(From the April 2010 edition
Dear Hope of Survivors Family,
There is nothing like the insidious evil of clergy sexual abuse (CSA). I ’ve encountered murder, kidnapping, bank robberies and rape as a law enforcement chaplain. But nothing I’ve seen can compare with the sin of clergy sexual abuse. It’s all of the above, and more.
There is murder involved in clergy sexual abuse—the slaughter of the abundant life that Jesus wants to communicate through His church. There is the kidnapping of one’s identity as a faithful Christian woman. There is the robbery of her purpose in life. And yes, rape is involved as well—sexual conquest through the abuse of power, not with a knife but with the lethal weapon of overwhelming influence.
Is clergy sexual abuse as bad as incest? Actually, it is a form of incest when a woman’s spiritual father betrays her trust and violates her body. And the effect can be even more damaging than if he were her biological father.
You see, even when biological family members fail to support a victim of incest, at least brothers and sisters in Christ usually rally to her defense. But when it comes to sexual violation within the family of God, victims of CSA usually don’t have the support of fellow believers.
We see it constantly in our work with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. First, they lose the support they thought they had from the spiritual father figure who violated them. That’s tragic, but to be expected. What they don’t expect is for some of their dearest and best friends in God’s family to turn on them. Often their own biological family even joins other church members in rallying around a predator pastor.
It’s amazing. Church members who might fight with the pastor over choosing the color of the carpet tend to rush to his defense when evidence of his abuse surfaces. Why? Because they often think it is the woman’s fault.
Church members often blame the victim of clergy incest for being a temptress who seduced their spiritual father. In reality, the victim has in all probability been groomed in a predatory process that confuses her identity and renders her vulnerable and feeling needy for physical intimacy with her caregiver.
Most victims are groomed without being aware of it, usually in the counseling room. If a woman initiates sexuality, it is usually the fruition of seeds that a pastor planted in her mind and heart.
But suppose the pastor did not (at least intentionally) groom the victim of clergy sexual abuse. Maybe somebody in her childhood or teens messed with her identity and sexualized her unmet emotional needs. And she may bring that dysfunction to the counseling room and initiate an inappropriate relationship with the pastor. Can she still be considered a victim?
Definitely. There is never any excuse for a pastor to succumb to sexuality with a parishioner. If he cannot establish and maintain boundaries of integrity, he has no business being entrusted with the ministry of a spiritual shepherd—no matter how well he can preach, teach, or pray.
It’s just like with physicians, who operate under the standard of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” A caregiver’s most fundamental function is to avoid doing anything that would be hurtful to the person being served. This principle is true for all professionals—teachers in the classroom, supervisors in the workroom, and pastors in the counseling room.
Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand this—even the most thoughtful and otherwise compassionate people in the congregation. Thus the victim of clergy sexual abuse may find herself all alone. Except perhaps for The Hope of Survivors.
We hear the same testimony over and over again. In desperation to find out what in the world happened to her, a victim goes on a Google search and finds our ministry. And for the first time, she feels understood. Empathized with. Loved and accepted. For many a victim, an evening she spends reading our website is when the healing begins.
The Hope of Survivors can be there for victims because of our faithful supporters. We invite you to sustain The Hope of Survivors with your gifts. There is a great need for us to come and have a Hope & Healing Conference in several cities this year. We also have the opportunity to go to pastors’ meetings and teach them how to be shepherds of God’s flock instead of wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is some expense in all this.
Steve and Samantha, with the rest of us at THOS, can only do what you empower us to do with your prayers and financial support. Maybe you can’t give much, and that’s OK. I can’t give much either, but I do send a regular gift each month for the sake of sharing the healing grace of God with His precious sheep who are victims of clergy sexual abuse.
May God bless you in experiencing and communicating His grace and peace,
Martin Weber, DMin
Chairman of the board, The Hope of Survivors