I am sitting here with my friend, Sandy, who has also experienced abuse at the hands of a youth minister. Living far out of state, she flew in on Friday and we have spent the last two days getting to know each other.
Sandy and I are the same young age of 52, both came to know Jesus at the same age of 14, were both molested the same year, 1972, both have 2 children the same ages, and have both been married the same number of years. Sandy's birthday is the same as my son's, and my birthday is the same as her daughter's. My anniversary is her sister's birthday. We both studied to be nurses and no longer work as a nurse. We both play at the game of golf.
Both Sandy and I reported our abuser during our late 40's and we both still deal with the implications and affects of the abuse. Both abusers maintain good standing with the region in which they were licensed, though they are now retired.
Our hearts are similar. Having both forgiven, we seek to prevent further abuse at the hands of our abuser and others. We look for ways to strengthen and improve policies concerning pastoral sexual abuse.
We have both dealt with regional ministers in our efforts - Sandy having talked to members of the general (national) church counsel as well. We have both been heard but experienced frustration over the lack of response. Due to the time that had elapsed in both of our cases, both ministers were allowed to continue in ministry, albeit with monitoring.
Should passage of time diminish the consequences? Is it possible to be safe after living years of your life as a predator? Should a denomination risk the lives of those entrusted to their care? Neither one of these men could be hired as an educator, counselor, or therapist. Yet, the church hires them to be the spiritual guide for God's flock.
These men deserve all the love and grace God gives to all of us, but they deserve that love and grace sitting in the third row of the church, not standing in the pulpit.
Sandy's experience with the regional minister was more disturbing than mine. Unlike my report, hers was substantiated by witnesses, by the birth of a child of his next victim, and by his subsequent removal from ministry. Three years later, following a year and a half of therapy, he was reinstated to the ministry. When he left that state, his files remained in the region where he was disciplined and were never transfered to the new region.
When contacted by Sandy, the new regional minister was unaware of any detail of her abuser's past, only that he had at one time been disciplined. He did not feel it was important to know any details but chose to trust the other region's reinstatement. Thus, a known predator had been allowed to pastor a congregation for 13 years with no one there being aware of his past.
Sandy found this unacceptable and intended to write the elders of the church. After seeing the letter she had written, the regional minister responded in a letter with these words: "....I have doubts that sending the letter, like the one you drafted, will bring you healing. Instead, I would be afraid that the damage to people's faith, the damage to their sense of security and relationships, the damage to their ability to trust, and the collapse of their spiritual dreams would weigh upon your spirit. If you were to send such a letter, you would know in your heart that you may have single handedly (emphasis mine) vetoed the experience of God's grace for many, many people. That to me would be quite a load to carry. I believe it would create new wounds for you."
Sandy responded: "You said that if I were to send the letter to the officers of the church 'it would weigh upon my spirit.' On the contrary, failing to send the letter will result in everlasting regret if anyone is ever again the victim of (minister's name) despicable misconduct. I was a victim because those who knew (of his prior misconduct) failed to protect me."
Needless to say, Sandy notified the elders.
The very thing this regional minister suggested Sandy would do to a congregation by sending a letter, had already been done to her. To seemingly manipulate her in such a way was horrendous.
This weekend we have used the "s" word a lot. While shaking our heads in disbelief the word "stupid" had leaked from our lips excessively! Why is it that church leadership fails time and again to remove ministers from their positions, only to allow them to prey again upon the unsuspecting? The regional minister's head in the sand mentality would truly be laughable if it were not so painful.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I never thought that one word could sound so good! But, last night it sounded better than I ever imagined. I received a reply from the regional minister and for the first time I feel truly honored and heard. His first paragraph is worth quoting:
"Last night, at Ash Wednesday service, the thought came to me as I sat in silence that I need to say something to you on behalf of the whole church. As a person charged to speak for the church I need to extend an apology. At a time when you should have been nurtured and growing in faith, you were abused and set back in your faith. That was wrong and on behalf of the church, I am sorry."
Now that is powerful! Not only did he apologize but he recognized it as abuse - not misconduct, not a difficult experience, not sexual misbehavior, or some other nice way of saying it - but ABUSE. My heart was touched and as I sat in traffic reading the letter, sobs broke out of my soul.
He continued to say that he still intended to present my request to the task force, appreciated and accepted my request to rewrite my thoughts, and apologized if any wording he used earlier had caused me distress. It isn't perfect, but at least I know where he is now.
As far as monitoring issues with Bob and my questions that have not been answered, it seems the file is slim, and to discover the answers he would have to dig and disrupt a congregation from which my perpetrator has retired. Were he still there, I would deem that necessary. Since he is gone, I understand his reticence though I am not sure it is really for their best interest. I'm not sure I agree with him but this time he was upfront and honest as to his thoughts and feelings. I can deal with that. Transparency goes a long way with me.
He refers to the statement I made in my last email as to his role as regional minister and my questions making it a difficult place to walk: "It is indeed. Thanks for your openness to the understanding that I cannot do all that you would like in the way you would like. I continue to work towards a solution that will give us both ease about this and the ability to move on." In that statement and the rest of the paragraph, I hear a man struggling to meet the needs of all and finding it a sticky place to reside.
He ends once again with that word "abuse". "Be assured that I continue to pray for you and for all involved in the abuse you suffered."
It is amazing how much power a timely response with a heartfelt apology carries. That one word, that has been so hard for me to accept, has now been spoken by one in a place of authority in the church. There is freedom for me in hearing this declaration!
