Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘FaithTrust Institute’

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. 

Forgiving Like Nelson Mandela

Survivors: raise your hand if you’ve ever been told to “forgive and forget,” “move on,” or “let bygones be bygones.” Wow, that’s almost everyone in the room. OK, now raise your hand if church leaders added the Nelson Mandela guilt trip. You know, “Nelson Mandela forgave his jailers, so why can’t you drop that grudge?”

In other words, we should forgive like Nelson Mandela.

What would this look like? A lot of writers are asking this question. A few of them are getting it right, most notably Marie Fortune in her recent blog post, “Forgiveness Revisited.” But most people seem confused about what forgiveness means. Early in my journey, I thought “forgive” meant “reconcile” and even “trust again” (big mistake). Later, I thought it meant “stop being angry.” I tried, but I only succeeded in driving my anger inward. Only when I read Frederick Keene’s essay “Structures of Forgiveness in the New Testament” did I understand: forgiveness is not a simple emotional shift. Forgiveness is a concrete transaction, and it can only be offered from a position of power. (I explore that issue here.)

Then why do religious leaders, especially Christian leaders, keep telling survivors to forgive? Could it be they have a vested interest? Could it be that our demand for justice threatens their comfort, their job security, or even the world as they know it?

And what should we think about preachers who harp on forgiveness while ignoring the underlying justice issues?

“Let me say a brief word about the death of Nelson Mandela,” said a preacher I once knew. I am quoting from one of his recent sermons, but I’m paraphrasing enough to conceal his identity. “On the day after he was released from prison, Mandela was asked about the suffering he had endured. His answer? ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ If he had asked for vengeance, he might have triggered a revolution. Mandela chose instead to offer forgiveness. So let me ask this — what grudge or grievance are you clinging to this morning? What prevents you from forgiving as Mandela did, and freeing yourself and the other? Let bygones be bygones.”

What misguided beliefs can we find in my former pastor’s message? Does he believe that it is nobler to forgive than to insist on justice? That when survivors demand justice, we are simply “holding a grudge?” That victims of injustice can “free” ourselves and our oppressors by “letting bygones be bygones?”

Of course I am stretching a point. I know that’s not what he believes. It’s not what any sensible preacher believes, but it seems to be what a lot of preachers want us to believe. But here’s what those sermons don’t tell us. By the time Nelson Mandela offered those words, he had already changed the world. The revolution was nearly over. White leaders, all the way up to the president, had been courting Mandela’s favor for years. Apartheid was already unraveling. White South Africans, massively outnumbered, knew that their days in power would soon end, and they were terrified that the violence they had long inflicted on black citizens would now come back on them. Mandela knew that the only way forward was through peace, and the only way to peace was to calm white fears. So he urged forgiveness — but he never urged passivity. He challenged black South Africans to live peacefully with their white neighbors and to stay in the fight. “We cannot win a war,” he told them, “but we can win an election.”

Survivors of clergy abuse will never win a war against the church; most of us are afraid even to stand up and name our experience. We cannot win a war, but with the power of our voices we can change the church. Indeed, this is already happening. In the United States alone, the Catholic Church has released more than $1 billion of resources to victims of abuse. Pope Francis has launched a commission to address the issue worldwide. Organizations like SNAPThe Hope of Survivors, and the FaithTrust Institute have helped thousands (millions?) of victims find healing, and have trained thousands of faith leaders on prevention and response. A growing number of churches have policies, however inadequate, to prevent abuse. The revolution is far from over, but we are making progress.

And so, today I forgive like Nelson Mandela. I renounce any right to revenge against the priest who abused my trust or the bishop who silenced my voice, and I urge my fellow survivors to do the same. Revenge only brings more pain. It is justice that brings healing. So I will continue to seek justice, for myself and for other survivors. I will continue to use my voice, tell my story, and build up and strengthen my fellow survivors. I will work until the work is done, and here is how I’ll know: when calling committees are given the tools to screen out would-be predators, when seminaries train ministers to deal with their own and their congregants’ sexual feelings, when pastors refrain from counseling beyond their call or training, when victims of clergy sexual abuse receive justice and compassion in response to our complaints, when offenders accept full responsibility even to the point of giving up their ordained ministry, when wounded congregations are told the truth and given a chance to heal, and when all survivors’ voices are honored.

