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A Different Approach to Survivors of Abuse

A Different Approach to Survivors of Abuse

Thinking Anglicans today published an opinion piece by Andrew Greystone. Following on the recent publication of the Church of England’s inquiry into sexual abuse (see the Café’s previous coverage here). In Greystone’s words, describes, “’an entirely different approach’ in the church’s relationship with victims of abuse in church contexts.” Some excerpts:

Because the nature of abuse is ontological, healing from abuse is categorically different from other kinds of reparation. A victim of fraud may be compensated with money, such that reparation reaches a point of full repayment. If there is a dispute about damages, it may be resolved by mediation. A victim of accidental injury may be physically treated so that their wounds reach a point of complete healing. A person whose human identity has been radically traumatised by abuse will never achieve completion, but may have a lifelong struggle with issues of identity and value. Many church leaders understand this from their own experience, but Anglican ecclesiology and culture leaves very little room for leaders to acknowledge their own vulnerability in this area. As a result, most of those who carry the wounds of abuse themselves choose not to speak about them, or if they do, to insist that they have had no lasting effects.

…Abuse is constructed as an event requiring an economic and managerial solution, rather than a ruptured relationship requiring restoration. Instead of embracing victims as wounded strangers on the Jericho road, bishops greet each fresh revelation as a problem. That is why the church’s response over the last ten years has been to produce policy, mandate training, increase budgets, and refer to lawyers and insurers – and where possible to avoid or minimise responsibility. Of course the impact of this on a victim, who is continuing to come to terms with their ruptured personhood, is to see the church once again trying to impose its own identity, and to minimise the value of the broken individual in relation to the powerful institution. This is what victims sometimes describe as “re-abuse” – the contemporary church adding its endorsement to the messages of the original abuser. Very often a victim approaches the church thinking, “Perhaps disclosing my abuse could be a step towards rebuilding my identity?” In practice they find themselves face to face with a bishop thinking “How can I fix this new problem, whilst minimising the cost and reputational damage to the church?” Victims of abuse are often deeply shocked to discover that the church is going to adopt such an adversarial approach to them.

… Recognising that this individual has had their personhood ruptured by an agent of Christ, the bishop should invoke Christ for the restoration of that personhood. In practice this means that instead of taking a managerial approach to dealing with the consequences of sin, church leaders should take a restorative approach, seeking the welfare of the victim above all. Their first and continuing question should be “What can I (and we as the church) do to help this individual? How can we identify with the damage that we have done to their personhood, and enable them to flourish in the days ahead?” Those of us who walk with victims of abuse know that it is their own determination to flourish (or too often their belief that flourishing may never again be possible) that is uppermost in their minds and hearts, not financial recompense or legal resolution. The church, through its leaders, needs to find ways of saying from the outset, “The identity that was forced upon you by my colleagues in the church was untrue, and I am deeply sorry that we forced it upon you. From now on we will treat you with the dignity worthy of a child of God. What is more we hope and believe that you can flourish again, and we commit do everything within our power to making that possible.”

The full text of Greystone’s piece is available here.

On this side of the Atlantic, the response from the national church has been, well, typically Episcopalian. Last summer’s General Convention mandated the creation of a number of interim bodies to address the issue and report back. ENS reported that this work began in March. GC also passed a number of resolutions designed to create policy, change disciplinary canons where needed, and establish a “charter of safety” which will, “… by education and training to help clergy, other church personnel, and participants prevent the occurrence of abuse.”





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