I am touched.
Posted by di at 8:52 PM
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
I had a conversation with Tom tonight that went well. He is concerned with how this is affecting my relationship with God and the local church. I don't think it is distorting either and I appreciate his pastoral heart in offering his time. I didn't ask for it - he offered.
I struggle to not slip back into the needy child when I am with him. Part of me really wants to in order to be coddled and given some nurturing attention; yet, I managed to stay the adult and even argue some minor points with him.
Tom would not wager a guess as to the regional minister's response to my email. I think he is glad I ventured out one more time for clarification. My expectation is that I will not hear back from him until after the task force meets and then it will be to tell me that he gave them my suggestions and they were grateful.
One of the elders (the head elder) at church is pretty torn up by all this. He is the only lay person that is aware of it all. He has a 17 year old daughter and I am sure that plays into his facing the reality. Never having given this issue much thought, as he looks at it now, he is discovering how rampant of a sin it is. His heart is truly grieved and he is considering taking a step toward contacting someone in order to assure me a place to share. I listened to him sob tonight at the altar. I have no doubt that some of those tears were over the church's response to me and other victims. Between he and my sister-in-law maybe something even bigger than I hoped for will be stirred up. It is truly time for the church to take this issue out from under the basket and deal with it. It is time for congregations to be educated as to how often this occurs and how to spot perpetrators and what to do when they expect one.
Posted by di at 8:46 PM
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
It is hard to bare myself at times but if this blog is going to offer to others anything different then it does no good to hide in shame. My session with Dan this evening offered me some good stuff. I discussed all the happenings of the last week and my feelings of frustration, betrayal, and pain. Dan asked me how I felt I needed to respond which I soon turned around to ask him what he thought. He reminded me of the picture I had painted for him of myself meeting my second perpetrator and lying down to hide myself from those that might see me riding in the car with him. It was such a powerfully shame filled memory. Dan's suggestion for now is that whatever I choose to do needs to be the opposite of that shame filled picture. What that means, he would never attempt to define for me, but encouraged me to seek for the response and image that is the opposite.
For the present, I only know that silence, in the present, is equal to the shame filled hiding of the past. My choice is to speak. My dream is to speak to ministers, congregations, seminaries, and anyone else that is willing to hear my story and what I have learned through my journey.
How do I get from point A to point B when the church does not want to hear the truth. I asked my sister-in-law why the church is so afraid of the truth. She replied "truth hurts". Mary also honored my tenacity in this pursuit. She is looking for a way to help my pursuit to be heard.
I feel sort of like gum that is stuck on the floor in my classroom. The powers that be (me and administration) did not want it in my classroom, but it came anyway and stuck itself firmly to my floor. There is no way to sweep it underneath the carpet. It is stubbornly stuck and going no where. And so am I. I suppose I can bombard a lot of folks with the truth, stubbornly refusing to be swept away - the question that remains is "how?"
Monday, February 4, 2008
What a title, huh?
I went back and read the regional minister's email to me last September in order to compare it to the one he sent me this past week. His change in tone and wording is disturbing.
In September he wrote: "Because the Ministry Commission has such an incredible workload, we felt it would get things accomplished quicker if we appointed a separate panel. That panel is being appointed and as soon as they begin meeting we will find an opportunity for your input to them. I can’t predict the time line right now, but wanted to let you know that we are serious about responding to the issues you have raised and want to do so in a timely fashion."
Last week he wrote: "I am aware you desire a personal session with them but I cannot say right now whether or not that will happen. "
I think that is a major change, wouldn't you? So, is it betrayal, deception, or something else?
Posted by di at 7:31 PM
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Years ago before my mom had cataract surgery, I took her shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding. She picked out a lovely one but I was surprised to see it was purple - a color she seldom wore. I had a feeling she was not seeing it clearly and pointed out to her that purple was an unusual color for her to choose. Being my loving but stubborn mother, she insisted it was navy blue! I calmly told her it was purple. Finally she asked the sales clerk just in order to prove me wrong. It was purple!
Like my mom and the purple dress, I see the church and pastors through damaged lenses. Time after time, I find myself struggling to know the truth in the present because the past distorts it.
In reading the regional ministers late reply to my requests I experienced the same. My first response was to only see his "no's" and his wishy washy political efforts to pat me on the back and send me on my way. Then I reread it and thought surely I was completely mistaken the first time and went into a state of feeling shamed by my reaction. This man sounds so gentle and kind. Then finally I read it a third time and was just flat confused because both are evident.
I somehow expect that the truth is somehow a mismash of all of the above.
Though I had sworn that I would not reply to his email I gave it one more swing this morning. I don't know if I am simply stubborn like my mom, hearing the voice of God, being a fool, or all of these options. I have chosen to risk once more.
The regional minister promised to give my typed suggestions to the task force. This sounds encouraging on the surface, however I have specifically asked for the opportunity to do so myself. I asked this time to be able to trim down and organize my thoughts and remove any reference to Bob, and to include a letter to the task force. In it, I will personally make my case for speaking to them myself. I also asked if he is planning to encourage them to allow me the opportunity to speak. If he chooses the wishy washy on that, I will know he does not.
I also offered him an education on dealing with victims and enlightened him on the pain and damage his waiting so long to answer my questions had caused. I asked him to consider that and to answer me in a timely manner.
No answer this time will speak loudly. I have confronted him in truth but without angst over the power he carries to wound or heal. If he does not choose to heal then I will know his true heart. We will see. Only time will tell.