Interesting Article: “What to Do When Your Minister Is Accused of Abuse”

This article is a re-print from this link at SNAP (The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). I found it especially interesting that they caution people in how they respond to abuse allegations, if they believe in the innocence of the minister. In summary, the problem is that little eyes are watching. And in these tense moments the little ones around us are getting a message loud and clear: This is how people treat you when you come forward. People won’t believe you. People will turn on you and attack your family. It’s not worth it. It’s too ugly. You’ll be hated.

Please take time to read and share your thoughts with us:

What to do when your minister is accused of abuse

1) Remain open-minded.
The natural human instinct is to recoil from alleged horror, and to immediately assume that the allegations are false. But the overwhelming majority of abuse disclosures prove to be true. In every case, the proper and Christian response is to remain open-minded.

2) Pray for all parties involved.
Every person involved deserves and needs prayerful support.

3) Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise.
You may feel angry, betrayed, confused, hurt, worried and sad. These are all natural, “typical” responses to an allegation of sexual abuse. None of these feelings are inappropriate or “bad.” Don’t “kick yourself” for feeling any of these emotions.

4) Remember that abuse, sadly, is quite common.
It’s far more widespread than any of us would like to believe. Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be molested in their lifetimes.

5) Don’t try to “guess” or figure out who the accuser is.
Abuse victims, like rape victims, need their privacy to recover from their trauma. Openly speculating about who is alleging abuse is essentially gossiping, and helps to create a hostile climate that will keep other victims (even those abused by non-clerical perpetrators) from coming forward.

6) If you do know the victim(s), protect his/her confidentiality.
There are many good reasons why abuse victims are unable to publicly come forward. Often, the person wants to keep his/her elderly parents or young children from suffering too. Don’t compound the pain he/she is in by disclosing his/her identity to others.

7) Understand that abuse victims often have “troubled” backgrounds (i.e. drug or alcohol problems, criminal backgrounds, etc.)
Instead of undermining the credibility of accusers, these difficulties actually enhance their credibility. (When someone is physically hurt, there are almost always clear signs of harm; so too with sexual abuse. The harm is reflected largely in self-destructive behaviors. One might be skeptical of a person who claimed to have been run over by a truck but showed no bodily injury. Similarly, one might be skeptical of an alleged molestation victim who always acted like a “model citizen.”)

8) Don’t allow the mere passage of time to discredit the accusers.
Stress to your fellow parishioners that there are many good reasons why abuse victims disclose their victimization years after the crime. In most instances, victims come forward when they are emotionally able to do so, and feel capable of risking disbelief and rejection from precious loved ones, including family members, church leaders, other authorities, and fellow church members. Sometimes, they are psychologically able to do so only after their perpetrator has died, moved or been accused by someone else. Sometimes, they have been assured that their perpetrator would never be around kids again, but have learned that this isn’t the case.

(In other cases, it takes years before victims are able to understand and/or acknowledge to themselves that they have been sexually violated. This is a common defense mechanism.)

9) Ask your family members and friends if they were victimized.
Many times, abuse victims will continue to “keep the secret” unless specifically invited to disclose their victimization by someone they love and trust. Even raising this topic can be very uncomfortable. But it must be done. It may be very awkward and your family members may even act resentful at first. But soon they will remember that you really care about them, and will see your question as a sign of that care.

10) Mention the accusation to former parishioners and parish staff now living elsewhere.
They may have information that could prove the guilt or innocence of the priest facing allegations. This is especially important because sometimes abuse victims or their families move away after experiencing abuse.

11) Contact the police or prosecutors.
It’s your duty as a citizen to call the proper civil authorities if you have any information (even if it’s “second hand” or vague) that might help prove the guilt or innocence of the accused.
It’s your duty as a Christian to help seek justice and protect others from harm. Remember: abuse thrives in secrecy. Exposing a physical wound to fresh air, clean water and sunlight can be healing. Exposing sexual crimes is also ultimately healing. And remember that police and prosecutors are unbiased professionals with the skills and experience needed to ascertain whether an allegation is true or false.

12) Don’t allow other parishioners to make disparaging comments about those making the allegation.
Remember, the sexual abuse of children has terribly damaging effects. As a Christian, you want to help prevent such victimization. And you want anyone who is in pain to get help as soon as possible. Critical comments about those who make allegations only discourage others who may have been hurt. Such remarks prevent those who need help from reaching out and getting it. Show your compassion for abuse victims. Tell your fellow parishioners that hurtful comments are inappropriate. Remind them that they can defend their priest without attacking his accuser.

