Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘pastoral counseling’

Working With the Law: Making CSA Illegal

A few months ago, I was talking with my dad about my work on this issue. I told him that in many states, pastors can go to prison if they have sexual contact with a congregant. I could see the skeptical look on his face.

“You seem surprised, Dad,” I said. “Why?”

My dad asked, “Why is it the state’s business who a priest has sex with?” In other words: what’s wrong with a little canoodling between consenting adults?

The problem, of course, is “consent.” It’s hard to say “no” to someone more powerful than yourself. And if you can’t say “no,” your “yes” has no meaning, especially when the “yes” is won by emotional manipulation and deceit. My former pastor gained my trust, and eventually my romantic feelings, by feigning interest in my soul. If he had been open about his lust from the beginning, I never would have given him the time of day. But by the time he spoke, I was completely dependent on his pastoral care. It took me nine days to get the clarity of mind to say, “No.” That one word took all my strength, and ultimately I couldn’t make it stick.

I didn’t share all this with my dad; I just said that the power differential made meaningful consent impossible. Aha! I could see the light coming on. My dad said, “So it’s like when psychologists sleep with their patients!” Exactly right. The Hippocratic Oath prohibits sex with patients, and in all fifty states, a therapist can lose his or her license for being sexual with a patient. In many states, that therapist can end up in prison. And in 13 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia, the fiduciary duty law applies to clergy who offend sexually within a pastoral counseling relationship. The National Organization for Women supports efforts for legal reform in all states.

I’m not a lawyer, so I was glad to find a paper explaining the legal issues on the resources page of the Baylor clergy sexual misconduct study. If you’re curious, you can dive into some of these links. Sexual Misconduct of Clergypersons with Congregants or Parishioners — Civil and Criminal Liabilities and Responsibilities (Helge and Toben) is not easy reading, but it offers a deeper understanding of state laws on clergy sexual misconduct. In 11 of the 13 states, CSM is illegal only when it arises from a formal therapeutic counseling relationship. Only Texas and Arkansas criminalize clergy/congregant sex per se. The Texas law, like an earlier Minnesota law, refers to “the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual advisor.” That clause in the Minnesota law was struck down on the basis of church/state entanglement, and the Texas law still faces challenges. In contrast, the Arkansas law never mentions religious practices; it only requires that the clergyman be “in a position of trust or authority over the victim,” using that trust or authority to engage in sexual activity. The Arkansas law has so far stood up to all challenges.

Even as you read these words, the advocacy team at Predatory Pastor is trying to get clergy added to Virginia’s Fiduciary Code and Criminal Statutes. Jim Wright makes a clear supporting argument on his Crossroads Junction blog. I hope you will join me in signing this petition.

And if you are a lawyer interested in getting something started in California, let’s talk.

 

 

The Shelf of Shame: A Book to Avoid

Here’s one for the Shelf of Shame: John Thoburn and Rob Baker’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct: A Systems Approach to Prevention, Intervention, and Oversight (Gentle Path Press, 2011). I’m always interested in finding new materials for the Survivor’s Bookshelf, so I bought this title last month. Unfortunately, the editors focus on the needs of clergy and their families to the exclusion of victims. Worse, with sentences like this one, they seem to hold victims responsible for their own pain: “Both pastors and dioceses may find themselves sued civilly because of a pastor’s sexual conduct toward parishioners, even if that sexual behavior is between consenting adults.” (Emphasis mine. Withering scorn also mine.)
You can read my review here. I had fun writing it; I hope you enjoy reading it. If you find it helpful, please vote! I want Amazon to keep my review up as a warning to survivors who might otherwise see this book as a potential resource in healing.

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!

To the Good Shepherds

Let’s say you are a pastor, priest, or minister and you start noticing a new couple on Sundays. They always sit near the back door, and they slip away before you or anyone else can greet them. After a few months, they stay around long enough tell you their story. Now you know why they are so skittish: their previous pastor betrayed their trust to meet his sexual needs.

Here are five things you can do to gain their trust and restore their faith:

  1. Listen with compassion and respect, and believe what they are telling you.
  2. Acknowledge the courage it takes for the victim to confide in you, or to even be in church at all.
  3. Provide a safe environment if the victim asks to meet with you. The presence of another person (the victim’s spouse, yours, or both) can be helpful. If you must close your office door, make sure the room is clearly visible through a window. If you must meet with the victim alone, use the business seating in your office (e.g., chairs on either side of a table or desk) and not your “pastoral” sofa or chairs. Most adult clergy sexual abuse begins in a pastoral counseling setting.
  4. Acknowledge the gaps in your understanding. If you have never spoken with a victim or survivor of clergy sexual abuse, acknowledge that you don’t fully understand the experience. Commit to educate yourself, and follow up on that promise! Read the clergy materials at The Hope of Survivors and FaithTrust Institute.
  5. Make sure they have the support they need to heal. Let them know about the help offered by The Hope of Survivors. Introduce them to people in the church whom you trust (introduce female congregants to women; male congregants to men). Those friendships are vital to spiritual and emotional healing.

Now let’s imagine a harder situation. What if the abuser were one of your friends? My new pastor faced this situation when I joined his church. He and my former pastor had worked together for years on local ministry and advocacy efforts. Fortunately, I had been a leader in one of these efforts. My new pastor already knew and respected me even before I walked into his church, but I don’t think that made it any easier. He still had to accept the painful reality that a beloved friend and colleague was not the man he thought.

Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ray Hartwell faced an even harder situation. Not only was his new congregant’s abuser a friend of long-standing, but the congregant herself was a total stranger. How tempted Pastor Hartwell must have been to stand by his friend! Thank God, he stood up for justice and compassion instead. You can read Ray Hartwell’s moving account here.

As we move into the final two weeks of Clergy Abuse Awareness Month, I want to thank the good pastors in my life. You have guided, supported, and prayed for me as I have healed from a profound spiritual crisis. Perhaps you have even paid a price because you didn’t turn away. You, my friends, are the Good Shepherds, and you have helped this lost sheep find her way back home.

What the Church Says to Victims About Reporting

What happens when church leaders learn that a victim is thinking of filing a complaint? Here are the voices that influenced my decision:

From my offending pastor: “I don’t think you’d get the result you hoped for. I would likely just get a note in my file.”

From the associate pastor: “If you report him, you lose control over the information.”

From a friend on staff who knew the pastor well: “You have to report him.”

My friend had nothing to gain if I reported; the pastors had everything to lose. I listened to my friend, and I talked with my new pastoral counselor, “Joyce.” (In addition to her work with me, Joyce also supervised all of the real pastoral counselors at my church. By that time, I had figured out that my pastor was untrained, unlicensed, and totally unfit for counseling). Joyce seemed awed by the fact that I was willing to report my pastor despite the personal risks. I told her I had no choice: I believed other women were in danger.

Two days after I reported my pastor, Joyce and I met in her office. She seemed stunned that I had actually done it. She asked me, “Couldn’t you have just walked away and let those women fend for themselves?” Needless to say, that was our last meeting. I may be a hero or I may be a fool, I told her, but it doesn’t much matter which. I had to turn him in or I couldn’t have lived with myself.

August is Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness & Prevention Month. I’ll be posting all month with helpful, hopeful resources from The Hope of Survivors and others. Check out the THOS blog for another survivor’s story about what a church leader said to her when she was about to report.

Stay strong and hopeful, friends!

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