Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘clergy sexual misconduct’

Books for the Journey

Dear readers,

Four years ago I posted a list of books I’d found helpful in the journey of healing. I still have most of those titles, but I’m ready to let them go. If you are still struggling to understand what happened to you, or struggling with any aspect of healing, take a look at my reading list. Send me an email with your address and the title of the book you’d like to have (you may want to add a second choice just in case), and I’ll put it in the mail as a gift for your healing journey. 

In solidarity,

Catherine

Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.

Kudos to Princeton Theological Seminary! Their Institute for Youth Ministry recently invited six leaders to submit responses to the topic on clergy sexual abuse in youth ministry. The series, “Pastor or Predator? Sexual Misconduct in Youth Ministry.,” was published this week. 

Here are the highlights. To read the whole essay, just click on the author’s name.

Linda Crockett says that the church often shortcuts justice by urging survivors to forgive too soon. As a result,  “victims carry the burden of shame that rightfully belongs to the offender.” Crockett urges the church to help young people recognize the red flags of sexual abuse. Although youth programs often each about the dangers of substance abuse, “we shy away from frank discussion about sexual offenders and how they operate. … We don’t tell them most offenders are not strangers, but people in our families, churches, neighborhoods, schools, and sports clubs.” 

Sharon Ellis Davis shares for the first time that “my Black Church experience also includes my being the victim of childhood sexual abuse by ‘men of God.’” She says, “It was the secret I was determined to hold onto no matter how much this abuse had negatively impacted my life choices… I could not, and I would not go against the ‘men of God.’ “ Ellis Davis only began to heal when she found a wise, compassionate listener who was willing to be a holder of her long-kept secret. As she healed, she was able to become a holder for others’ secrets as well. She reminds youth leaders that “many times we are… called to be holders” even if we “may not have adequately dealt with [our] own childhood victimization and are now forced to remember while providing care for others.

Hillary Scarsella writes, “Sexual abuse and assault are silencing.” She explains: the offender and the religious institution work hard to silence survivors, but survivors also silence themselves because of the stigma surrounding the experience of sexual assault. “We need to make it our regular practice to talk about sexual violence accurately, sensitively, and often,” she says, “because talking about abuse and assault has a significant degree of power to prevent and stop both.” The kind of speech we need, says Scarsella, “is the kind that believes and respects victims and survivors, the kind that empowers youth to love and protect their bodies.”

Justin Holcomb offers biblical encouragement to survivors dealing with the stages of aftermath of sexual abuse. He assures survivors that “what happened to them is not their fault. They are not to blame. They did not deserve it. They are not responsible for what happened to them. Nobody had the right to violate them… They were sinned against.” To survivors who despair of ever healing, Holcomb reminds them, “God promises a hope and a future.”

When Wes Ellis was in the 7th grade, his “funny, likeable” youth pastor inspired him to go into youth ministry. In college, Ellis was devastated to learn that this minister had sexually assaulted several young woman who had been Ellis’ friends in youth group. Ellis offers a clear, challenging theological response to clergy sexual abuse. “For me to come to terms with my own story,” he writes, “is to accept that the person who was eventually imprisoned for sexual misconduct… was the same person who mentored me, cared for me, and helped me to find my calling. He was not a monster, but a human being like me. … In recognizing his actions as sin… I am forced to face the sin of which I myself am capable.” At the same time, Ellis urges readers to “not treat this as an abstract philsophical problem or a problem of mere policy, but as a real human experience.”

I am honored to be the sixth voice in this series. I share the case study of a young woman who became suicidal when the church tried to silence her complaint against a youth minister, and I offer a series of steps the church must take to protect the young people in its care, including age-appropriate boundary training for youth and regular, vigorous discussions of this topic by the adults in the congregation.  

As I researched my piece, I discovered two great resources. 

1. Author and clergy spouse Sabrena Klausman has a wonderful piece entitled “Dangerous Volunteers: Understanding Signs of Sexual Abuse in Youth Ministry.”  She says the church MUST do a better job screening, monitoring, and training the clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with youth.

