Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


Of those surveyed:

• More than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of clergy sexual misconduct (CSM) at some time in their adult lives;

• 92% of these sexual advances had been made in secret, not in open dating relationships; and

• 67% of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

• In the average American congregation of 400 persons, with women representing, on average, 60% of the congregation, there are, on average of 7 women who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct.

• Of the entire sample, 8% report having known about CSM occurring in a congregation they have attended. Therefore, in the average American congregation of 400 congregants, there are, on average, 32 persons who have experienced CSM in their community of faith.

--From the Baylor University study on sexual exploitation and abuse by clergy


The recent events in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania with Bishop Bennison's knowledge of abuse perpetrated by his brother, have brought up something that doesn't seem to be, in my mind, told enough. It is illustrated in the facts from the Baylor University survey above.

Eight percent of people in a given congregation have KNOWN that clergy sexual abuse was going on in their parish.

Eight percent. Yes, it's a minority, but it is a noticeable one.

Unfortunately, more often than not, they know and don't talk.

The magnitude of this has just hit home recently for me.

I have been visiting at length with a friend of mine who, I believe, has been sexually exploited by a clergy member in the Episcopal Church in another diocese. What has been rather dismaying to her has been as she has been putting out "feelers" to figure out how to most appropriately discuss and deal with this, it has become apparent in the inquiries that people "guessed who it was"--which means they KNEW this person was walking a little on the shady side.

It's the church's version of "Don't ask, don't tell."

Here's my gut reaction on this. We, as adults, tend to (wrongly) assume consenting adults are...well...consenting adults. But we forget in the clergy-parishioner relationship, that we often give free passes to the collared on things we would have thrown a boundary down so fast on the uncollared, it would make your head swim.

I know. I've done this. Because that person has a shamanic presence in our community of worship, we might say "okay," to something that we would tell a mere mortal "Hell no!" or unleash a string of F-bombs, because we respect that he or she is the leader of our spiritual community and that is a burden some days...or to say "no" gets us in trouble with God or something. We can always say that saying "no" is not Christ-like.

The other thing we tend to forget is the methodology by which needy clergy "hook" people, even when they are not the objects of the sexual exploitation.

These are people who know our worst fears sometimes. These are people to whom we've often confided difficult parts of our past. Abusers hold their targets by means of the "special relationship." I mean, who wouldn't want to be the one that the pastor or priest says "held the congregation together," or "saved the parish?" Who doesn't like to be "understood" in a psychologically slightly more intimate than normal way? To have interactions that transcend words and language in pursuit of being more godly and Spirit-filled?

To confront clergy about their bad behavior puts the confronter at risk for losing the "special relationship." Over time, one can believe that it is the "special relationship" that makes him or her close to God...not the Gospel message the person is trying to impart. The risk could even be that the parish might be fed "black pearls" about the non-compliant parishioner...that he/she is "difficult," "mentally ill," or "unstable." Their worship and faith life is at risk. In our church, sometimes there are several miles between Episcopal churches. Where else would many of us go, if it were us who knew the secrets?

But make no mistake--when the pastor runs off with the church secretary, the books, and all the fried chicken, there is always a little nucleus of people who had either "known all about it," or "figured it out."

These abusive clergy get away from it because, not only do they target their next romantic relationship, they cultivate a network of henchmen and pit bulls to manipulate the parish to suit their needs, or to make other parishioners keep their distance by teaching the henchmen and pit bulls not to trust the others.

The other thing that is becoming tricky in the Internet era is the geographical boundaries. For argument's sake, let's just say I am in the diocese of Missouri and I am being harassed by someone in another diocese. Whose rules apply? Or DO they even apply if one is not a member at that person's home parish?

I would add in this day and age, the clergy presence of priests and deacons easily now transcends the Internet. But each diocese has its own policy on sexual exploitation. It creates a sticky situation. There might be subtle differences in one diocese but not another. There might be slight differences of opinion of what "a pastoral relationship" might be as it relates tothe Internet and social networking sites. We may still have territory yet to explore and further define, there.

But more importantly, how do we teach people that that eight percent "curtain of silence" is not acceptable? That "consenting adults" are still in a power differential with the clergy on the top end of the differential? That, no, everyone doesn't "know" and that it is safe to come in from the cold with such information? Unfortunately, as the Bennison case underscores, there are reasons out there that "the sheep still don't feel safe." But not pointing out where the wolves are is not the answer, either.

