Reflecting on predators in the Church
This week was the third time.
The other day I was talking with local clergy colleagues about how society has made safety into an idol. We discussed how the Gospel calls us to make sacrifices and take risks. That our lives, even apart from the Gospel, can never be made completely safe. To live is to risk. To live should not be to be harmed or abused. Jesus calls us to take risks and not to harm one another. We too often fail at both. The risks Jesus calls us to are to be made willingly, knowing what is being risked or sacrificed and knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
This week was the third time in 20 years of Church leadership (I’m both not that young now and was that young when I started), a cleric I know stands formally accused of sexual misconduct.* Sexual misconduct by any one is an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Abuse of all kinds, and especially sexual abuse or misconduct, is the stripping of another person’s privacy, bodily autonomy, and leaves lasting harm to a person’s ability to form loving and trusting relationships. Instances where a cleric is the offender are also a horrendous abuse of the trust invested in clergy. I am grieved at this news and feel horrible that my colleague (from another diocese and country and still my brother in Christ) has added to others’ challenge in finding what I have in my Church, a place where it is easier to see Jesus.
Three times in 20 years is a little more than once every seven years. The cognitive dissonance between knowing perpetrators are usually someone you would not suspect and that someone having a name, a face, and fond memories does not get easier. I did not know or suspect and was shocked to learn the truth. There is a temptation to call them monsters but I will resist it. Portraying sexual predators as monsters is part of how we make it easier to fail to notice and prevent the lasting harm of the actions of people we usually would not suspect. Even more, they too are beloved children of God, though they have committed horrible sins and need to face the full consequences, legal and ecclesiastical, of their actions.
I want to close with a promise that we can make at least the Church free from this kind of sin. I want the Eucharist and the sacraments to be able to draw us close enough to God that we are all transformed into people who do not harm others. Barring that, I want policies like those in The Episcopal Church’s Safeguarding God’s Children to be sufficient protection.
I can’t make that promise.
We can make ourselves and our spaces safer. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has information about staying as safe as possible, noticing warning signs, and consent here (link). This is my favourite article on how teaching consent (link). Please ask your Church leadership what they are doing to prevent sexual misconduct.
I pray for the victims. I do not know their names but, from other survivors of sexual abuse who have courageously shared their journeys, I am aware that healing is a long and seemingly endless journey.
I assure you that the God who made us, who has always loved us, allows nothing to be beyond God’s love—even when we cannot fathom the possibility of such love.