2. Tim Challies spells out “6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches.”  It’s not a hopeful essay. Challies points out the deeply rooted structural issues that put children and teens at risk in just about any church. But it’s required reading for anyone who wants to solve the problem.

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.

End of Life Needs of Survivors

Nearly seven years into recovery, my experience no longer feels like a crisis. The trauma marked the end of life as I knew it, but it was also a new beginning. Some of the things I lost were things I needed to lose, like my naive idealism, my tendency to mistake friendliness for friendship, and my blind loyalty to a particular denomination. I have a clearer sense of the dark side of human institutions now, and of human limitations including my own. 

Nevertheless, even in the new normal, even with the closure I reached after my offender was defrocked, I still struggle. I need to find a way to integrate this experience into the whole arc of my life. A few weeks ago, I found a resource for that work: a webinar called “End of Life Needs of Survivors.” The FaithTrust Institute invited the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rieth, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at a retirement community in North Carolina, to share her wisdom for caregivers. I may not be a chaplain or social worker; I may not be at the end of life; but I can still use Sarah Rieth’s insights in my healing. So can we all. Here are the steps we can take. 

1. We need to stop asking ourselves “Why can’t I put this in the past?” It’s an insulting question for survivors. Haven’t we been trying to do that all along? If we could have put it in the past, we would have, but this experience was too big. It changed the course of our lives. We are different people because of it.

2. Instead of trying to forget, we need to integrate those memories, to weave them into the narrative arc of our life. We need to look at how life has unfolded since the trauma, and by what means, and through what strengths, we have rebuilt our lives. We need to discover the threads of grace in all of this. Where was God, including the God incarnate in human helpers, during the abuse? Where was God when we were trying to heal? 

3. Our early spiritual formation, or others’ distortions of scripture, may get in the way of healing. If God (or a powerful adult in our lives) was a punishing taskmaster, we may still be hanging our heads, awaiting the blows or harsh words. If we thought of God as a loving protector, we need to reconcile that with the fact that one of God’s ministers exploited us. To engage that dissonance, we may even need to speak angry words at God. Do we have favorite Bible stories or verses, and can we put those to use in understanding our stories? (Mine is the story of Esther, whose courage in speaking up for her people gave me the courage to report my abusive priest).

4. Childhood experiences with abuse leave an indelible imprint. They can make us doubt our own worth; they make us more vulnerable to abuse as adults. Predators specifically target this vulnerability, because they know we’re less likely to fight back. Therefore, we need to understand our church trauma in the context of these earlier traumas. 

5. Reflecting on these experiences may be painful and frightening. While we’re doing this work, we need to be gentle, loving, and non-judgmental with ourselves. We need to insist on our truth even if others have not believed us. We need to affirm our own courage, especially if we choose to invite another person to help us with this work.

6. According to the psychologist Erik Erikson, at each stage of life we have unique developmental tasks. In infancy and early childhood, we must learn how and whom to trust. During our working years, we strive to leave a meaningful footprint on the world. In retirement, we look back at the wholeness of our lives. Have we lived with integrity? Have our lives been worthwhile? Do we still matter if we’re no longer needed in our former roles? If trust has been broken at any stage of our lives, we may need to return to the earliest task. If we’re still struggling with memories of abuse during our elder years, it may be harder to reach a satisfactory closure. The more we’re willing to engage with this work now, the more likely we’ll face our waning days (in fact, all our days) with peace.

7. Even if we don’t choose to do this work, circumstances may force us to face the questions. If we overcome addiction, we may uncover the feelings that we used the addiction to numb. Incipient dementia may unlock barriers to our memories and feelings. The death of an abuser may free us to think or speak words that were dangerous while he/she lived. Facing death, we may feel a spiritual urgency to resolve our memories. 

8. One key task is to look honestly at the cost of the abuse. What choices did we make as a result? What choices did we find ourselves unable to make? How did our choices affect our lives? As we ask these questions, we may want to think about the areas of health, relationships, family, vocation, and faith. 

9. Another key task: find the threads of grace. Who or what enabled us to survive and rebuild our lives? Who knew about the abuse; who helped us as we made decisions to save ourselves and perhaps report our abusers? As Mr. Rogers says, who were the helpers? If it was “only” God who gave us strength, how did God show God’s self to us?