19 comments:

Way back when, I had to attend the StL Archdiocese's training on child abuse prevention. It was hands-down the creepiest hour of my life because of the video interviews with religious (and nonreligious) perps, especially the one who said he used his "priestly charm" to get people to trust him.

I don't think I had previously realized that there are people who intentionally use positions of religious power in abusive ways. Now I am concerned that in the midst of the child sex abuse scandal and the right concern to protect our children, we may be overlooking issues of clergy who misuse/manipulate/abuse adults in the church.

You may be right. It's easy to see the power differential when it is between an adult and a child; not so easy between a cleric who is predatory and a spiritually hungry adult parishioner.

A good one, KirkE. You have run the risk of Speaking Truth, and I am grateful.

There is a very real issue here that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the response of most churches has been clumsy and often misdirected.

A few observations:

1. SOME of these incidents (likely a relatively small minority) reflect an immature cleric with insufficient understanding about appropriate boundaries. Churches are mostly doing a reasonable job of trying to address this deficit.

2. In many cases, actually predatory tendencies are mistaken as being about that kind of boundary confusion when its actually about something far more destructuve. Particularly with a "first offence," it can be difficult to discern which is which.

3. In most churches, there is more willingness to confront predatory behaviour, but we're nowhere near where we need to be.

4. In a few cases, the chill has actually missed the mark and seen clergy sanctioned for behaviiour which isn't actually predatory. Again, this is a relatively small minority. (I'm thinking, for example, having a consenting romantic relationship. After all, a generation or two ago, many of our colleagues ended up marrying a daughter of the parish where they were curate. Most of those relationships were not abusive.)

Malcom+, thanks for your comments. However, there are aspects of the "consenting romantic relationship" that are problematic, too. I know someone who had a "consenting romantic relationship" with her pastor, and guess what--it didn't work out. Then she became persona non grata in her own church, and many in the church thought it was perfectly ok that the ex-girlfriend was getting snubbed at the peace, because "How could mean old ex-girlfriend be so cruel to have dumped our dear sweet Rev. So-and-So." Some of the "key" players in the parish heard a story of how she had cruelly "dumped" him. Come to find out, it may have been the other way around.

She felt "excommunicated" in a sense b/c there was no other church of her denomination nearby. To break up with the pastor also felt she had to break up with God.

You're absolutely right that clergy of two generations ago often did marry a daughter of someone in the parish where they were curate. But I wonder what the faith stories of the ones they dated and did not marry were like.

I agree that even relationships that truly are consensual can be problematical. But frankly, I suspect that the decline in the "curate marries a daughter of the parish" meme has less to do with the new emphasis on boundaries and more to do with the fact that a) there are fewer curacies now and b) new clergy now tend to be older and already married. (Certainly as a young, single priest I was occasionally invited to parishioners homes for the clear though unstated purpose of meeting their daughter in a "less churchy" context.)

Outside of major conurbations, the most likely place for a single clergyperson to meet prospective romantic partners is going to be within the worshiping community they lead. Certainly there are risks particular to such relationships beyond the risk normally inherent in any romantic relationship. But the tendency in current policy is to view such relationships as inherently abusive, which is neither true nor fair.

There is a need for policy / guidance about how such relationships need to be managed (especially if they end), but attempting to ban them either by policy or by official disapproval is rather like ordering the tide to go back out. Indiscriminately lumping them in with cases of clergy abuse (as some people do) is unfair to those clergy - and frankly, an insult to those who are victims of truly malicious predation.

None of this is to say that we don't need to address the issue of those of our colleagues who breach the bounds of propriety and law, and to develop the tools to discern appropriate boundaries in different contexts.

I agree to a point, Malcolm+ and in our diocese there is a "middle way" (there always is, in an Anglican fashion, isn't there?) But it requires the clergy person being honest that his or her feelings for that person are building. Generally, they go to their bishop and the parishioner needs to go somewhere else to church for a while.

Where I disagree is that "the most likely place for a single clergyperson to meet prospective romantic partners is going to be within the worshiping community they lead," makes it appropriate. I am a single physician. The most likely place for me to meet people is at the hospital, the clinics, or my office. It would be highly inappropriate for me to ask someone on a date who is in paying their bill for my services as a physician. In fact, a relationship like that gone haywire would possibly cost me my license. I don't find what the church is asking of clergy to be any more restrictive than what is expected of me in my profession.

I don't think we're that far apart, Kirk. Openness is essential. After all, if you aren't prepared to be open, that has to beg a bunch of questions.

