the Hope of Survivors

Still Hurting... by Marty, Ohio

I read about this web site on the message forum at Advocateweb and have spent a good portion of the day reading the many pages you have put together. I think it is very well done and contains mounds of good information.

I was a victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse (CSA) in the fall of 1999. I had been going to my pastor for counseling off and on for about 12 years. This church was my first and I was a brand new baby Christian at the time. Looking back, I can see that I had an eerie sense that the place was not right somehow—found myself becoming very depressed and wanting to go somewhere else. But I forced myself to keep going, though at one time, I actually went for my first meeting with the pastor to tell him we were leaving because I found the place to be very cult-like and cold—and I did not really like him either. He cried!! I left feeling like a real scum for saying what I had said. Still, we continued to visit other churches.

The assistant pastor called on me at home and told me I was being stubborn in my spirit and needed to submit to pastoral authority for the sake of my marriage and children and suggested I go talk further with this pastor—so I did. I was determined that I must be spiritually immature or stubborn, and did my best to “submit.” In the process I think I gradually lost touch with my REAL spiritual side and relationship with the Lord and became a “good church member.” Oh, I did work hard! And, I believed I was serving! But, I became more and more depressed and kept going back for counseling from this man.

In time, I did grow to actually like him. I even grew to dearly love him!! I had no church background really—except what I learned from my Roman Catholic mother who married a non-Catholic atheist and was thus shunned by her church. Still that occasional mass or church service a neighbor brought me to—plus many VBS summers—left me with a hunger and reverence for the Bible and anything of God.

During this time, I went through some crises and told my trusted pastor all about them. My own dad had been very stern and distant and I know I was unwanted. I was also sexually assaulted in a hospital when I was a very little girl—thus a fear that nagged at me and caused more depression.

Yet, I learned to love this man and looked to him as the father I had always missed having. I thought he would do no wrong and knew more about the Bible and God than any person I had met. He also put me to work for him—having me write articles and doing massive research. He heaped praise on me and made me feel worthwhile. I should have seen the red flags when he began to probe into my marriage relationship—it has always been a strong marriage but it felt good to have somebody to gripe to who was “safe”. The abuse only lasted three months and there were four incidents. It was all so gradual that I really felt frozen in time and unable to resist or even believe what was happening. I hated it. Each time I was horrified and went back to him for private confession and absolution. He told me I must never tell my husband or anyone else.

When I told him I no longer trusted him as a pastor—he screamed at me until I sobbed. This screaming was not new either—it had happened many times and was also a tactic used by my own father. I tried to maintain a friendship of sorts after the abuses ended but he still continued to take liberties with me from time to time. I can look back and see how he had groomed me for many, many years.

The following year, he was reported by two other women in the congregation and I knew something very evil was going on. The denomination removed him from the clergy roster. He had so twisted the theology of “forgive and forget” that I did not know what to do and spent another horrible year with my secret. I told my husband finally—it was horrible and he was so hurt! Not only by me, but by the sense of betrayal by a man he also loved and trusted. He has had several years of his own pain and damage from this. He truly does not have any friends or anyone to talk to except a counselor. Eventually, he hopes to offer some resources for secondary victims—mainly the husbands who are left so hurt and confused. From what I read, many marriages fall apart. Thank God mine has been solid as ever! In fact, we are now closer than ever after fighting this horrible battle. He had about six months where he was convinced I had cheated on him but was so confused!! He even has his masters degree in Counseling but that did not prepare him for this. The APA had rigid guidelines about therapist/counselee relationships and they well know about transference and the dangers of power abuse.

That church was our whole life and family. Though the upper level church heirachy did remove him as a clergy, the congregation itself kept most of the information quiet. The leadership continued to support him. I personally think he did maintain a cult-like control over them and some are still under his teaching. They told all of us to not talk about it and to “forgive and forget”.

Meanwhile I watched and listened to the treatment given to one of the known victims who remained. I heard her called a whore, that she had ruined a godly man and that she should be forced out of the congregation. She also happens to be a sexual abuse victim since childhood with a past that reads like a horror story. He chose his prey carefully. This is what led my husband and I to file a civil lawsuit—to force out the truth so the church could heal and the victims could get some help.

In my ignorance, I did not know that all a civil suit could really do was get money. I did not want money—I wanted truth telling—and now I do have good depositions on public record. I was able to tell the things that happened to me and this information is there for anyone to read. Though, I do not think many care to know—at least I got to tell the truth.