Until that day, I will continue the long walk toward justice.

Dear Church: How Not to Get Sued

I just spent three days at a FaithTrust Institute training, “Responding to Clergy Misconduct.” I learned how the church can respond in a way that promotes justice and healing for all — or not. As a result, I finally understand what my former church did for me and to me. Clarity brings healing in the long term, but in the short term it feels like a ton of bricks. By the end of the second day, I felt as if I’d hauled those bricks a Roman mile. My whole body felt bruised. Is this what injustice feels like?

Here are some of the ways a church can guarantee a lawsuit.
“Assume that your job is to protect your organization from the complainant.”
“Allow your lawyer or insurance company to drive the response process.”
“Don’t follow your policy. Use an informal process.”

The FaithTrust Institute offers a full guide for how to be sued and lose, and an even fuller guide to doing it right. When churches seek the best outcome for survivors, they also create their own best outcome. To avoid a lawsuit, churches should create and follow a fair process, using steps like these:
“Respond promptly to complaints. Meet with the complainant. Thank her/him for coming forward.”
“Assume that the complaint is made in good faith and that the accused is innocent until the complaint is adjudicated.”
“Offer an advocate or support person to both parties.”

I need to give my bishop credit for doing some things right. He phoned me as soon as he received my email. He opened an hour in his calendar the very next day. When we met, he thanked me for my courage. He assured me, “This was not your fault.” He said right up front that he wouldn’t even attempt a face-to-face reconciliation. He didn’t offer me an advocate, but he did appoint a chaplain… and that’s where it began to fall apart. He failed to prepare “Chaplain Melinda” for her role. When I reached out for support, Melinda found herself unwilling to serve. When she defected, I had to carry the burden alone.

The bishop left my offender in place while he asked me to avoid any contact with clergy or church leaders until the investigation was complete. He informed me when he had appointed the investigator (another good move, by the way; “Dr. Jones” was skilled, fair, and compassionate), but otherwise he left me in the dark for two long months. When I met with the bishop again, I learned that rather than following the process described in church canons, he had created an ad hoc “pastoral response” (pastoral to whom?). He refused to share the terms he had imposed on my offender. He refused to inform the congregation.

How would my life be different if the bishop had taken steps like these?
“Offer an advocate to the complainant.”
“Explain the process and give the complainant and accused a copy of your policy and procedures.”
“Communicate with all parties involved about the process, findings, and decision.”

Instead of two months of terrified isolation, I might have had support from my church community. I might not have taken the terrible plunge into anorexia. I might still have stayed with that faith tradition; I might today be supporting the bishop’s work with my skills, efforts, and dollars.

I didn’t end up suing my church, but I did hire an attorney to get the resources I needed. I was simply too impaired to represent myself, or even to know what I needed. To minimize the chance of further trauma, I kept my request simple. I asked for only enough to cover my out-of-pocket medical and therapy costs, along with a few non-monetary actions. Even so, my church paid dearly for their agenda of self-protection.

I never got the justice I really needed. Since the church never disclosed the result of the investigation, my offender was free to defame me with impunity. But a year after the contract was signed, I found myself in a small room with the bishop and his second-in-command, a dozen priests (most of whom knew me well), and Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute. At the bishop’s invitation, Marie had flown to my city to teach the church what clergy sexual misconduct is, and how to respond for good or ill. In that room, for the first time ever, I stood openly and publicly as a survivor. While my bishop stared down at the table, I asked Marie whether it was ever okay for the church to conceal a confirmed instance of clergy misconduct. She looked at the bishop, took a deep breath, and said, “No. It should always be disclosed.” I watched as the bishop pretended he hadn’t heard her. I watched as he stood up and countered the very words he claimed not to have heard. But I know that the bishop heard this truth, and he knows I know he heard, and the truth is forever established.