In a major city, having the parishioner go elsewhere for a while is probably quite reasonable. In a small community, not so much. And extra 15 minutes across the city is one thing. Another 30 miles in the country is quite another - especially since the clergy person in the relationship may also be serving all the immediately neighbouring communities. Each case needs to dealt with on it's own merits.

I don't think the situation of the doctor in a small community and the priest in a small community are precisely analagous, though clearly there are similarities. But no one expects the young single doctor to spend a significant amount of "away from the office" time with parishioners, or to participate in every community social event. And while it's common that the Episcopal priest in a town will be the only Episcopal priest in town - or the district - this is less likely to be the case for a doctor.

At the end of the day, I think romantic relationships between single clergy and parishioners are best avoided, all things being equal. But all things are not necessarily equal, so we need to use some common sense and discernment.

Which all derives from the point that there is a strong need to deal with clergy (and others) who use the emotional intimacy of their position as a means of initiating predatory relationships. We just need to be sure that's what we're talking about before we lower the boom.

Yes, I think we are mostly on the same page. But you would be surprised what all I get called over off-hours, whether on call or not on call.

You are, however, right about the social obligations. No one cares if I attend--they just want me to throw money at it! LOL

If you'd like to throw some money over the border, I know a nice little parish on the Canadian prairie . . .

Just wanted to tie this back to a comment that you made on Lisa's blog. Predatory clergy can and will manipulate people into what otherwise appear to be consensual relationships, and the victim may even feel that they have consented. It is no easy manner, often, to distinguish these relationships from those that really are consensual.

(There can sometimes be a reverse problem as well. I know of a non-clergy situation where a man asked a woman out. They worked for the same company and he held a higher position, though not in the same reporting chain. In asking her out, he tried to defuse the imbalance of power issue. The woman - who he later learned had been a victim of abuse - had thought that his reference to their differing levels in the company was actually an assertion of power. She went out with him because she thought she had to. He went on the date thinking he'd been clear that she was free to say no. Fortunately it came out on the date that she had only said yes because she was afraid for her job. He was devastated that he could be perceived that way, apologized and took her home immediately after dinner. While no relationship ensued, some years later she thanked him for helping her learn that some men could be trusted. But it isn't hard to see how that could have gotten ugly all round.)

Indeed, even honesty can be tricky.

Why, Lisa and I have even our own version of that!

We were friends for years in the blogosphere before ever having a live friendship in the diocese...simply because I know I am a fair bit on the "butch" side of straight and I did not want to throw any vibes at all that would be confusing about any overtures of friendship being mis-perceived. I just hid in the corner instead of doing the work to be clear...and as it turns out, she is one of my more trustworthy spiritual friends in our diocese and her experience in maneuvering the weird things in our diocese is invaluable as the member of another "outstate" parish in our diocese.

How many years did I put off bonding with a trusted friend and ally b/c of my fear of mis-perception?

But back on track with the subject, healthy parishes need a way that the "code of silence" is not encouraged as it relates to the checks and balances of priest-parishioner relationships. The "code of silence" gets parishes in trouble in far many more ways than just this topic.

I am a victim and survivor of clergy sexual abuse. I am actually the second victim, and a third was physically intimidated. This happened in 1999 at local parish. I did not ask for the attention nor did I see the harassment coming. I filed a complaint according to the Constitution and Canons and I was the one put on administrative leave as if I were the perpetrator and the priest got to continue working; turned out the senior warden and junior warden were his henchmen; later the bishop at the time created a coverup and the majority of the Standing Commitee did his biding even when his own appointed diocesan investigator found I was telling the truth and that there had been other victims. I lost my job as administrator of the parish; I lost my unemployment benefits because the senior warden said I breached confidentiality by retaining an attorney. A year after I filed the formal complaint, inspite of the evidence, the priest was declared innocent by the bishop in a parish meeting which I attended thanks to two members of the vestry who believed me. I publicly forgave the priest who could not face me as he sat with his wife and children. No one will ever know the pain a victim carries as a result of such injustice. I have created a group on The Episcopal Church: A Facebook of Common Prayer, a social network for Episcopalians. I am not afraid or ashamed to say I am a victim and survivor, and the battle is far from over in my case. It may be almost ten years since my harassment occurred but I have no given up on finding justice.

Turns out about a year after the declaration of his innocence that the pervert priest received a letter from the same bishop telling him he really was guilty and after his youngest graduated from high school in about two years from that time, he would be asked to renounce his vows. This does not dismiss or make right what the bishop did in lying, or the Standing Committee's inaction at the time, nor the complicity of the wardens or the new associate priest, who told me what he knew but if I said anything he promised to deny it. The power of the clergy can at once be a wonderful thing but also so ugly and disgusting that it sickens the best of us.

