the Hope of Survivors

My Story of Clergy Sexual Abuse by Mary Jo Huels-Noworyta, Executive Assistant & Victim Support Coordinator

Information Gathering

Mary JoIn 2003, he came to our church as senior pastor.  From the moment we met, he took an interest in me. It was clear to him I was troubled and he set out to counsel me. Several times, he stopped me in the hall at church to talk about trivial matters but would work at changing the topic to personal issues, that left me feeling uncomfortable. He often called me into his office to talk about music, as I played keyboard on the worship team, and again would turn the topic to my personal struggles. I made it clear I was uncomfortable talking to him. He once had the church secretary call me saying, “Pastor wants to see you and he won’t take no for an answer.” He mentioned taking down the self-protective wall I had up. After much prompting, he became successful at lowering my defenses and became my counselor. In counseling, he learned about my distrust toward man, my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, my marital problems, and the trauma of my kidnapping and sexual abuse as a child, becoming familiar with the areas I was struggling. He received this personal and confidential information because he was my pastor and my counselor. His goal, he said, was to become my friend.   

Red Flags

There were many red flags over the six years he was my pastor that I ignored because he was a ‘man of God.’ He did a lot of bragging about his past churches and his ability to bring people in. He told me he could perform every duty and ministry at the church as good as or better than those currently holding those positions. The only reason he didn’t was because time would not allow. He made crude jokes. He was heavy handed and controlling. He bragged about being a great cook, how he did the grocery shopping, the laundry, got the youngest girls ready for school in the mornings, and told his wife there are a lot of women who would love to have him as their husband. He did much boasting, not in the Lord, but in himself. 

Misplaced Trust

In spite of the negativity I saw, I eventually became dependent on him and did not want to lose the close friendship I thought we had and I certainly did not want to hurt my pastor. I chose to support him, regardless of the negative things I saw and heard. Over approximately a five-year period, my walls began lowering, I continued to ignore the red flags that were ever present, and he worked hard to get me to trust him. As we grew closer, I did have an attachment to him. I believed he sincerely cared about me. I believed he was a safe and secure place. I believed God was using him to help me heal from being used by men for their own satisfaction. I believed he was kind, sensitive, compassionate, strong, caring, forgiving, wise, and humble. I thought him to be a friend, pastor, and big brother. Because of these beliefs, I grew to trusting him fully. On two separate occasions, I was clearly warned by God to stay away from him, but I ignored them because he was not my enemy, so I believed.

Crossing the Boundary Lines

In October 2009, my pastor began telling me he had feelings for me and it was a challenge for him because of us being so close. He told me he wasn’t satisfied or happy in his marriage. He said his wife tricked him into getting married and thereafter, withdrew physically. As a result of her distance, he said he kissed several girls in college. When he told me of his feelings for me he said, “The first time we met, something clicked inside of me. I knew you would play a huge role in my life, but I didn’t know how. I knew that I could fall in love with you, so I had to put up boundaries, but I began letting the boundaries down, and I fell in love with you.” Our relationship became physical, at his prompting. I didn’t fight it. Because of my emotional connection, I wanted to be with him, however, not in this sinful way. I was battling greatly inside between wanting his approval and love, but knowing this was so wrong. Unfortunately, it became more intense and my marriage, of course, became worse. He knew my favorite things and wanted to know everything about me. He wrote me poetry about finding a love he thought he’d never find. He bought me gifts. He told me he never loved anyone as he loved me and has never been loved as much as I loved him. He told me he thought about ending his life but my love for him stopped him. We became closer over the years due to his actions and his inability or unwillingness to keep proper boundaries. He began telling me personal problems, telling me things He never told his wife. He told me we were soul mates, more than soul mates. He told me if we both weren't married, he’d pursue me. After six years of a grooming process, he pursued me physically.

Justifying Sin

He convinced me that my marriage vows consisted of more than sexual intimacy. Therefore, because my husband didn’t love me the way I needed, I was justified in having an ‘affair’ with my pastor. During our adulterous relationship, I couldn’t read the Bible or lead a bible study. He said, “I’m still preaching and teaching.” I asked how he was able, to which he replied, “I focus on God’s love and forgiveness.” There was so much distortion of God’s Word that I questioned, but because of the high trust level, I sinfully believed him more than God. He continually assured me of God’s patience with us as we worked through our situation. We presumed on God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I asked him if he really believed we could be happy if we left our spouses, with all the hurt that would cause. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.” He told me he had little hope for his marriage. He told me his children would forgive us, especially his oldest child, stating she would understand more than his other children because she has seen how miserable he has been over the years, how badly his wife treated him. At the same time, I believed my husband didn’t love me and I was willing to leave him to be with this person I considered, ‘the man of my dreams who loved me more than anyone.’ He told me that when he first met me, God told him that He wanted to use him to help me. He said he loved me with God’s love, that he loved me more than anyone loved me, including my husband and my parents. He said he would never hurt me. In a counseling session, his way of helping me understand God’s love was telling me how much he, himself loved me saying, “God loves you so much, he brought me into your life at this time, to help you. He loves you THAT much.” I was vulnerable and wounded, and never saw the pursuit coming.   