13) Educate yourself and your family about sexual abuse.
There are many excellent books and resources on the subject. There are also good books specifically about molestation by clerics (Jason Berry’s Lead Us Not Into Temptation, Frank Bruni & Elinor Burkett’s Gospel of Shame, and the Boston Globe’s Betrayal). Check out the web site for clergy abuse victims: SNAPnetwork.org

14) Support the accused priest PRIVATELY.
Calls, visits, letters, gifts, and prayers – all of these are appropriate ways to express your love and concern for the accused minister. Public displays of support, however, are not. They only intimidate others into keeping silent. In fact, it is terribly hurtful to victims to see parishioners openly rallying behind an accused priest. You may want to publicly defend a priest, collect funds for the minister’s defense, and take similar steps. Please don’t. Express your appreciation of the minister in a direct, quiet ways. Even if the minister is innocent, somewhere in the parish is a young girl being molested by a relative or a boy being abused by his coach or youth leader. If these children see adults they love and respect publicly rallying around accused perpetrators, they will be less likely to report their own victimization to their parents, the police, or other authorities. They will be scared into remaining silent, and their horrific pain will continue.

15) Don’t be blinded by the pain you can see.
The trauma of the accused minister, and those who care about him, is obvious. You can usually see it in his face, his posture, and his actions. But please try to keep in mind the trauma of the accuser too. Because you rarely see his/her pain directly, it’s important to try and imagine it. This helps you keep a balanced perspective.

16) Try to put yourself in the shoes of the alleged victim.
It’s easy to identify with the minister.. Most Christians have met dozens of ministers and know them as warm and wonderful individuals. On the other hand, few Christians have met clergy abuse survivors. In the gospels, Jesus calls us to identify with the hurting, the vulnerable, and the innocent, the hurting. Try, as best you can, to imagine the shame, self-blame, confusion and fear that afflict men and women who have been victimized by trusted religious authority figures.

17) Use this painful time as an opportunity to protect your own family.
Talk with your children about “safe touch,” the private parts of their bodies, who is allowed to touch those parts, what to do if someone else tries, and who to tell. Urge your sons and daughters to have similar conversations with your grandchildren.

18) Turn your pain into helpful action.
In times of stress and trauma, doing something constructive can be very beneficial. Volunteer your time or donate your funds to organizations that help abused kids or work to stop molestation.

19) Keep in mind the fundamental choice you face.
On the one hand, at stake are the FEELINGS of a grown up. On the other hand, at stake is the PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL AND SEXUAL SAFETY of potentially many children. If one has to err in either direction, the prudent and moral choice is to always err on the side of protecting those who can’t protect themselves: children. Remember too that it’s easier for an adult to repair his reputation than for a child (or many children) to repair his/her psyche and life. Another way to look at this: Being falsely accused of abuse is horrific. But actually being abused, then being attacked or disbelieved is far worse.

20) Ask your pastor to bring in an outside expert or a therapist who can lead a balanced discussion about sexual abuse.
Therapists understand and can answer the questions you and your fellow parishioners are facing, and help you deal with the emotional impact of this trauma too.

21) Urge your all church employees to follow these guidelines too.

For more information:
SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
David Clohessy 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Barbara Dorris 314 503 0003, SNAPdorris@gmail.com

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I think #14 is interesting. I agree the way in which you stand by someone you believe is innocent will strongly affect abuse victims and their ability to come forward. But I don’t know that total silence in public is what is called for.

Tell us what you think.

- Tamara

About isaiah 618

We are a group of former missionary kids (MKs) who all lived in Bangladesh at some point while Dr. Ketcham was a doctor there. Our parents served with a mission agency called Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE).
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4 Responses to Interesting Article: “What to Do When Your Minister Is Accused of Abuse”

  1. Josh says:

    Contact authorities should be first. I think number 14 should say privately but not alone. If he is an abuser, protect yourself.

  2. Number 11 about contacting the authorities should be the first thing that is done. Numbers 1 through 10 are in house things and are very good but should follow notification to the authorities. Especially number 10 should be done by the authorities who know how to collect evidence. Give the contact information to them.
    The emphasis that children are watching is very important. Also I have noticed that adults may remember what happened in an abuse situation five to ten years ago but the now teens know nothing about what happened, they were small children. I believe acknowledging to young people the abuse that has happened is important for them to know so they will feel free to report abuse because they know the church will support them.