One way a church can buy trouble: impose a gag order on the complainant. My contract held all parties to a standard non-disparagement clause. That was fine with me; I knew I could tell my story without disparaging anyone. I willingly concede my offender’s good qualities (strong preaching, personal charisma, low golf score) even as I tell the truth of how he abused his power to harm me. But the bishop seems to have understood “non-disparagement” to mean “silence.” When I learned that my offender had been called to lead a prestigious parish in another city, I notified his new bishop of the recent offense on his record. Afterward, my bishop’s attorney sent me a note of warning. I pointed out that I was only disclosing the facts that my bishop had already promised to disclose.

Worst of all: the bishop asked me to sign a settlement that let my offender completely off the hook. I signed the contract, the bishop signed it, the senior lay leader signed it, our attorneys signed it — but my offender didn’t. His name didn’t even appear in the contract. Where is the justice in that?

I’m not complaining, though. Leaving the church of my childhood faith was hard, but now I have the privilege of seeing how the Holy Spirit moves in a very different kind of church. I’ve found immense healing in my new church home in the UCC. And now, thanks to what I have learned from the FaithTrust Institute, I’m equipped to make my church a safer place for all.

The FaithTrust Institute offers “Responding to Clergy Misconduct” training twice a year. Their invaluable “Responding to Clergy Misconduct” handbook is available year-round. Dear readers, won’t you share this news with your faith leaders? Churches often fear that if they give an inch to victims, they’ll lose everything. But in fact, when church leaders seek to meet the real needs of victims, they win too. When churches see victims and survivors not as a threat but as an important voice of truth, everyone wins. A justice-seeking agenda is the rising tide that lifts all boats.

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.

Signs of Hope

What a hopeful week!

Three days ago, I was certified as a Sexual Ethics trainer for the UCC and Disciples of Christ in my region. The curriculum, developed by the Rev. June Boutwell, is superb. It incorporates two of the ideas that I offered when I sat in on the training in May. If we are effective here, this curriculum may become the national gold standard for the UCC and Disciples of Christ. It is exciting to be in on the ground floor.

Last night I attended a local event for community leaders. Among the twenty or so guests: a labor organizer who is developing a safe way for unionized low-wage workers to report sexual harassment, and a military officer who is working to prevent sexual assault in the U.S. Navy. (I shared with him the work that the FaithTrust Institute will soon be doing with Navy Chaplains).  I may be the only one in my city addressing this problem in churches, but I’m surrounded by people doing this good work in other settings.

This morning, I will co-lead a four-hour class in Sexual Ethics for clergy in the Disciples of Christ. I’ll be working with the awesome June Boutwell. Early in my healing, I felt a strong call to work against clergy sexual abuse. I didn’t know what form my work would take; I just equipped myself with knowledge and watched for open doors. Now I’m walking through one of those doors. Who knows where this journey will lead?

Finally, tomorrow I’ll be going back to my former church for only the second time since I left four years ago. My friends “Heather” and “David” (a married couple) are being ordained as priests. Heather and I shared an office for a while before she left for seminary. They are remarkable people, and they now understand my experience. I have confidence in them. I am still nervous enough about being in that church that I’m bringing a friend for comfort: last year I went to a memorial service for a dear friend, and I experienced some unkindness. But this year, every time I have encountered former churchmates in public, they’ve been genuinely happy to see me. I expect nothing but joy tomorrow — and if I get any unkindness, I’ll just let it be absorbed in the joy of the moment.

So many signs of hope and healing!

