Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘Erik Campano’

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.


Profile in Courage: Erik Campano

Sometimes we are blinded by our own knowledge. I’ve spent so many years reading and writing about clergy sexual abuse that I sometimes forget how naïve I once was. Most people still live in that state of naiveté, unaware of the scope and danger of CSA. The scope is huge: more than three percent of churchgoing women have suffered sexual advances from clergy as adults. And the danger is huge: The Hope of Survivors lists consequences of CSA including depression, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, suicide attempts, impaired relationships, and loss of faith.

Before I became a victim, I knew none of this. I thought it was fine for unmarried pastors to date their unmarried congregants. If my pastor and I had both been single, we might have “dated” (meaning: his sexualization of our pastoral relationship might have escalated to the physical) — and it would have made for an even bigger nightmare.

Erik Campano survived this experience with a female minister, and he tells the story here. Sadder and wiser, Erik now writes with great power and clarity on this issue. I plan to share his superb article Eleven Reasons Why Pastors Should Never Date Their Parishioners with my friends and family who still live in that state of innocence. I hope they will understand my experience better, but even more, I hope they’ll join the growing number of churchgoers who are willing to “see something, say something.” An informed congregation can help keep clergy from crossing the line.

How I admire Erik Campano’s resilience! It took me years to be able to write about my experience, and he is sharing the horrors of his church’s response only months later. He has had to overcome the same stigma we all do, and more: if it’s difficult for a woman to come forward, it’s even harder for a man. And while I choose not to name my abuser in my writings, he holds his abuser, church and denomination publicly accountable. For that, I commend him.

You can read Erik’s interview with another survivor, Michele, at his blog, Accurate and Courageous Journalism of Religion.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: