When the news of another Catholic child sexual abuse scandal broke this week, I decided to Google every denomination I could think of and see if they've had child sexual abuse scandals and subsequent cover ups.
I'm sad to report that the answer is yes. Every denomination that I tried had at least one scandal involving child sexual abuse.
As disgusting as it is, that child sexual abuse happens in a church setting, what is worse is when a cover-up occurs. The number of people victimized by the actions of the people doing the cover-up is exponentially increased.
Seems to me that when child sexual abuse occurs, the church needs to follow a plan of encouraging people to report it to the police and putting the accused person through church investigations, but only after the police have finished their investigation. Put the accused person on leave. Cut off all access to children.
The church could also be way more proactive. Have policies in place that do not allow one adult, to be with one or more children alone. Educate parents and church members to recognize the signs of a pedophile.
I think a lot of churches are more worried about the reputation of their denomination or their God, than they are about the child and his or her parents and other family members. By engaging in a cover-up or allowing a person to leave, it makes the problem worse and makes their God look uncaring and their denomination look evil.
If a church learns of a case of child sexual abuse and then deals with it, that allows the immediate harm to start healing. They limit the scope of damage. But whatever is hidden will be exposed, and the exposure after 5 years or 10 years or even 20 years is going to be worse. All credibility, as being loving and Christian, will be lost.
When we were in seminary a student asked during our ethics class, "What should I do if a child accuses me of something inappropriate?" This person hoped to become a youth pastor. The instructor said, "You take the child and you go pick up the phone and you call your Superior and say I've just been accused of sexual abuse can you please start an investigation." He elaborated further by saying that in most cases the child will back down. This answer was better than nothing, but it assumed the child would be lying.
When we got back to the dining hall the young man told us over dinner, "If I am accused, I'm going to say it's because the child's father is molesting them and then they'll look at the father and not me." I said, "That's not ethical and where is Jesus in all this?"
I did not yet have a knowledge or understanding of how pedophiles operate or the knowledge that they seek out employment that gives them access. I do not know if that seminary student was a predator or not, but I do know that I felt red flags that day, during that conversation. He was asking the wrong questions and was being given poor answers.
If churches are going to be proactive, they need to vet their seminary students better. And even if seminaries investigate the students better, a lot of churches don't even want their clergy to have any kind of education or training. Being a bit naive they think that God or the Holy Spirit will tip them off. But pedophiles are sneaky, and they groom children, but as they groom children they're also grooming the adults in the child's life.
Part of their obsession is getting away with it and doing the whole process of grooming and setting the trap. It's not a moment of weakness that resulted in an act of victimization. It is an extended, calculated action, a game-like process for the predator, that ends in the child's victimization.
The grooming process involves an adult being fixated on a child. They offer gifts and attention. They might play tickle games or sit on my lap games. They might insist on getting a hug or giving a hug. They are looking for children who need attention, are passive, or are somehow vulnerable to adult attention. They might be very understanding, helpful, and volunteer to watch the child if a parent needs help.
They are also grooming the parent and gaining the parent's trust. Many times, the pedophile will target single parents. They are watching to see if you allow them such closeness to your child. It doesn't look scary at all, but if something feels off, that's when you really need to listen to it.
In a similar way they groom the church's leadership. They're seeing what they can say or do and get away with unchecked. They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The church encourages people to have relationships and not break them off, but in this case parents (and leaders) have to do what's necessary to break that relationship between the adult that's grooming and the child who is the intended target. The person will move on and try to find another child and family that it perceives as vulnerable. This is why it's so important that the church itself be informed.
The church, as far as I know it, usually doesn't have language that speaks of grooming, and predators, and intentional actions. They use the language of sin and repentance, and this does not even come close to what has actually happened.
Churches need to understand that a pedophile doesn't act only one time, on one child. When I was doing rape prevention education I believe the number was at least a hundred fifty victims per predator.
Parents need to seriously think about letting their children go away from them at church or on church activities. Has your church provided education about sexual predators and told you what to look for? Do they have a policy that encourages people to go to the police when a crime has occurred? Do they encourage people to get mental health help, so that if a child is victimized they and their family can get therapy to help them? Are there windows in the doors to the nursery or the Bible classrooms? Is it sufficiently staffed so there's never one adult alone with a child?
Remember what I started this out with? I Googled every denomination that I could think of and every one of them had a case of child sexual abuse. Many also had the cover-up. Unless we can start using the appropriate language, the church will fail to protect the children. As members we need to ask our leaders, What's the policy? Has this occurred here? What measures are being taken to protect children? Ask them to provide a class from a rape prevention education provider. Don't just let them look down on what has happened in the Catholic Church and be judgmental. Hold your own home Church accountable.
Today I attended church, without a friend inviting me, and because I wanted to. I will tell you more about it in a minute, because the point of this blog is to help you recover from spiritual abuse. .
I'll be honest, if you've been spiritually abused, you may need time away from churches. Taking time away gives space for reflection. It helps you have less triggers to deal with while you go about making new relationships, spend time healing, and begin focusing on non-religious pursuits.
In my own life, I tend to migrate back and forth from church attendance. My last episode of abuse happened during my last year of seminary, which was in 1999.. Since then I have had two periods where I went to church for about a year each time. The first time was about a year after I left seminary and I found a pastor, who became my mentor to help me heal. I attended her church out of love and respect for her. The second time, was when I lived where there was a Unity church, which from my research I knew would be very open to many traditions. I went there looking for community and stayed about a year.
This time, I went because I have been praying and I need community. I just moved to a new town. But I have also grown into my own spiritual life, where I can take teachings or leave them. I have reached a place where I can participate without feeling I have to agree 100% or leave.
I take truth or healing words where I can find them, but I have no tolerance for bigotry or sermons that induce guilt or tell me who to hate. I will not sing lyrics that make me feel uncomfortable; I am uncomfortable saying things like He or Lord referring to God. I change lyrics substituting Love for Lord as often as necessary. These are coping tools that help me reduce triggering and trauma.
Another thing that helped me decide to try them out was, I vetted this church ahead of time. I looked at their website and Facebook. I saw signs of welcoming all people, I listened to a sermon online. I looked at photos to see who would be attending and read about their ministries. They talked about supporting the food bank and Pride month. I even looked at their sanctuary and its architecture, which felt inviting. After my preview, I was not triggered, so I decided to give it a try.
As the service opened, it felt welcoming. I was really surprised because when they sang, How Great Thou Art, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. It took all my effort to not sob uncontrollably. I sat with this feeling instead of leaving. I think I was moved with the familiarity of a time in my life when worshiping God came easily. As people abandoned me, I felt God abandoned me, but maybe God is only waiting.
After church, I went to the senior center to play card games. I spent the afternoon socializing and making new friends.I would say this was a near perfect day.
I didn't need a church to find community, but I did need a church to explore that God-loving person left inside of me.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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