New Leadership at Vanderbilt Divinity School

Vanderbilt has a new dean of divinity! The Rev. Dr. Emilie M. Townes is only the second woman ever to hold this position. She will be the first African-American dean at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, the first lesbian, and almost certainly the first dean to have gotten a whole set of encyclopedias thrown out of her elementary school library. Two years into her goal of reading every book in the library, Emilie Townes came to the “S” volume of the encyclopedia. In the entry on slavery, she found “cartoonish and offensive caricatures of black folk eating watermelon. Stereotypes of smiling black folk working in the field with tattered clothes. A monstrous cavalcade of sambos and mammies and pickaninnies.” Shocked nearly speechless, 10-year-old Emilie brought the book to her teacher and the librarian. “All I could do was open the page and say, ‘This is not right.’ ”

The educators agreed. They threw out the offending encyclopedias even before the new set arrived, and Emilie Townes has been changing the world ever since. In her first address as dean, Townes asked the Vanderbilt audience, “How many versions of that ‘S’ volume do we have in our academic disciplines? In our churches? In our communities?”

Indeed! If Protestant Christian seminaries produced an encyclopedia, what would we find in the entry on clergy sexual abuse?
* Would the entry focus on the abuse of children in the Roman Catholic tradition, and say (like the Pharisee in Luke’s gospel), “Thank God we are not like that”?
* Would it speak of “affairs” between pastors and their congregants, staff, or junior clergy?
* Would it paint victims as sexually voracious or mentally unstable seductresses?
* Would it shrug off the damage in victims’ lives as the inevitable result of their own weakness?
* Would it warn future pastors to protect themselves against false reports by vengeful congregants?

Or would it tell the truth?
Clergy sexual abuse happens in every faith tradition.
* Experts estimate that 95% of clergy sexual abuse victims are adult or teen women.
* The landmark Baylor study of 2009 showed that nearly 1 in 30 churchgoing women (or seven survivors in an average-sized congregation) have endured sexual advances from clergy as adults.
* When a pastor initiates or encourages a sexual connection with a congregant, it is never an affair. It is abuse. The clergy/lay power differential makes meaningful consent impossible.
* Congregants may develop crushes on their pastors, but pastors need to remember that it’s not about their attractiveness as men (or women). It is about their power as clergy, their perceived spiritual superiority, and their apparent willingness to listen and care.
* Clergy sexual abuse causes profound emotional and spiritual damage even to victims who start out healthy and strong. Worse, predatory pastors target the already wounded. Some victims never recover. Every single survivor is a living, breathing miracle.
* Of course each claim should be investigated, but false claims are rare almost to nonexistence. As I shared here, a pastor is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be falsely accused of clergy sexual abuse.

Emilie Townes challenged her audience. “How many versions of that ‘S’ volume do we have?” she asked. “And how can I and others model what my teachers did, and provide others with larger and more accurate visions of who we are, and how we can be, in the household of God?”

Vanderbilt Divinity School is on the right track. Last fall, the school invited the Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of the FaithTrust Institute, to deliver the Carpenter Lecture, “Wolves in Shepherds’ Clothing: The Institutional Crisis of Clergy Sexual Abuse.” When religious institutions invite Marie Fortune to speak, it is always a good sign: she is fearless. She pulls no punches. I hope that Emilie Townes will continue to include strong voices like hers in the dialog at Vanderbilt. Even more important, I hope she will include the voices of survivors.

I have great hope for Emilie Townes. She has already spoken clearly on this topic. Vanderbilt Divinity School and its partner, The School of Theology at Sewanee, together graduate more than 100 new Masters of Divinity every year. These men and women will eventually lead churches and judicatories. They will have the power to harm or to help their congregants, to hide behind institutional self-protection or to challenge it boldly, to silence the voices of victims or to learn from them and heal the church.

Dear Rev. Townes: the community of survivors are looking to you with hope. Will you grab these future leaders by the ears, look them in the eyes, and demand that they take seriously their call as caretakers and protectors of God’s flock? Will you give them a larger vision for what the Church can be? Will you blaze a trail of leadership that invites all divinity deans to follow?