Catherine. Thank you for telling your story.

Thank you.

I am in awe that you are the ones who have stayed in the life of the church despite all of it. As I learned in the workshop, most people simply can't. It's too hard.

Yet I and many others have blessed with your blog and Facebook presence. I imagine folks in your real time world have, too.

I don't know what to say but thank you.

Dear Maria, you are welcome. I would do myself a disservice as well as those others who have also suffered.

I thought of leaving the Church when it all came down. I had only been confirmed in 1996 and deep down I did not want to leave what I knew to be my spiritual home. And if I had left it would have been another blow to my soul. Instead the rightness of remaining grew stronger each day, for it wasn't the Church in it's goodness that harmed me but in the poison that was and is allowed to infect the Body that caused harm. I knew if the Church was to become a safer and better place I could not leave because of what had happened.

So I became more involved in the life at Trinity Ashland, leaving St Mark's behind and going to the place I first "met" the Episcopal Church in grad school, and I was welcomed like I had never experienced in any church. And the love there sustained me then as it does now...I will not leave this Church, instead I will campaign in whatever way possible for those who have yet to begin healing or reconciling with the Church because of CSM.

Thank you Maria, for sharing your information and publishing it. I have shared your link with Barbara Dorris, spokesperson for SNAP, the survivors' group that is worldwide so she can share it with others; the more people know and the more they become aware, the less silent the victims will be. Like Mompriest said, it is the silence that is the problem; no one has the courage to speak up...until now.

Thank you for letting me tell my story and for your kindnesses. You need worry not about trying to say more...you are saying it without saying it.

Doctor,
According to your interpretation, I am also a victim of clerical abuse. But would never conceive of my relationship to my pastor that way. As you describe, I am the one who "hold together the church" and comes in an saves what needs saving. My pastor and I have a seemingly closer relationship than most, while there is some serious flirting, there's no groping etc. yes, I'm sure I derive some weird status from that, but that's it. I'd like to date(we are both single, to my knowledge), but that is probably out of the question for other reasons.

My point is, even though there is a power differential, is there really abuse there? I don't think there is, nor does it have to be. If a pastor is physically and emotionally coercing someone for sexually purposes and disturbing her/his comfort level, that is abuse.

Me kicking back more often than most with my pastor, being witty and intelligent and insightful in varying measures, cannot be.

There are many pains and injuries inflicted by others, that go unexpressed,and should not. But the broadening of the term abuse also discourages the reaching out of clergy, teachers, even perhaps doctors. It also discourages parishioners,patients etc. from allowing themselves to let down their shields in a way that could lead to a more spiritual, or at least meaningful relationship.

Oh boy, Please forgive the 5-6 type/grammar errors in the above post. It flew away before final edit.

Anon--what I am talking about is how predatory clergy develop "special" relationships with other members in the parish and use flattery about one's own importance in the parish to help maintain the "curtain of silence" regarding his/her predatory activity elsewhere. That can an abuse of power in its own right.

In a healthy church no one person should feel they have a higher sense of importance in the parish than anyone else.

Since I make a habit of not doing advice or therapy on my blog, as I am speaking as "just a person" I instead invite you to attend one of the Episcopal church's "Safeguarding God's People" workshops or an equivalent in your denomination, and draw your own conclusions. I can say that when I started looking at things during the workshop from the physician-patient relationship, and extrapolating them to the priest-parishioner relationship, I realized there are some very muddy boundaries and I ended up re-thinking them.

I will say that the word "flirting" in any workplace is a gray zone (and for a pastor, the church IS the workplace)because of the wide variety of meaning that carries among individuals. In the Episcopal church, clergy are prohibited from pursuing romantic relationships among parishioners. Period. A parishioner who has a desire to date his/her priest becomes a problematic pastoral charge to that priest, based on if the feeling is mutual or not. Those scenarios and options are a post of its own.

Another post of its own is how clergy spend social time. No clergy person lives in a vacuum, and spending too much social time with one parishioner or one family is also a problem of its own. It can make other people in the parish jealous or feel like second-class worshipers. No one likes not feeling like the "in" crowd. Sure, clergy are always going to have people in the parish that are "favorites" in some minor way or another, but it is incredibly important that they develop social friendships OUTSIDE of the parish, or a counter-productive reversal occurs. The parish starts "taking care of the clergy" rather than the other way around. That's a post in its own right, too!

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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