2017-03-03 Resources on Clergy Sexual Abuse
3 March 2017
The Rev. Pamela Cooper-White, PhD, Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion of Union Theological Seminary, sent us additional resources on clergy sexual abuse.
Her book, The Cry of Tamar, 2nd edition (2012), contains a chapter, "Sexual Abuse by Clergy," that has become a standard textbook resource for dealing with sexual abuse and exploitation of congregation members by religious leaders.
Her Declaration as an expert witness in the case of Plaintiff v. Ananda Church of Self Realization (1996) is still online.
Her article, “Soul Stealing: Power Relations in Pastoral Sexual Abuse,” was originally published in The Christian Century (February 20, 1991). The article has been posted in various places online, including the Ananda Awareness Network. Here are a few excerpts:
My own observations are based on working more than ten years in the battered women's movement, in the church since 1984 as an ordained pastor, and since August 1989 as a consultant in a program for survivors of clergy exploitation. In convening a support group for such survivors, I have witnessed the lasting devastations that these women have experienced. The many parallels between male pastoral sexual abuse and wife or partner battering have become increasingly clear, especially as the church is so often portrayed as family. (I agree with Fortune that we should be de-emphasizing the image of church as family in favor of images of community, in which boundary expectations are more clearly defined.)…
Pastoral abuse-pastors engaging in sexual or romantic relationships with their parishioners or counsels--is much more prevalent than is commonly supposed. Estimates exceed the 10 percent figure Rutter ascribes to male psychotherapists….
The clergy role carries a great deal of power in and of itself, and one of the most insidious aspects of that power is the role of "man of God." In some sense the minister carries ultimate spiritual authority, particularly in the eyes of a trusting parishioner who looks to him for spiritual guidance and support. But the male minister also possesses other forms of power: as a man, he carries the power society confers upon men and socializes them to hold over women, often in the guise of being their protectors. He is often physically stronger and more imposing. He may be an employer. He may also assume a teaching or mentoring role which encourages women to listen to his advice and correction. Often he also functions as a counselor, with all the transference inherent in such a relationship….
Many woman neither stop nor report pastoral abuse, for several reasons. First, they usually feel responsible. But as Fortune has written, even if a woman initiated the sexual contact out of her own need or vulnerability, the pastor, like a therapist, has the responsibility to maintain the appropriate boundary. It was not her fault. Society blames women for attracting men--rape survivors usually feel that they are the ones on trial. "She must have done something to provoke it." This is further compounded by myths and stereotypes portraying male pastors as sitting ducks for the seductive maneuvers of female parishioners….
Once a certain determination to think about leaving has taken hold in her, however, fear keeps her stuck. She fears that no one will believe her when it's her word against his. She fears that she will be the one held responsible. She fears losing her church, community, her personal reputation and, if she is employed by the church, her professional reputation. She fears his retaliation-- sometimes within the sphere of personal and church life, but also sometimes in the form of physical violence, rape, or threats of violence.
Most chilling, she fears his retaliation on the spiritual level. This aspect became increasingly clear to me in work with the survivors' group. It is difficult for others to comprehend the sheer terror that accompanies this form of abuse. But often because of the image of charismatic spiritual power that these men have asserted and fostered. the women's terror is akin to actually being cursed or damned. Sometimes this kind of threat is made explicit by the abuser. Its power is clearly demonic in nature and intensity-victims fear that their very souls will be stolen….
We need nothing less than a total paradigm shift: we need to stop treating the problem as only one of sexual morality, emotional instability or addiction, and address the power dynamics of these mostly hidden abuses. Only when this happens and the church stops engaging in denial and collusion can the church be a place of authentic power, healing and proclamation for both women and men.