Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘church response to CSA’

Justice. At Long Last, Justice.

Last summer, I posted a story about “Lisa.” As a teen and young adult, Lisa endured years of vicious sexual abuse from then-Rev. Darryl Duer, who led a weeklong summer service camp for UMC youth in New Jersey. When Lisa finally filed a complaint, Duer lost his ministerial credentials, but he kept his fan club. A handful of his colleagues secretly kept bringing their youth to Duer’s camp. No matter how many times Lisa raised the red flag, nothing seemed to change, but she persisted. She was relentless. Just days before the 2016 camp, Lisa learned that the same three ministers were bringing their youth groups yet again. I ran this story just before camp began, and this open letter to Bishop Schol just after the youth groups came home. 

At the same time, Lisa took actions of her own. During camp week, Lisa posted a blunt, direct comment in response to an article by Bishop Schol on the conference’s Facebook page. He was out of town, but he arranged for a telephone meeting with Lisa when he returned. In that meeting, Bishop Schol told Lisa that it hadn’t been his choice to let Duer walk away quietly. He’d wanted Duer to submit to the church’s judicial process, but Duer refused and turned in his UMC credentials. At that point, the bishop no longer had any power over him. This put Bishop Schol’s actions in an entirely new light. Lisa had spent three years believing that Schol had just looked for the easiest way out. She asked him, “Why didn’t you tell me that at the time?” My best guess is that church lawyers forced the bishop to keep the victim in the dark — an all-too-common church policy that ironically increases their risk of being sued.

The bishop promised Lisa that he would meet with the three ministers who had gone to Duer’s camp. Lisa gave him permission to share a series of text messages sent to her by Duer — messages full of graphic, obscene, exploitive sexual content. The day after that meeting, Bishop Schol reached out to Lisa. He told her that he’d had “very frank and forthright” conversations with the clergy, and that when those meetings were over, “it was clear… that the churches would not be advertising or participating in” Duer’s camp going forward. 

But Bishop Schol wasn’t done. He also promised to call all UMC clergy in Greater New Jersey to a mandatory meeting early in the new year to discuss clergy misconduct complaints, and Lisa’s complaint in particular. 

Last Wednesday, that meeting took place. On Thursday, Bishop Schol sent Lisa this extraordinary letter:
“Yesterday I met with 446 clergy from Greater New Jersey to talk about two clergy matters. One was [the summer service project] and your treatment by a former clergy person. I did not share your name but I shared your story. I also had the clergy read the text messages. It was a conversation that impacted our clergy. Clergy wanted to know how you were doing, how we were supporting you. Also several clergy came to me and other clergy have reported that since the meeting other clergy have talked with one another about how they have also been a survivor. We also prayed for you.”

A few weeks earlier, Bishop Schol had told Lisa, “The pain and sacrifice you have made will lead to a better United Methodist Church in New Jersey. You have certainly helped me to be a better bishop.”

THIS IS WHAT JUSTICE LOOKS LIKE! But in Lisa’s case, justice took far too long. Dozens of youth group participants were exposed to danger during the three summers the ex-Rev. ran his secret camp. The additional trauma to Lisa (beyond the original abuse, the isolation and shunning and character assassination by Duer’s fan club) nearly ended her life. Lisa’s long wait for justice was one of the final straws for me; it is one of the reasons I’m stepping away from church, but that’s a story for another post.

Even so — this is justice. Bishop Schol’s remarkable letter to Lisa is a textbook-perfect response to clergy sexual misconduct. He acknowledges the victim’s pain; he tells the whole truth to the whole church; he brings their love and concern back to her; he thanks her for making them a better church; and he promises that he’ll push the church to be better still: “I will be convening a group … to create a clergy and lay leadership ethics policy and program designed to educate leaders…, to build on the support system we have begun [for] survivors, and to do more preventative work.” 

Thankfully, the UMC is already on task. Bishop Schol can find excellent tools for this work on the UMC’s Sexual Ethics website, including a superb guide to helping the congregation heal

I’m feeling grateful today — for Bishop Schol’s long-awaited actions that will make the church safer, but more than that, for Lisa’s courage and persistence. Today, she is the survivor awakening the church.

The Hope of Survivors in Australia

More good news from down under! The Hope of Survivors has just been incorporated as a nonprofit in Australia. THOS began conducting programs in Australia seven years ago. Now, as an approved nonprofit organization, they can accept donations in that country and broaden their outreach. Along with the Safe Church Project of Australia’s National Council of Churches, this is good news for Australian survivors and churchgoers.

The Hope of Survivors played a critical role in my healing. I learned about their Hope & Healing conference in the summer of 2011 and signed up immediately, eager to meet other survivors for the first time. But when I got there, I realized I was still in too much pain to meet anyone. For most of the day, I sat in the back of the room, silently wiping tears. Talking with my husband afterward, I couldn’t remember most of what I had heard. But I did remember this: every speaker repeated the same beautiful words: “This was not your fault.” I drank in those words as if they were rain on parched earth.

Hope & Healing doesn’t happen every year, but it happened again in 2012. What a difference a year makes! Instead of weeping in the back row, I was able to listen, ask questions, and engage with other survivors, including the four women whose testimony sent Patrick Edouard to prison. I remember far more of what I heard that day. But more important, I could clearly see how much I had healed in a year. The difference was nothing short of a miracle.

It’s hard for most survivors to travel to these meetings. Thankfully, THOS is just a phone call away. If you’d like to talk with a trained volunteer counselor who can help you understand your experience, you can find THOS phone numbers hereBesides Australia and the U.S., THOS also operates in Canada and Romania. In the U.S., survivors can ask for a Spanish-speaking counselor.

I’m off to Seattle on Sunday for the FaithTrust Institute’s “Responding to Clergy Misconduct” training. The training is meant for “judicatory or organizational leaders (clergy and laity) who are responsible for responding to complaints of clergy misconduct.” I’m not in that group, but FTI generously allowed me to sign up anyway. I’ll share my insights as a survivor of a less-than-ideal church response, and I’ll look to the insights of my fellow trainees who are doing this painful and difficult task. This training will equip me for the next phase of my work. I’ll be teaming up with fellow survivor Erik Campano to reach out to recent survivors from the Episcopal Church. Church leaders are now studying how the 2009 revisions to Title IV (the canon that addresses clergy discipline) has affected the clergy who receive complaints. Erik and I will find out how the new canon has affected complainants. We’ll share what we learn with the church, and I’ll share it with readers here. If you’d like to stay informed, click the “Follow” button on the right.

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