We are looking to you with hope.

The Survivor’s Bookshelf

It was a book that opened my eyes to what my pastor was doing. On a three-day spiritual retreat five years ago, I was too agitated to sleep. I wrapped myself in my robe, stepped into the monastery hallway, and looked on the shelves for something to read. And there it was: Sex in the Forbidden Zone. I stayed up all night reading it and took eight pages of notes. By morning, I knew — and it still took almost two years for me to file a complaint. During those two years, and in the years since, I’ve done a lot of reading. Here are the books that have helped.

Books about clergy/congregant relationships:

Sex in the Forbidden Zone: When Men in Power — Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers, and Others — Betray Women’s Trust by Peter Rutter. Extraordinarily clear and helpful. Helped me understand why a genuine relationship with my abuser was categorically impossible. This book is out-of-print (as are many on this list), but you can get it cheap used. Or email me and I’ll send you my spare copy.

At Personal Risk: Boundary Violations in Professional-Client Relationships by Marilyn Peterson. Peterson thoughtfully explores boundary violations from small to large, and shows that even the small ones can create a harmful breach of trust.

Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do by Scott Edelstein. Lively, witty discussion of this serious issue. Edelstein focuses on the Buddhist teacher/student model, and at times he seems to discount “mere” clergy/congregant abuse as something lesser. But as most survivors know, most abuse begins in a pastoral counseling setting, where intimacy and vulnerability are essential. I found this book excellent and affirming.

When Pastors Prey: Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women, edited by Valli Boobal Batchelor. Published in April 2013, this book gathers essays from familiar U.S. leaders like Jimmy Carter, Diana Garland, Marie Fortune, Martin Weber, Pamela Cooper-White, and Samantha Nelson, along with an astounding collection of voices of survivors and advocates from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Australia. Clergy sexual abuse is a worldwide problem, and this book brings leaders together for a worldwide response.

Books about the experience of victims and survivors:

Is Nothing Sacred? The Story of a Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed by Marie Fortune. One of the earliest titles on this topic, this book is still the classic. Marie Fortune (through the FaithTrust Institute) is still working hard to make churches safer. Also recommended: Fortune’s Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited.

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman. The first two pages are worth the price of the book. “When traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict.” Thankfully, this online excerpt helps us understand why the perpetrator always wins, even if we can’t afford to buy the book.

What About Her? A True Story of Clergy Abuse Survival by Beth van Dyke. Author Jan Tuin originally wrote under a pseudonym, but later felt called to work openly under her real name. Jan founded Tamar’s Voice, named for King Solomon’s daughter Tamar who was raped by a half-brother (2 Samuel 13) and then silenced (verse 20) by her family. Jan gave me invaluable support as I came to terms with my experience and pondered whether to report my pastor.

Forgiveness and Abuse: Jewish and Christian Reflections, by Marie Fortune and Joretta Marshall. Expensive even on Kindle ($40!), this book is worth going without Starbucks for a month. Of all the issues surrounding clergy sexual abuse, forgiveness is one of the most complicated and painful. This book explores Christian and Jewish understandings of forgiveness, and offers several paths toward greater peace.

The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes. The author explains why clergy sexual abuse victims bond so intensely with our abusers.

Fighting the Good Fight: Healing and Advocacy after Clergy Sexual Assault by Carolyn Waterstradt. This book introduces terminology (“virgin, laborer, midwife”) that sheds new light on the process of healing. As spiritual virgins, our naiveté made us vulnerable to abuse. Afterward, we labor and give birth to our new selves. Some (the midwives) find healing by supporting other victims along the same path.

Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction by Susan Cheever. A frank look at the author’s own sexual addiction. This book helped me understand what might have motivated my pastor.

Hiding Behind the Collar by Catherine Britton Fairbanks. A raw, candid memoir of the author’s experience of emotional and spiritual abuse by an Episcopal priest, and the betrayal by the church hierarchy afterward. See a full review here.

