexual abuse needs: truth-telling, acknowledging the violation, compassion, protecting the vulnerable, accountability, restitution, and vindication.

Vindication is the final key to freedom. Along my journey I’ve been vindicated in small ways: A former colleague asking my forgiveness for her part in my shunning. Marie herself, in my presence, telling my church leaders that secrecy is harmful and wrong. Sojourners accepting my story for their series on sexual violence.

But I’m still looking for the big vindication. I should be able to walk into my old church without seeing a sneer of disgust from a beloved pastor emeritus (this actually happened last fall, and at a memorial service no less.) I know I acted with integrity and courage; I know my pastor took shameful advantage of my trust. If justice prevailed, everyone in the congregation would know it too. But the church’s secrecy makes this impossible.

I can’t have justice for myself, but I can seek it for other victims. So I do this work, and I look for signs of progress. This month, three stories give me hope.

* Over 1400 people have signed the G.R.A.C.E. petition calling on Christian leaders to stand on the side of CSM victims. “When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy… have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the ‘little ones.’ ” I hope you will sign it, too.

* Churches are beginning to listen to survivors. From the UK arm of The Hope Of Survivors: “[Our volunteer] Anthony met with the safeguarding officer of the Baptist Union recently and she took away one of the THOS brochures. She has read it through and found it very helpful. The Baptist Union, which oversees 2000+ churches in England, have pulled their safeguarding policies from their website in order to re-write them. This, I understand, is as a direct result of our experience. The BU safeguarding officer has asked us to give them advice on what needs to be in their new policy.” The new Baptist Union policy will protect thousands of vulnerable women and men.

* The experience of Irene McCormack Jackson, the first victim to publicly accuse Mayor Bob Filner. I have utmost compassion for what Irene is suffering now, and I wouldn’t change places with her for anything — but in a way she is living my dream. She came forward under the protection of one of the nation’s most respected attorneys. City, state, and national leaders immediately and very publicly denounced her offender. By the end of the week, six more women, prominent leaders all, had come forward with similar charges. (The total is now eight). We still don’t know whether Filner will leave office, whether he’ll face criminal charges, or whether Irene will get the financial settlement she deserves. But even with all that uncertainty, Irene has already won. The world stands on her side. Her offender is publicly (very publicly ) shamed.

I plan to follow this story closely. “Plan” might not be the right word; the truth is I’m obsessed with it. I want Irene to win. But regardless of how the story plays out, I’ve already claimed some vindication. Justice for Irene, even just in the court of public opinion, is justice for all of us.

Thank You For Your Courage

“Thank you for your courage.” These were the first words my church leader said when I came to him with a complaint against my pastor. Several weeks later, the forensic psychologist leading the investigation said the same affirming words: “Thank you for your courage.”

These are the words that San Diegans should say to the women who have come forward with complaints against Mayor Bob Filner. Instead, I see people attacking the victims: demanding their names and the details of their abuse, accusing them of overreacting (though not once those details started coming out),  and blaming them and their supporters for harming the career of a great progressive leader.

I still remember the heart-racing, night-waking, gut-storm of terror I felt when I decided to report my pastor for sexual misconduct. Even when I understood that his actions had been an abuse of power, even when I came to fear for other women, I struggled for months before I made the decision to turn him in. It took even longer to build up the courage to make the call. I was terrified that my testimony could end a gifted preacher’s ministry, that my words could break the congregation’s heart; and that some of my friends could even turn against me. My overwhelming fears triggered a full-scale eating disorder, but as it turns out I wasn’t afraid enough. If I had known how bad it would get, I might never have come forward. And yet all I was risking was my place in my beloved church.

Filner’s alleged victims are risking far more. By accusing a powerful leader, these women risk their paychecks, their career paths, and their place in public life. They will be called (or perhaps have already been called) sluts, nuts, liars, and lackeys of the opposition. When the first victim’s name is made public and the TV crews set up in her front yard, her family will pay a price that none of us can begin to imagine.

If this scandal ends Bob Filner’s career, his supporters may grieve a great leader. All of us may grieve the harm to public discourse, the awful power of temptation, and the awful temptation of power. Grief may lead us into times of anger, but we can’t turn our anger on the victims. They have already suffered enough.

In Genesis, we read about the rape of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Sexual assault carried enormous shame in ancient cultures, and often the shame landed on the victim. Dinah’s brothers placed it where it belonged: on the man who had raped their sister. The violence in the payback scene is extreme, but that’s how stories were told in those days. Seas parted on command; floods covered even the highest mountains; men lived hundreds of years; and Dinah’s brothers killed not only the rapist but every man in his city. Whether Dinah and her brothers are historical figures, the story is true a thousand million times. How many women were violated in ancient (and modern) days? How many men defended their families’ honor? And of those men, how many put the shame where it really belonged? Dinah’s brothers got it right — not just for their sister, but for all of us.

To Bob Filner’s unnamed accusers: no matter how this story ends, I will always look up to you as heroes. You are paying an enormous price to make the world safer for your sisters in public life. From the bottom of my heart, dear brave women: thank you for your courage.

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