  3. praying friend in Christ says:

    I’ve been following this blog for a few months now. I’m praying for all involved. I felt moved to share in the discussion today. I found the SNAP website years ago, and have appreciated and benefited greatly from it. One of our children was assaulted by a pedophile when they were a pre- teen. Once while playing a game, and once while playing a game in the pool. It took them over a year to tell us because the method pedophiles use is to make it appear to be an “accidental” touch, and then watch the child’s reaction. It wasn’t until my child heard a rumor on the bus that this neighbor’s uncle was “gay” that my child came and told me about the incident..because of the uncertainty of the way they were touched, and the fact that most people don’t automatically think that other people are “bad” people. I think this is evidence enough that when a child (or grown up who has been molested in the past) opens up with such an accusation it is so important to give credibility to the person who is making accusations. I’ll admit, when my child first told me, my inner reaction, my initial thoughts were-” this cannot be true.” I assumed in my mind that my child was probably confused about what happened. Those thoughts only lasted a few moments, and I never expressed them to my child. I think it is the natural reaction for most trusting people to want to deny the fact that there are people out there who do this to children. I also immediately realized that in spite of the fact that there were a whole spectrum of emotions whirling around inside of me, my child was watching me very closely to see what my response would be. I knew it was very important for my child to know that I believed what they were telling me. While I agree with point #3, I think when it comes to a child reporting the abuse to an adult, it is very important for the adult to allow the child to have their time to express their emotions freely without having to worry or be concerned about their parents’ reactions. As parents, we need to find the balance between letting our children know that we are absolutely in opposition to the behavior of the pedophile, and completely supporting our child, while at the same time, not letting our reaction be so big that it causes our child to shut down. Remember, most children, even without these circumstances, believe that they are the cause of their parents’ hurt, anger, happiness, sadness, etc. it’s part of being a kid. If the parent is reacting strongly, the child may feel like they have to protect the parent (especially if the predator is a family member or friend of the parents). I did have my meltdowns, but not in front of my child. The child may not come out with every fact right away. This is something we learned. Our child told us about the “smaller” bad touch, and then when they knew for sure that I was going to confront the mother of the family where the incident had occurred, they came forward with the other bad touch that was even more blatant.
    There is alot that we have learned through this experience. We did pursue this criminally, thanks to the wise insight of our pediatrician and a secular counselor that my husband and I happened to be seeing for marriage counseling. They both knew how these things go, far better than we could have known. The point is, that the Lord wouldn’t let me keep this information to myself. I did ask permission from my child before I talked to anyone about it. Although reluctant, my child trusted me enough to believe that if I felt we needed to talk to someone outside of the family about it, then we should. It was because of my pediatrician and our counselor’s wisdom and strong encouragement that we pursued our county’s child advocacy center, who then met with my child to hear the story. This case was then sent to the state police for investigation. The night before my child was to give a video- taped statement about the assault, was one of the hardest nights of my life. Knowing what they were going to be having to share the next day, I sat with my child as they cried for hours in fear of what was going to take place. Their biggest fear was “What if they don’t believe me?” I encouraged my child by saying, “It’s not your job to make them believe you, it’s only your job to tell the truth.”
    Maybe a year or two later (the time frame is a blur now) as we watched this man on the news being arrested and taken to federal prison because he was an established pedophile (who was doing the same and more in his own neighborhood) and was also found to be involved with international pornography, I said to my child, ” Well, _________ I think they believe you.”
    My child is now an adult, and strongly believes that going through the legal system, seeing this case resolved, and justice prevailing made a huge difference in how it impacted their life. I’m not saying it hasn’t left scars, but it has gone better for them than for others who haven’t had the opportunity to see justice pursued in their cases.
    I know this is long, and I understand if you need to edit it, but I wanted to share our experience because I do believe in my heart that when these situations arise, much as we hate them and wish they wouldn’t, if we seek God and His wisdom, He is faithful to give us the wisdom we need each step of the way. No one thinks ahead of time that they will have to face the challenges of child sexual abuse, so rarely is anyone prepared when it happens. But God who is faithful, promises to give us wisdom when we ask Him for it, without doubting.
    Talking about all this can be a good thing, but I believe we must be respectful to the victims by being sensitive to the audience and amount of people we share their story with -by that I don’t mean the authorities. That is never a question- the authorities must be told. As my pediatrician said to me,” If he did this to your child, you can be sure, he’s doing this to others.”
    I will continue to pray for ALL involved in this. For healing, repentance, truth and God’s glory to be seen in it all.

    • isaiah 618 says:

      Praying Friend,
      Thank you for sharing your story! I hope all our readers will take time to hear it, because it’s so powerful. I really appreciate what you said about response to the child (your child). Thank you again, for your vulnerability in sharing that intimate journey.

      - TR

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