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How do you talk to someone who has been hurt by church?

How do you talk to someone who has been hurt by church?

Image from the Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month campaign. The campaign takes place every January.

It can be hard for people who have suffered abuse to speak about their experiences, and it’s important that when they do, we find a way to listen and support them.

Writing in Relevant magazine, John Hollingsworth explores some unhelpful responses to church abuse stories, inspired by the manipulation and exploitation he experienced during a mission trip.

The responses range from compelling the abuse victim to think about unity and reconciliation instead of their hurt, to direct admonishment about the tone or emotions of the person sharing their story. In each example, a common theme is that the person hearing about church abuse is worried more about defending the church than supporting the person sharing their story.

Read the six responses, and let us know what you think; if you’ve had these experiences, what happened, and how did people respond to you? How do you think people should respond?


Posted by David Streever



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What do you say about a Bishop who is loved by the congregation of his own Diocese being hurt? Recently, due to a financial dispute which occured in a leading school a Bishop of the Diocese was compelled to give in his voluntary resignation which is said to be a result of disciplinary action taken against him. The accusations levelled against him are false and biased, and we can prove it, however, the Arch-bishop of Canterbury is not willing to reverse the situation. The irony here is that the comissary who was sent to look into the matter is a friend of the people who have truly misappropriated the missing multi millions and so is the provincial registrar. The whole church is in turmoil and disarray. All our communiques on the truth of the issue has fallen on deaf years. We have a true apostle of christ crucified by the church!!!

(Please use your full name (first and last) when commenting in the future – thx, Ed.)

Cynthia Katsarelis

Paulina, that sounds very sad. I don’t know the situation. I have followed the Church of England to some extent and I can’t fathom many of their ways. They just picked a bishop who advocated for “male headship” for example. In America that is unthinkable, partly because it’s theologically and historically untenable, but mostly because we would consider the fruits of that decision on women and girls in that diocese. We have MLK who said that it’s immoral to ask anyone to shoulder an unjust burden for the comfort of the few. So the pick of that particular bishop is spiritual abuse of girls and women, from an MLK formed viewpoint.

Perhaps there are times when leaders suffer injustice, but they need to leave so things can be brought right again. However, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed rigorous moral thinking from the last two ABCs, so I wouldn’t trust that this is the case in your situation.


I survived what I considered to be a spiritual massacre by a prayer group. They felt that their spirituality was right on target but that we (two of us) were misguided/satanic/whatever because our prayer practices were different . . . we were contemplative and intercessors. They started spreading rumors around the church. The priest did nothing about it (not surprising) and others thought that we should just accept that criticism and change our ways. I came out of it feeling like my soul had been placed on their altar, brutally sacrificed, and left there to bleed out and rot. I ultimately let them know that was how I felt . . . their response was that I was a bad person for saying that about them.

I got a lot of the platitudes discussed in the article. The only real help I got was from a therapist who was familiar with the parish. He said, “churches are like hospitals for sick souls. Unfortunately, your parish is the intensive care unit.” It finally gave me perspective and internal permission to walk away and not look back. This was 30+ years ago. To this day I am still told that I need to forgive the perpetrators and understand their perspective as less mature christians.

I have never been able to totally walk away from what happened – it affected so much of my life and that of my children. It was the mother of their friends who started it and the priest who allowed it to perpetuate. (He was later turned into the bishop for sexual inappropriateness.)

I will most likely go to my grave feeling guilty that I couldn’t reconcile with those people because I have heard it over and over that I needed to do that and forgive them. It has been easier to release my feeling about my father’s inappropriate actions with me than releasing this issue.

Please post using your first and last names when commenting at the Lead. – ed

Eric Bonetti


There’s a difference between letting go and moving on, which is essential to closure and itself a form of forgiveness, and feeling guilty because you’ve been hurt and still feel the pain. Based on what you’ve told me, you’ve done nothing wrong. If you can, pray for the perpetrators, move on, love life. But don’t feel guilty.

Eric Bonetti

A good amount of spiritual abuse comes from clergy who will not act to set boundaries, whether around their own behavior or that of parishioners or staff. Our schools, for example, often prohibit bullying and harassment. Corporate America does the same. But complain about this sort of behavior in a parish setting and you will be told that you are “not calm,” or that you should not take it personally. Or that the clergyperson can’t address the issue because he or she doesn’t like confrontation.

Jesus overturned tables, but all too often, our clergy’s primary role is to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable.

Linda McMillan

“When a part of the Body is dis-membered, it’s almost impossible to re-member them, because their memory of that is just too painful; one of shock and shame and horror and grief…”

Shock, horror, shame, grief.


A priest in another parish asked me not to attend mid-week services there because of my rector’s “need to worship away from parishioners.” The shock and shame of being excommunicated is a strong memory. I’m a very active lay leader as well as a professional, so realizing this could happen to anyone frightened and angered me. I decided to stay and help prevent this for others, and it preaches like a dream: “When a part of the Body is dis-membered, it’s almost impossible to re-member them, because their memory of that is just too painful; one of shock and shame and horror and grief. People do not un-church themselves. We do it.” So don’t! Amen.

(Cynthia, we ask that you use your full name (first and last) when commenting, thank – ed.)

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