Books about the church’s response (silencing, ostracism, denial)

Responding to Clergy Misconduct: A Handbook by the Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune et al, published by the FaithTrust Institute. An effective response to clergy sexual abuse will help the victim heal, help the congregation deal with the pastor’s betrayal, prevent abuse by holding offenders accountable, and protect the church’s resources. This book is an invaluable resource for judicatory leaders and church leaders, and it’s also great for survivors. It helped me understand exactly how my church added to my trauma in their response to my complaint. Clarity can be painful, but it ultimately moves us toward greater healing.

How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct by Dee Ann Miller. Miller focuses on the actions of her church when she reported an abusive missionary pastor. Her church took extraordinary measures to avoid dealing with the sexual predator in their midst. Miller and her husband were silenced and ostracized, an experience at least as traumatic as the abuse itself. Unfortunately, this pattern seems to be the norm. Most victims are silenced by our churches. As survivors, we find our voices.

Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power by C. Fred Alford. Remember all the movies about whistleblowers acclaimed as heroes? Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae, Silkwood… well, maybe not Silkwood. She died in a mysterious car crash while trying to expose inadequate safety measures at a nuclear plant. Silkwood illustrates Fred Alford’s point: most whistleblowers pay for truth with ruined lives. It’s not a cheerful book, but it helped me understand I wasn’t crazy, or alone.

The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors by Nicholas DiFonzo. Understanding the mechanism of shunning didn’t make it any less painful, but it made it easier to forgive, and to reach peace.

Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems: Scapegoating, Family Secrets, and the Abuse of Power by Candace Benyei. I found this book challenging, but I confess I’m mostly ignorant about “family systems.” My bishop had used those words to justify ordering me not to contact leaders at my church, while allowing my abusive pastor to stay on the job and in the pulpit, so I thought I ought to do my homework. Now I think someone else should have done his.

Books to help the congregation:

Restoring the Soul of a Church: Healing Congregations Wounded by Clergy Sexual Misconduct edited by Nancy Hopkins and Mark Laaser. I found this book too painful to read at first; I had bought it thinking I could help my former church heal, and it turned out they didn’t want my help, or even want to heal. By the time I opened it a year later, I was ready to learn what clergy sexual misconduct does to a congregation, and how to make it whole again.

Shared Wisdom: Use of the Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling by Pamela Cooper-White. This book helped me distinguish between pastoral care (the minister’s normal response to emergencies in congregants’ lives) and pastoral counseling (ongoing therapeutic support). It is never a good idea for a pastor to offer counseling to his or her congregants. In fact, it’s a big red flag.

Resources on sexual harassment in the religious workplace:

Sexual Misconduct in the Church: Understanding how often it happens, why it happens, and what to do when it does. This 2008 collection is of limited value to survivors of pastoral sexual misconduct: the articles are brief, dated, and somewhat superficial. But it is a good resource for survivors of sexual harassment in a religious workplace. Female clergy who have experienced sexual harassment may also want to download the article Silent Sufferers, published by the Baylor University School of Social Work.

Thanks to blog readers for these great additions:

Understanding Misconduct Among Spiritual Leaders by The Hope of Survivors. This booklet provides an overview of pastoral sexual misconduct for victims and their spouses, youth, pastors and their spouses, church leaders, and congregants. This great resource is available in printed or PDF format.

When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct, edited by Beth Ann Gaede. Thirty well-organized essays by contributors including Candace Benyei (author of Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems) and Nancy Myer Hopkins (co-editor of Restoring the Soul of a Church.)

Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct by Stanley J. Grenz and Roy D. Bell. This book helps churches respond sensitively to victims, and helps to prevent abuse through intelligent policies and procedures. At-risk clergy will find guidlines for establishing appropriate boundaries. The second edition includes a risk-determination questionnaire for pastors who may become abusers.

There it is, friends: the Survivor’s Bookshelf. Now, get thee to a library!

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