An open letter to clergy members who fear false claims.
Dear Pastors, Ministers, Deacons, Priests, Bishops, Elders, Rabbis, and Imams,
Put your hearts at ease: false claims almost never happen!
Victims of clergy sexual misconduct pay an enormous price for reporting abuse. Even when we can support our claims, and even when the offenders acknowledge their behavior, the process is highly traumatic. When I filed a complaint against my former pastor, the church’s response cost me my community, many close friendships, my faith and my health for a time, and very nearly my marriage — and this happened under almost a “best case” scenario.
One of my friends was abused by a different minister, a known serial offender. My friend has solid evidence of her own abuse, and the congregation still rings with stories of other victims. Yet after seeing what happened to me, my friend decided to remain silent. Her offender is still active in ordained ministry.
Because of the high cost, a person would have to be out of his or her mind to raise a false claim. Indeed, false claims are exceedingly rare. In a survey of claims against Catholic clergy over the course of more than five decades, more than 99.8% of the claims (all but 20, out of more than 10,000) were valid. A minister is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as to be falsely accused of sexual misconduct.
Victims’ greatest fear is that no one will believe them. As a survivor, this is still one of my greatest fears. I know my pastors mean no harm, but when I hear them talk about “false claims,” I feel less safe in my church. I may be the only “out” survivor in my congregation, but I’m certain there are others. According to the landmark study by Baylor University, in an average-sized congregation, at least half a dozen women have likely received sexual advances from clergy during their adult lives.
When you consider your own congregation, please be aware of this unspoken pain and tread gently.
And please be at peace. If you respect your congregants’ boundaries and protect your own, you are almost guaranteed safety from false claims.