Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Posts tagged ‘reporting clergy sexual abuse’

Forgive My Abuser? It’s Biblically Impossible.

After years of fruitless attempts to forgive my former pastor, I’ve finally figured out why I can’t do it. According to the Bible, it is impossible.

“What?” you ask. “Didn’t Jesus tell us to forgive seventy times seven? Doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer ask us to forgive? And doesn’t that prayer imply that if we don’t, God won’t forgive us?”

Yes, all that is true. But I finally understand what forgiveness meant in Jesus’ day. In Structures of Forgiveness in the New Testament, Frederick Keene explains it all. According to Keene, the New Testament authors used three Greek words to mean “forgive.” Here are what those words meant to them:
1. Aphiemi: To leave behind (“They left their nets and followed him,” Mark 1:18 and Matthew 4:20); to cancel a debt (“The master of that slave released him and forgave him the debt,” Matthew 18:32); to release from bondage (“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,” Luke 4:18); or to pardon sins (“Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven,” Luke 7:47).
2. Charizomai: To be generous. Paul uses this word to convey God’s boundless generosity (“He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” Romans 8:32). Luke uses it in the sense of forgiving debts (“He canceled the debts for both of them,” Luke 7:42).
3. Apoluo: To dismiss or divorce; to release a spouse from the obligations of marriage. This word appears only twice in the New Testament, both times in Luke 6:37c.

Please notice! The NT authors never used “forgiveness” to mean “swallowing your anger” or “pretending it didn’t happen.” Forgiveness was not an emotion but a transaction. Masters could cancel their servants’ debts. Jailers could release their prisoners. Husbands could free their unhappy wives to go back home. Jesus could pardon a woman’s sins. In other words, forgiveness meant letting someone off the hook.

So, whom can we let off the hook? Only our equals or those over whom we have power: an employee who needs the day off, a friend who owes us money, a spouse asking for a divorce. Who can let us off the hook? Only our equals or superiors: a boss when we need the day off, a friend to whom we owe money, a spouse who agrees to a divorce. We cannot forgive someone who has power over us. Looking up the chain of command, forgiveness simply has no meaning. We cannot let a more powerful person off the hook because we never had them on the hook to begin with. Dying on the cross, even Jesus had no power to forgive his executioners. “Father, forgive them,” he said to the One who did.

In a clergy/congregant relationship, the pastor always holds the power, with one small exception. Between the first chargeable instance of clergy sexual abuse and the victim’s promise of silence, the victim has the power of disclosure. When my pastor made his sexual interest clear, I had to decide what to do about it. For nine excruciating days, he knew I had the power to turn him in. In his terror, he promised to repent and I promised not to tell. I didn’t undergo an emotional change (as in “what you did was OK”); I simply agreed to a transaction. In exchange for his “repentance,” I would protect him from the church’s justice. But eventually I saw that there were other parties to this transaction. Other women were at risk, most of them even more vulnerable than I was. I knew that I owed more to my sisters than I did to my boundary-crossing pastor. Once I recognized my debt, I had no choice but to break my promise. When I did, I rendered my “forgiveness” null and void.

And yet I have still felt the pressure to forgive. Why? While Jewish theology puts the burden of forgiveness on the offender (from the Talmud: “A transgression a man has been guilty of toward his neighbor, Yom Kipur cannot atone for, until he has appeased his neighbor”), Christians still broadly misunderstand forgiveness as a “make everything OK” panacea. To understand why, let’s look at who is involved when one person offends against another. The victim and perpetrator, obviously — but also, an invisible third party. Clergy sexual abuse (like child abuse, elder abuse, spousal/partner abuse, and virtually every kind of abuse) occurs within community. The community itself is the third party to abuse. Whether congregants witness clergy sexual abuse or not, they are de facto bystanders.