Litigation is not for everyone although I do believe the perpetrator should be held accountable—but we went into it after much prayer and could not have done differently because of the secrecy. I could not live with that. Well, all that got for our family was being declared “out of fellowship” and told not to come to that church. The remaining victim was still welcome because she was silent. As time went on, she also became very vocal and is still working toward change on the inside but I suspect she is fighting a losing battle. Her depression is still very bad. As for us being “out of fellowship”—they can think they ran us off but, the truth is, I do not want to go to such an unsafe place. We did spend nearly two years not going to any church. I did not read my Bible and could not even pray except to sob. I felt my faith was destroyed and we were so isolated. We still are actually except for the other victims and two women who have kept in touch with us and loved us and supported us.

I went for professional help throughout this mess and before and have a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I read your site of symptoms and it is certainly what I experience. The desperation left me suicidal for years and I made a very serious attempt in September 2002. I took 60 tablets of Darvon—enough to kill easily, along with alcohol and some sedatives. It landed me semi-comotose in ICU with liver damage—but still alive. My liver damage was reversible and here I am.

I guess I have written practically a book here, but as you can see, I have very much lived the words in your web site. While I hate that so many women (and men, children, etc.) go through this, it is comforting to know that others experience the very same thing and can survive.

At this point, the civil suit is dismissed and I am glad it is over. I am glad I pursued it, but it was terribly painful. However, it did stop some of the secrecy and has the congregation working toward guidelines for CSA—how to prevent and how to respond when it happens.

The new pastor has finally approached us after nearly three years and requests “reconciliation”. I am not sure what he means or what he expects from us. Forgive and forget is still twisted at that congregation. I am convinced that the congregation remains unhealthy and sick. I want to forgive as much as is humanly possible but forget…I do not WANT to forget because I want to have something good come from what happened to me. I want the congregation to have the facts and a chance to let them really know what happened. Many are still in the dark. Everyone is sinned against! We never would have gone to the court if anyone had listened to us. We only wanted truth and healing.

I am regaining my faith slowly though I know God has never really been far—I simply was not able to realize it at the most painful years. I know that God did not allow this or do this—it was a selfish and evil man. I cannot understand how our congregation could turn from us, but, believe they just do not know the truth or do not want to admit this awful thing occurred there. There are three of us going back twenty years! There are several others who admit to be abused but will NOT go public. I can only wonder who else he hurt?

The actions of the congregation were not conducive to any victim coming forward for help. Who would they go to? It is nearly four years later—I am not yet a survivor but it will happen. It took me a couple years to even understand I was a VICTIM. We started going to a new church of a similar denomination several months ago and though I cry through most services—it is not a cry of helplessness but a cry of relief to be back in worship. Lots of work and healing still has to happen. I am just recently getting out of the house and doing “normal” things like grocery shopping, going to the library—working in my garden. I spent several years in my room. I have quit my job and during this mess, all of our children grew to adulthood and have married. I feel like I missed out on most of this. I was barely aware of the weddings. My children are supportive but this nightmare has been hard for them as well. I feel cheated of the past years while I was so hurting.

The following is a most intimate and personal struggle. My husband, Ray and I are still working to repair our marital relationship. While our commitment and friendship bond is stronger than ever, I am no longer able to have a godly sexual relationship with him. I cannot but help feeling used and dirty, unworthy. That part of our life was never easy since I had been abused as a little girl, but being exploited by someone I trusted so completely has shut down the ability of my body to respond in any way at all. For several years after my pastor used me, I pulled away from even a touch. Finally I was able to let Ray hug me without having a panic attack. After many more months, I could lay next to him and let him hold me. I do not mind if he kisses me. There is still, however, no sexual contact. The few times I have tried, my mind dissociates. I continue to work with a counselor on this most painful and guilt-provoking symptom of my PTSD. The inability to function as a wife wears at my self-esteem and worth as a person, even though I know my husband dearly loves me. My husband also bears this incredible pain—feeling that he is at fault in some way—not being “man enough” to take care of me—even though there is no rational reason for his feeling this way at all. He is emotionally hurt and damaged, just as I am. Many men would and do choose to leave their wives for this reason, or even because sex occurred with another man—not understanding that it was abuse and not an affair—and yet Ray’s commitment to me and his love for me convicts him to remain with me and be patient with me.

Again, thank you for the hard work that went into your web site and for all of the good information. I have done so much reading over the years that none of it was exactly new to me—but the facts are there—and the comfort.

[END OF STORY]

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