10. A third key task: what qualities did we discover within ourselves that enabled us to survive and live the lives we’ve lived? As hard as it is for survivors of abuse, we need to own our victories, name and claim our strengths, honor our courage and our persistence.

11. Sarah Rieth shared the concept of the “context wheel.” We draw a simple bicycle wheel, then write a difficult truth in the central hub, for example “I encouraged my pastor’s attentions” or “I allowed my pastor to touch me sexually.” These words will seem stark and even damning, but the context can help us heal from shame and regret. In the areas between the bicycle spokes, we write words such as, “I was vulnerable because of my troubled marriage.” “I needed my pastor’s approval to move forward in discernment.” “He wasn’t just my pastor; he was also my boss.” “I didn’t want to believe he had sexual intent.” “I thought of him like a father.” And of course, “I trusted him.” We need to understand the context that made us so vulnerable, so unable to protect ourselves. We need to look at this context — and our actions, and our abuser’s actions too — through the loving eyes of God. 

12. Finally, reconciliation. I don’t mean reconciling interpersonally with our abuser; that is rarely possible and almost never helpful. But we might think of other relationships that need to be reconciled. We might ask ourselves what resentments we need to let go of? And whom we might need to forgive? And for what — and from whom — we might need to seek forgiveness?

Readers who want a more complete look at these concepts can view the “End of Life Needs of Survivors” webinar. Survivors may want to share this resource with their pastor, counselor, or spiritual advisor. 

Healing the Congregation

“Lisa’s” saga* continues: she’ll be speaking with Bishop Schol next week. To prepare him for their meeting, Lisa sent him a resource that should already be close to his heart: a document that spells out the highest standard for responding to clergy misconduct in the United Methodist Church.

“After Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Process for Congregational Healing” is that document. Based on guidelines drafted by Episcopal Bishop Chilton Knudsen, the process was developed in 2006 by the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Glass MacDonald, a UMC deacon. The document may be ten years old, but it was new to me, and in all my years of advocacy, I have never seen a better resource for helping congregations heal.

Why does the church need this resource? As MacDonald says, “In situations of crisis or misconduct, congregations often … want to put the crisis behind them as soon as possible. But experience has shown that ignoring the intense feelings that naturally occur after a violation will cause more trouble in the long run.” She reports that after an event of clergy misconduct, congregations often descend into fearful conflict. Factions form, pastors turn over quickly, and the church loses energy, focus, hope, and members. Without intentional healing, this cycle can last many years, and may repeat itself with new acts of misconduct. For the sake of every member of the church, both present and future, “each congregation must be helped to deal openly with the misconduct.”

Note that word: openly. Incidents of clergy misconduct cannot be swept under the carpet. The church’s response must be confidential enough “to protect fair process and avoid additional harm to victims,” but the basic facts must be shared with clergy, church staff, lay leaders, and congregants. Why? Because ultimately, there are no secrets in a congregation. If leaders try to whitewash an event of pastoral misconduct, the facts will morph into cancerous nodes of rumor, accusation, and innuendo, and those cancers will destroy the church. 

“The Process for Congregational Healing” helps leaders handle each step of their response, from the staff meeting to the congregational letter to (ultimately) the congregational meeting. The document spells out how to support the victim, what behaviors to expect from the accused minister, and how to speak with the youth and children of the church, who need to be included even if none of them was directly harmed. 

What happens when congregations don’t go through an intentional process of healing? They may become suspicious, angry, depressed, fractious, highly reactive, hopeless, and fixated on matters of human sexuality. Far from shining the light of the kingdom of God, these congregations become a toxic burden to the denomination.

I’m sharing this resource for clergy and churchgoers of all faith traditions. I recommend all my readers look at the UMC’s Sexual Ethics site. If only all faith traditions cared enough to develop resources this robust and thoughtful! More to the point: if only UMC leaders cared enough to consistently use the wisdom from their own denomination.

* See Lisa’s story here, my open letter to Bishop Schol here, and Bishop Schol’s excellent response here

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 here. You can watch her deliver it here

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