Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘Church bullying’

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.

The Truth Has Set Me Free

My new church walks in a big civic parade every summer. My former church marched in the same parade. When I was there, I loved this annual ritual. I was always proud that with nearly a hundred marchers, my church fielded the biggest contingent of all.

I left the church just before Christmas in 2009. In a final generous gesture to my pastor, I waited until after the holidays to file my complaint. By springtime, the investigation was over, his guilt had been swept under the carpet, and my ostracism was well underway. Still in treatment for anorexia and trauma, I entered my new church in a state of terror, but I was determined not to let my fears get in the way of my faith. As the weeks passed, I gained health, began sleeping better, and started feeling safer in church. When summer rolled around, I thought I was strong enough to risk being on the parade grounds again. I didn’t know how much protection I could expect from my new church — after all, they didn’t know my dark truth yet — but any protection was better than none.

So, on parade day in 2010, disguised with a big hat and sunglasses, I made my way to my new church’s assigned spot. With horror, I recognized the streamers, banners, and hundredfold forces of my old church, staged right next to us on the same short block. For two excruciating hours, I ducked a constant stream of the purple-shirted army. Rather than risk one more cruel encounter, I hid — no, literally cowered — on the curb between our two glittery convertibles. Those were two of the longest hours of my life. I had night terrors for weeks afterward.

Thankfully, for the next two years, the parade organizers staged us several blocks apart. But this year, once again, the two churches were staged on the same block. What a difference three years makes! Far from hiding, this time I strolled confidently past the mass of purple shirts. I was a stranger to most of them, but I did see a few familiar faces. Among them: three friends who had been dear to me. I smiled and greeted them warmly and they returned the welcome. I spent the next hour catching up with my old friends and introducing them to my new. In contrast to the terror of 2010, this was nothing less than a miracle.

Why am I so much stronger this year? Because I am known and loved for who I am: a friend, a helper, a gifted organizer and writer — and a survivor of clergy sexual misconduct. In my new church, I have support even (or perhaps especially) from the people who know my story. I get strength from my women’s “Journeying Together” spiritual group, from my online writers’ clan, and from the small but growing community of fellow CSM survivors. I still think carefully before I share my story with someone new. But except for the backlash that drove me out of my former church, so far all I’ve had is blessings. And now with this blog, I’m sharing my story with the world.

When I decided to speak and write openly as a survivor, I only thought of helping future victims. Now, the blessing has come back to me. The truth has set me free.

Church Bullying

Church bullying.

It is such a powerful force, even now. It has been three years since I left my church and reported my pastor for sexual misconduct. In those three years, I’ve restored my health, my faith and my marriage. I’ve joined a healthy church, built new friendships, and found my voice as a survivor. I’ve rediscovered the blessings of home and family, I’m leading a local effort on a justice issue, and I’m even writing again! I am stronger than I ever was before. “They” have no power to hurt me any more.

But they may still have the power to silence.

My former church is searching for a new pastor. My pastor’s abuses were never disclosed, but the grapevine knew anyway. The congregation still lives with the toxic secret that forced me out. When I tried to break the silence, the backlash sent me into hiding. I’ve had no contact with my former friends since I left, but I know my story still lives. When I went to a memorial service last fall, several leaders openly snubbed me. All these years later, my presence still makes waves. The secret still has power.

I looked at the roster for the pastoral search committee and saw some familiar names. I had been close to a few of the members, especially with one whom I’ll call Roberta. Last night, I drafted a note to Roberta: “Kudos for serving on the search committee again! I know how hard you worked on the last search.” I continued, “You may be aware that because of the previous pastor’s record, the new pastor will need to respond to broken trust. This is true even though the congregation was never informed about the pastor’s misconduct, or perhaps especially so because of the toxic effect of secrets and hearsay.” I shared some helpful resources (After Pastor Churches  and FaithTrust Institute ) and offered to meet for coffee, to talk about this or just to catch up on each other’s lives.

Then… I hovered over the “send” button.

Then… I asked my husband to read it.

Then… I started questioning my own motives. Was I doing this for my own sake? I have other ways to resist the powers of silencing — this blog, for one. Was I doing it for the good of the church? If so, did I have any hope that they would hear me? Would they finally acknowledge and deal with their pastor’s betrayal, or would they continue in a happy sham of ignorance?

I still haven’t sent my note to Roberta. I may never send it. Am I still being cowed into silence? Or, knowing that I would likely be ignored or worse, am I practicing wise self-care?

Church bullying takes many forms. My soft-spoken friend “Alyssa” belongs to a church now dealing with a controversy. At a recent meeting, Alyssa pointed out that the opposition deserved a fair hearing. Based on the reaction in the room, she might as well have lit a grenade. Even as I write these words, she faces immense pressure to backpedal and apologize, and it may be too late even for that. She may already be marked as a traitor. If this courageous woman wants to keep her job, groveling might be a reasonable choice.

I know what Jesus would do. The question is, what should Alyssa do? What should I do?

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