Did you know that August is Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness Month? The Hope of Survivors is leading the effort nationwide (actually, worldwide) to get congregations thinking and talking about this issue.
I am blessed to belong to a church whose pastor understands this issue. He gave me the green light to do an “awareness moment” during announcements at the Sunday service. Here’s what I’m going to say:
Good morning! I’m Catherine Thiemann, and I’m here to share two minutes of awareness on a subject we rarely talk about in church: clergy sexual abuse.
When you hear those words, you may think of the Catholic Church and the child abuse scandals. But in fact, in most cases of clergy sexual abuse, the offender is not Catholic, and the victim is not a child. Within our Protestant tradition, most victims are adult women or teenaged girls. While there’s no doubt of the devastating impact to child victims, it also wreaks havoc in the lives of adult victims, their families, and the congregations in which it happens.
Sadly, it’s likely that several people in our church have had this experience. A 2009 study by Baylor University revealed that:
* 3% of churchgoing women have experienced an unwanted sexual advance from a minister at some point in their lives,
* 92% of these advances were made in secret, and
* 67% of the offending ministers were married at the time.
In an average-sized congregation, there are likely at least half a dozen women — or men — who’ve had this experience at some church in the past. Whether the offense includes physical violation or “only” words, it can be devastating. Victims rarely speak up because they fear they’ll be blamed or disbelieved. Sadly, they are often right.
I’m sharing this moment of awareness for two reasons. One, because we have to be willing to talk about it. Our silence can create a fertile ground for this abuse. Two — the more important reason — is because some of you may have experienced this, or you may know someone who has. I want to offer hope and resources for healing. If you need to talk with someone, our pastor would be a good person to start. There are also wonderful online resources like the FaithTrust Institute(.org) and The Hope of Survivors (.com), where you can connect with confidential counselors.
Why not ask your pastor if you can do this too? Feel free to use this message, and to make any changes you need for your church.