In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman describes the bystander’s dilemma. When one person causes trauma in the life of another, Herman writes, “all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing… The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” Hmmm. If you were a bystander, which would you choose? To make it worse, bystanders don’t have access to the facts, only to the perpetrator’s version of the facts. Victims are almost always silenced, discredited, or exiled, often all three. As a result, most bystanders shun the victim, attack her, or assign her the burden to forgive. This only adds to her trauma.

And who reaps the benefit when the victim “forgives”? The perpetrator escapes justice, the bystanders go back to their lives — and the victim is left holding the bag. It can be a heavy bag indeed. The burden is made heavier by the oft-repeated suggestion that “forgiveness” will bring about “healing.” Marie Fortune calls this a cruel hoax for victims, and I agree. When I too quickly “forgave” my pastor, I opened myself to two more years of his harmful behavior. When I said “enough!” and demanded justice, my healing finally began.

I cannot forgive my pastor, but that doesn’t mean I am trapped in a prison of my own making as some would suggest. Far from it! I liberated myself when I walked out of the prison of his lies. I liberate myself today by telling my story in a way that I hope will awaken the church. Because I chose justice, I can choose to confront him in person or to estrange him completely. I can choose to build a life of advocacy around my experience or to walk completely away from the issue. I can choose to tell my story or withhold my story, and I have full freedom to make that choice anew with every circumstance. All these choices are mine, but only because I chose justice. It’s up to him to forgive me for that, or not — it makes no difference to me.

Because I AM FREE.

You can read my reflection “Forgiving Like Nelson Madela” here.

Primary Emotions

Is anger a primary emotion? Or is it secondary, layered over a primary feeling like sadness or fear? And what’s the difference anyway? I started exploring these questions when I read K’s latest post, “True Emotions.”  Here’s what I learned: primary emotions arise in response to events in our lives. When our primary response makes us anxious, we turn to other feelings. Men who feel sad or fearful may show anger instead. Women rarely do. We’re taught that our anger is dangerous. What do we call an angry woman, after all? Shrew. Harridan. Bitch. So what happens to the anger that women don’t express? We turn it inward. We cut ourselves, starve ourselves or poison ourselves with drug or drink rather than lashing out at the ones who really deserve it.

I discovered this truth two years ago, just before Christmas. Nearly two years into recovery from the horrible events at my former church, I was feeling hopeful and confident again. Then out of the blue, I found myself thinking of suicide. When these thoughts intensified, I went to see my doctor. He listened to my story, then he told me: “Suicide can be murder in disguise.”

I thought about this for a minute. “Do you mean instead of mentally jumping off a bridge, I should imagine pushing someone off it?” I asked him. The doctor grinned his agreement. So for the rest of the season of Advent, whenever I felt sad or hopeless, I imagined shoving “Pastor Kevin” off the tallest bridge in our city and watching him take that long drop into the bay. By Christmas, I felt as peaceful as if I had spent weeks in prayer and good works.

I’m still angry with Kevin, and I’m still disgusted with the church leaders who seemed deliberately blind to Kevin’s behavior toward women. But what about the bystanders? Specifically, what about “Melinda”? The bishop appointed Melinda to be my chaplain while he investigated my complaint. What a relief! I wouldn’t have to educate anyone from scratch. Melinda was our regional trainer for clergy abuse prevention, and she already knew me well. I sent her a copy of my complaint, and I asked her to confirm the time for our Friday meeting. Meeting day came and went with no response. A week later, I still hadn’t heard from her. I began to worry: was this about Eileen? My complaint was primarily against Kevin, but my associate pastor Eileen was also in the hot seat. Her response had made church even more dangerous for me. I still remember exactly what she wore and where she sat when she spoke the harsh words: “You should have known better.” I can still see the anger in her face. Worse, she tried to dissuade me from reporting. She told me that if I did, I would “lose control” of the information.

