This week I’m highlighting a very sensitive resolution so I’m going to present it as is without any commentary. I think it will speak for itself:
D047: Compassionate Care of Victims of Sexual Abuse by Clergy
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church calls upon all members of dioceses, congregations, institutions, and all affiliated organizations, individually and in community, to acknowledge that:
reporting clergy misconduct is a courageous and sacrificial act, demonstrating love for and trust in the church;
such reporting is an act of service to the church;
a victim has a right to expect our faith communities to respond with the love and compassion of Christ.
Resolved, That persons who have been subjected to clergy misconduct often suffer significant psychological, spiritual and emotional injuries, as well as injuries to relationships of family and community. The Church’s response to these persons should include a range of resources and assistance from highly qualified professional providers; and be it further
Resolved, That guided by current resources of The Episcopal Church and in consultation with local professional providers, each diocese is encouraged to assemble an array of service providers with appropriate skills for meaningful responses to the needs of the reporters of clergy misconduct and those affected by clergy misconduct, which resources shall include trauma-informed approaches; and be it further
Resolved, That Canon IV.8.1 be amended to read as follows:
CANON 8: Of Pastoral Response
Sec. 1. The Bishop Diocesan shall provide for appropriate pastoral response whenever any report is made to the Intake Officer. Such pastoral response shall embody respect, care, and concern for affected persons and Communities. The response shall be designed so as to promote healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected. If the report involves an allegation of Sexual Misconduct, the Bishop Diocesan is encouraged to provide for a pastoral response that will include the provision of assistance by a mental health professional with appropriate skills for meaningful response to affected persons.
As I’ve done recently, I looked for the explanation of this resolution submitted by the originators to get a sense of their intention. I think this explanation reveals the complexity and seriousness of this resolution. As a reminder, the explanation submitted is not part of the final wording which passed the 79th General Convention. And, the original resolution was amended to the final version cited above.
Quoting from the Memorial submitted by the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego on this topic:
“It has been 15 years since the Boston Globe exposed the horrific sexual abuse of children by priests within the Roman Catholic Church. There is now a general awareness that clergy sexual misconduct occurs in all denominations; however, it is a lesser known fact that adult women are more likely than children to be victimized by clergy. In fact, based on the size of our own diocese, statistics would suggest that scores of women who are active members of our congregations have been or will be victims of clergy sexual misconduct in their adult lifetimes.
“Reflecting this growing awareness within the past two decades, The Episcopal Church has striven to prevent clergy misconduct, primarily through its Safeguarding God’s People program. Further reflecting an evolving culture in which the reality of and the damage caused by sexual exploitation of women is increasingly recognized, the church has strengthened its response to clergy misconduct through the codification of disciplinary procedures in Title IV of its canons. . . In practice, the church lacks sufficient policies to facilitate the healing and recovery of victims. Indeed, studies suggest that at least 5 out of 6 adult victims who report sexual exploitation end up leaving their church as a result. Most leave the Church entirely. Many lose their faith.
“Literature, therapists, and victims themselves often attribute this alienation from the church not so much to the original clergy misconduct, but to retraumatization by both clergy and congregations during and after the reporting process. This re-traumatization often involves disbelief, minimization, slander, isolation, and shunning of the victim. This has been described as an effectual excommunication.
“In analogous situations outside of the church, whistleblowers are given legal protection, and creating a hostile environment is illegal in both workplaces and schools. There are no such statutes offering protection within one’s church. Yet, as followers of Christ and called to be a reconciling community, the church has an even greater obligation than a statute might mandate.
“Although an incident of clergy sexual misconduct always represents a failure of the church, this truth is often overlooked. The incident may even be treated as a failure on the part of the victim. Rather than promoting healing and reconciliation, this scapegoating of the victim, who is already deeply traumatized by the misconduct itself, results in deep emotional and spiritual anguish. It does irreparable harm to the victim. It is a missed opportunity for the community to grow into what it should be. And it greatly diminishes the Body of Christ.”
Please share this resolution with your church families so that compassionate care can be experienced by all that suffer from this kind of traumatic experience. For resources and support available within the Diocese of Michigan, contact our Intake Officer for Title IV, the Very Rev. Scott Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 313 831-5000.
Let us pray –
God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.
Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
Hear the cries of our brothers and sisters
who have been gravely harmed,
and the cries of those who love them.
Soothe their restless hearts with hope,
steady their shaken spirits with faith.
Grant them justice for their cause,
enlightened by your truth.
Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts,
heal your people’s wounds
and transform brokenness into wholeness.
Grant us the courage and wisdom,
humility and grace, to act with justice.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers and labors.
Grant that all harmed by abuse may find peace in justice.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
~ Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council