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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We know you're out there

and we know who you are. I've been having so much fun lately but it's time to get back to work. One of the few times and one of the last times the broader media did a story that even mentioned the reality of clergy sexual abuse involving male clergy and an adult woman parishioner was in 2002, the New York Times. "Abuse by Clergy Is Not Just a Catholic Problem" by Jim Yardley rehearses the sordid details of a pedophilia case in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)and adds a note that the ELCA generally has less than one (reported) case of clergy abuse of a child per year but five or so (reported) cases involving adult women who are abused by clergy. It also quoted me as saying that our ELCA intentions are to make the church a safe place. We have always been appalled by and hold a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of children by clergy. And more and more of the abused children have been coming forward from the past, and more and more children are being explicitly empowered to resist and report abusive behaviors today. The church -- all of it, all of them -- is beginning to be responsible about child sexual abuse within the church. About time. But as regards women, not so much. As the former churchwide staff person in the ELCA responsible for directing our response to clergy sexual abuse, who left that posiiton ten years ago, I am disturbed by the church's failure to continue to be assertive in its teaching, its public statements, and, in some instances, its response to specific allegations of abuse. The new resources published since I left are slim to none. The emphasis on preparing bishops to respond appropriately to victims is not what it was. And clergy who have engaged in clergy sexual misconduct with adult women are still roaming free, serving parishes and in other forms of public ministry. Why? Callous bishops. Indifferent bishops. The old boys network, cover-ups. But another reason is the absence of real stories, faces of victims, allegations that become public. And this is complicated. And, frankly, I'm altogether sympathetic. Young children are immmediately sympathetic victims. Adult women, not so much. Most of us don't really understand, haven't had the impetus to understand the perverse dynamics that create victims from vulnerable adult female parishioners who are preyed upon by their opportunistic pastors. These are not "affairs." It is sexual abuse. But the women are not received as victims. They are generally blamed for seducing the clergy, even when the opposite is true. So the women don't come forward. At all. Or, when they do, the church is generally good about protecting their identity. All to the good. And leaving us with no faces. No stories. And no coverage. That's why I try to shine a light, using this blog for now, on the ugly realities that dare not show their face. I don't want adult women victims coming forward, coming "out" because I know what will happen to them. So I hope to remind you of their presence. And perhaps, in time, as the churches come to better understand the dynamics of clergy sexual abuse, women victims will feel emboldened to become known. And the perpetrators will be identified too, their behavior will become known. And it will be harder and harder for bishops to keep moving them around. Meanwhile, read this article from NOW. And forward it to your newspaper editors, writers, publishers. Ask them to cover it. The statistics are shocking. And appalling. It is a conspiracy of silence that protects these perpetrators. Perhaps we might tell them from time to time, we know you're out there. We know who you are.

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