The Pain of Clergy Sexual Abuse

The emotional connection between us was so strong, there was little chance of my husband and me having a solid, healthy marriage. We were already struggling due to the trauma of my kidnapping and sexual abuse as a child, and never having gone for counseling. My pastor was the man I believed God was going to use to help me through that traumatic experience; to be loved by a man, in a healthy way. The pain of being pursued, used, and abused by my pastor far outweighs the pain of being abused by a stranger. The aftermath of being in an adulterous relationship with my pastor is the greatest pain I’ve ever known and it wasn’t until after the ‘affair’ went public did I realize it couldn’t be considered an affair due to the imbalance of power. My pastor did not protect me. He used me for selfish desires.

The Realization of What Happened

Our physical relationship lasted about four months, having ended after his wife's discovery. While deep down I was relieved that God brought the abuse to an end, I was in shock over what happened. The man I trusted completely and believed loved me, simply conquered me because I was a challenge. He never loved me; he used me. The pain was unbearable. I was devastated and began taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. Finding a woman counselor, she told me I needed to tell my husband. I am not a person who can keep a secret like this hidden. I was having emotional breakdowns; lying in bed, physically writhing in pain. It didn’t take long before I told my husband about my ‘affair.’ Immediately, he supported me, loved me, forgave me, and is the first person who helped me see I was manipulated, deceived, used, and abused by my pastor and it needed to go public.              

Truth, the Better Way

We left our church of ten years because of the pain, but the pastor was still in power. A few weeks after leaving, my husband began gently encouraging me to take this to the elders because God desires honesty, and the basis of our faith is confession, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. At the same time, my counselor was telling me the same thing. She said she would not want to be under a pastor’s leadership if he had committed adultery. My husband recognized that the pastor is accountable to the elders, to the church, and ultimately, to God. The truth is always the better way. Finally going to the elders, we knew there would be public humiliation, that our children may not forgive me, but we knew God wanted the truth known. We chose to take this public, out of obedience to God, leaving the consequences in His hands. 

Thankfully, the elders removed him from the pulpit and over a period of several weeks, my abuser was forced to resign and his ordination revoked, at my request. There was no repentance. He blamed everything and everyone, except himself.

Mary Jo and MartyFinding Hope

Being sexually abused by my pastor caused the greatest pain I’ve ever known. Without God, I would not be alive today. The Hope of Survivors is a ministry for those who have been sexually abused by their church leader that was founded by Samantha and Steve Nelson, who went through this as well. It has been a great source of hope and healing, along with my husband, children, family and friends who have forgiven me. I’ve learned the dangers and dynamics of clergy sexual abuse and the truth that my relationship with my pastor was not an affair; it was an abuse of power. 


Common Traits of Predator Pastors

Since being out from under my abuser's control, it is clear that there was a pursuit to conquer that he set out to accomplish the moment we met. He fits the profile of a preying pastor that I learned through The Hope of Survivors. One example is that pastors prey upon women who were previously abused, due to their vulnerabilities. Also typical is them saying they are unsatisfied in their marriage and their wives do not meet their needs. Another manipulation tactic is the use of the term ‘soul mate.’ This is a common statement men use to bring a spiritual aspect into the relationship, leaving little room to dispute a man of authority saying two people are made for each other. I was never physically attracted to him. This was an emotional attachment that he pursued, that he was responsible to stop. I was wounded and vulnerable that he took advantage of. Being used by my pastor caused great damage to not only me and my family, but to the church and the Body of Christ as a whole. 

Keeping Abusers Out of the Pulpit

My hope is that this man never again stands in a pulpit or placed in another leadership role. In October, 2011, at my request, his ordination was revoked, a unanimous decision by the board in the district he received his credentials. My goal is to keep him from being in a position to harm more children of God's. The church is filled with too many self-proclaimed pastors, seeking self-gratification, causing great damage to those they are responsible to protect. He was completely responsible to keep that boundary line in tact. However, that is not what happened. He pursued, used, abused, and greatly damaged a sheep, one that was already wounded. 

Making Church a Safe Haven

A big part of my healing process resulted from the information, understanding, and support of other victims. I searched 'pastoral affairs' and found a great organization that I eventually volunteered and later accepted a full-time position. I did so because the world is watching the church continue to fall because men of arrogance, pride, and self-seeking agendas, rather than of humility, are standing in too many pulpits, abusing their power, causing damage to countless souls. May God keep these men from positions of power to prevent the continued wounding of His children. A pastor’s role and calling is to protect the flock, not use it for the shepherd’s selfish desires. I pray the church becomes a safe haven God meant it to be.  

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If you are a survivor of pastoral abuse, we would love to hear your story and possibly make it available on this web site for others to read and renew their hope. You can use a pseudonym if you choose and rest assured that all personal information will be kept private and strictly confidential. Please contact us.

Please note: We do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the information contained in the survivor’s stories. We do, however, feel they have some valuable information that could be useful to you in your recovery. It helps to know you’re not alone, that others have shared your pain and have healed, by the grace of God, in their own time and way.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18