Friday, September 18, 2009

Clergy sexual misconduct (by Suzie)

Y, a married member of the clergy, asked X, a young widow, to help around the church. He grew closer until the intimacy became sexual. Her love would help him do God’s work. The abuse continued for a number of years, until she finally broke free from him and left the church.

She is a feminist, one of the sharpest women I know. Once, her Christian faith mattered to her. Once, she trusted clergymen.

Y's superior investigated charges that he had had inappropriate relationships with female parishioners. He denied wrongdoing, and switched to a different denomination, taking many of his parishioners with him. Newspapers printed praise because accusers weren’t known or declined to speak.

X filed a complaint in ecclesiastical court. The process exhausted her. Y was found guilty of misconduct in his former church. He remains at his current church, and neither newspaper has written anything.

He was divorced by then. He married a parishioner who had moved to his current church from the old one, where she had defended him against accusations.

X was one of the participants in the largest national study of clergy sexual misconduct (CSM) with adults, released this month by Baylor University's School of Social Work.
The study found that 3.1 percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the victims of clergy sexual misconduct since turning 18.
This isn’t 3.1 percent of all women, only the ones who attend services regularly. The study focused on Christians and Jews, and many members of churches and synagogues do not attend every month. The study also notes that many victims give up religion. The abusers are mostly men.

CSM, the study notes, “refers to a religious leader's sexual overture, proposition, or relationship with a congregant who was not his/her spouse or significant other.”

What if a woman throws herself at her pastor?
[I]t is the responsibility of the religious leader to maintain safe boundaries. … Because of the power the leader holds and the attachment of congregants to their leaders, the congregant has much less power to say "no" to sexual overtures, rendering the concept of "consent" virtually meaningless.

Many people - including the victims themselves - often label incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults as "affairs." In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader.

[T]he Baylor team has been working to outline possible initiatives designed to identify and prevent CSM, and draft model legislation to make CSM illegal in the same way that relationships with patients and clients are illegal for other "helping professionals" including doctors, lawyers and mental health practitioners. At present only two states - Texas and Minnesota - have legal statutes in place to guard against CSM.
I wish liberals like Dan Savage would get that clergy, even if they are single, are not supposed to hit on congregants, even if they are adults. Perhaps you believe, as Savage does, that this is one more reason not to attend church. But the issue of people abusing power won't be solved so easily.
I’ve written about clergy sexual misconduct before.
ETA comments from X: "It's a whole separation-of-church thing," she says, explaining why lawmakers have made it illegal for mental-health counselors to have sex with patients but not spiritual counselors.