15 December 2009

CHRISTIANS BEHAVING BADLY #14 - Clergy Sexual Abuse

This is a milestone: my 100th post.

One evening in the 1990's when I visited my mother, the TV news presented a segment about the current flurry of priests accused of sexual abuse.
My mother, who was in her 80's at the time, had always been embarrassed to talk about sex, but she suddenly opened up. She told me something I already knew, that Catholic clergy were not the only ones who were sexual predators.
I knew that most sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy was with adult women. Next came heterosexual abuse of girls. The Catholic church has been the one to receive most of the attention in sexual abuse cases, and I wouldn't doubt that is ---at least in part --- because most of the abuse has been homosexual. When it is heterosexual, I'm sure many don't consider the abuse to be quite as bad. But any child abuse is abuse. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse whether it be homosexual, heterosexual, with adults or children.
My mother had been a Christian of some Protestant sect or other her entire life. She started by telling me that in the 1960's at her current Presbyterian church, the teenaged daughter of her friend, Mrs. M., had been wooed by the married minister in charge of Christian education. The daughter was not a particularly savvy girl, which probably made her the perfect prey.
At first the minister paid extra attention to her. Her parents were pleased that he had taken the girl under his wing. Her parents were unaware when the attention had escalated to kissing and fondling. They found out it had progressed to intercourse after Mrs. M. asked her daughter about a ring she wore one day.
The girl finally admitted that the minister had given her the ring with a promise to leave his wife and marry her. She had just turned 16.
It took just a few minutes for Mrs. M. to be on the phone with the head pastor and several church deacons.
When it all came to light, unsurprisingly the minister had been asked to leave his previous parish for similar behaviors. And, in a flash, he was transferred to another church where he probably repeated his preadatory behaviors.
Any church that ignores such behavior, or slaps the offenders on theirs wrists and passes them on to other churches, shares in the abuse.

Then my mother told me a story of her own experiences with a predatory minister.
My mother's parents were deeply involved in their local church. My grandfather was the church treasurer and my grandmother taught Sunday school, helped to clean the church, and cooked for every church social event. They were good friends with Reverend X. and his wife and often visited at each others' homes.
My grandparents often asked one of their children to walk to the church to deliver bookkeeping sheets or cookies for a meeting. My mother told me that starting around the time she was 12, when she arrived alone, the minister would grab her and kiss her. At first she didn't understand what he was trying to do, but she squirmed away from him. Afterward, she tried to convince one of her sisters to accompany her to the church or else she would try to sneak in and out without Reverend X. noticing her. She was not always successful.
My mother was a sickly child and very shy. She was also small and frail. I'm sure the minister saw her as an easy victim.
My mother was afraid to tell her parents, after all they were friends of the minister and his wife. She was afraid no one would believe her. And she feared that if the incidents became public, she would be blamed for breaking up the minister's family. So she said nothing. This went on for more than 12 years and stopped only when she married my father, moved to a different neighborhood, and attended a different church.
Once, before she was married, she exited a bus on a dark evening on the way home from work. Walking to her home, she found a girl sitting on concrete steps crying. My mother didn't know the girl well, but stopped to ask if she could help. The girl was reluctant to speak to my mother, but finally admitted that Reverend X. had exposed himself to her. My mother told her about her own experiences. They both decided not to tell anyone else.
And that was the only person my mother had confided in until she told me her story more than 6 decades later. She had never told my father.
(Even though the creepy minister is long dead, I write "Reverend X" instead of his real name because some of his children and/or grandchildren are still living. There is no point in embarrassing them about something that happened so long ago and that they had no part in.)

The reason I am writing about this now, is that I recently happened upon a box of old books I hadn't looked at since my mother's death.
In one book I found this hand-written inscription:

"My mother's full name

May the grace of God aid you in the search for better things.

Your friend and pastor,
Xxxxxxx X. Xxxxx

April 10, 1927"
I hope my mother found better things than this creep once she was able to distance herself from him.
I wouldn't doubt that a part of my mother's revulsion of speaking about sex was because of the era in which she grew up, but I'm sure some of it was due to the behaviors of this sexual predator. He certainly betrayed the trust of two young girls and probably many more of his parishioners, as well as that of his own family.
In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is part of a series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.

4 comments:

Al said...

The Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission to help heal and support adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse worldwide. We are actively seeking adult survivors who would be willing to post a childhood photo and caption, their story, or their creative expressions to our website www.letgoletpeacecomein.org. By uniting survivors from across the globe we can help provide a stronger and more powerful voice to those survivors who have not yet found the courage to speak out. Together we can; together we should; together we NEED to stand up and be counted. Please visit our site for more details on how you can send us your submissions.

Thank you for everything you do!

Gretchen Paules
Administrative Director
Let Go...Let Peace Come In Foundation
111 Presidential Blvd., Suite 212
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Anonymous said...

Nice post & nice blog. I love both.

katie said...

i agree, this is a very important post. thank you for sharing this story. it's so awful how many people have suffered abuse of all kinds, but it seems especially horrible when abuse is perpetrated by supposed respected members of society. i suspect that is one reason pedophiles are drawn to jobs like the clergy, as it might make them appear more innocent and thus more trustworthy.

your poor mother. i'm glad she was able to tell you what happened to her. i think you have done a wonderful thing by telling her story for her.

i wish you both peace.

thank you for your blog~

C Woods said...

katie said:
"...I suspect that is one reason pedophiles are drawn to jobs like the clergy, as it might make them appear more innocent and thus more trustworthy."

Lot's of people think as you do, but there is another possible reason why such people seek jobs in the clergy. They know they have a problem and think if they are religious enough, pious enough, or pray enough that they will be "cured" by God. The problem is that it doesn't work.

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