Clergy sexual misconduct: one survivor's voice

Posts tagged ‘Episcopal Church’

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.

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.

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