Melinda admired and adored Eileen, as did most of the clergy in our diocese. I sent Melinda another note, telling her how hard it was for me to hold disloyal feelings toward her friend, and hoping she could still serve as my chaplain. Melinda’s words confirmed my worst fear: “I don’t know if I think I’m your best choice as chaplain.” It wasn’t that she didn’t believe what I had written about Eileen; she wrote: “I do, actually.” But that knowledge made her “a bit uncomfortable.” She was “at a personal loss” about how she could help me now. She wrote, “I’m sorry I’m not the right choice, but I hope we can continue to be friendly.” She suggested having “a cup of coffee now and then.”

Coffee was not what I needed. Abandonment by my chaplain was definitely not what I needed, but at that point I was too traumatized to engage in conflict. I let Melinda off the hook and went through the process alone. My bishop offered to find a replacement, but I knew Melinda had been my best hope.

So how do I feel toward Melinda today? Do I feel angry? Hurt? Betrayed? Yes, of course. I had a right to expect Chaplain Melinda to set aside her personal discomfort for a greater duty to the church, so of course I feel betrayed. But when I think about Melinda as a person, I only feel disappointment and pity. I’m disappointed that she wasn’t the person I thought, and I pity the weakness that cost her an opportunity to make a difference.

And this is where the writing gets hard. The truth is, I feel something more dangerous than pity or disappointment. I feel contempt for Melinda. I despise the choice she made. Instead of compassion and hope, she offered me “a cup of coffee now and then.” She had a chance to make a lifesaving difference and possibly a safe place in the church where I had taken my earliest steps in faith, but she chose to retreat to her gal-pal relationship with Eileen. Did I make Melinda’s retreat too easy? Of course I did. I’m sure I felt anger, disgust, and contempt right away, but I couldn’t afford to burn one of the few bridges I had left in that church. And yet what a useless bridge she was! Last year, I ran into her at a public event. She feigned warm concern; I feigned friendly gratitude. She didn’t deserve the truth, and I doubt she could have handled it.

In healing, and in my writing, I try to focus on the positive. When I interact with the people who hurt me or failed to protect me, I try to take the high road. But if this blog is to be useful at all, I need to be transparent even with dangerous feelings. Even at the risk of burning bridges.

Finding Strength, Hope and Healing

For some survivors, writing is how we heal. But while I was keeping my pastor’s dark secret, writing was almost impossible. How can I describe the weight of holding that secret? I don’t even have the courage to try right now; it was a terrifying, sickening, and confusing time that lasted far too long. I will just say that the secret permeated almost every waking thought for years. I had the terrible duty to guard my pastor’s reputation and honor, and the only way I could do it was through silence. But the secret wanted OUT. If I tried to write, the terrible secret found its way into almost line. To protect the secret, my writing turned to mud (dense, obtuse, opaque) and then dried up altogether. Years after I left my church, I finally found the courage to begin talking. Once I did, words started flowing like water.

It is the rare survivor who has the courage to write while she is still facing her demons. Even more rare: a survivor who writes so fearlessly that she almost pulls you into her world, even while she is still facing the horrors of victim-blaming and ostracism. Survivor “K” reported her pastor just this summer. He left ordained ministry only weeks ago. And yet she has the clarity of mind to write — and not merely a catalog of events. She shares with stunning transparency her struggles with trust and betrayal, loss and grief, despair and hope, anger, faith and emptiness.

K has given me permission to share her blog. As you read, please consider these suggestions and warnings:
* Start at the beginning. Scroll to the earliest post and read your way forward. The newer reflections will make most sense if you know the facts of K’s story.
* Trigger warning: the Aug 19 post titled “How My Experience with Clergy Sexual Misconduct Started” contains an account of sexual abuse.
* Trigger warning: the Sept 5 post titled “Don’t Call Me Brave” contains a description of self-harm.

K writes about abuse and betrayal, but she also writes about honor, compassion, and courage — and strength, hope, and healing. I’m honored to share her words here.

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!

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.

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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