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In light of priest scandals, all faith communities must change

In light of priest scandals, all faith communities must change

The Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Nathan LeRud, in the Sunday Oregonian.

The Episcopal Church’s record in regard to sex abuse is far from spotless. Our priests and lay leaders have been guilty of horrible crimes, and our institution has tended to protect the powerful at the expense of their victims. Although my denomination has different structures of authority in place that have helped to mitigate against the scale of abuse other denominations have seen, this is not a moment for any faith community to claim moral high ground. When one part of the body suffers, all suffer. Many faithful people, and not just Roman Catholics, will have to answer for the sins committed by some clergy. I feel this in a visceral way when I walk down the street wearing a white clergy collar. In that moment, it doesn’t matter how my denomination’s practices and policies may differ from another’s: I represent a faith tradition that has damaged thousands of lives. The pain and trauma experienced by some in our midst is the responsibility of us all.

Therefore, all faith communities – not just Roman Catholic communities – must work for change. Becoming communities of radical hospitality requires that we become communities of trust, where the integrity of pastoral relationships is preserved and protected. At Trinity, we are looking closely at our screening and monitoring policies around sex abuse. We have been scrupulous over the past decades in screening and monitoring those who work with children, and now we are expanding our policies to all volunteers who represent the Cathedral, whether they’re teaching church school, singing in the choir or serving the homeless. Abuse doesn’t just happen to children. Congregations must learn how to look out for each other and treat one another with respect and dignity, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ability or creed. Not because our liability insurance requires us to, but because this is the kind of people Jesus calls us to be.

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Eric Bonetti

As I continue to say, loudly and often, it’s important to remember that abuse need not be sexual in nature. Often it’s relational, financial, spiritual, or emotional. All of these exist along a continuum, and abusers rarely limit their misconduct to any one category. On the other hand, one can have a spotless record when it comes to sexual abuse, yet in every other way be horrifically abusive. We must learn to recognize and oppose abuse and oppression in all their forms, particularly when the abuser is a person in a position of real or perceived power. And to John’s larger point, Ann Fontaine pointed out many times that she had seen many experiences of abuse in the church, including her own experience in being persona non grata in some circles for opposing abuse.

Philip B. Spivey

Yes. Critical to unpack the term ‘abuse’. There are several kinds human abuse. They include: physical; mental/ psychological; emotional/verbal; financial/economic; cultural-community/ personal-identity, and…sexual. Each is an act of violence. Each qualifies as an intentional form of human cruelty.

N.B. Alcohol (and other drugs) used to ease social interactions can also fuel boundary violations of all kinds. Not a necessary prerequisite to instances of personal abuse, but highly correlated with them.

Philip B. Spivey

In God’s one Holy and Apostolic Church, many of the faithful are feeling Betrayed: denial, minimization, intellectualization, anger and scapegoating are (ineffectual) ways to deal with this most profound of injuries. But each of us must acknowledge that these abuses, which have been always there, were the worst kept secret in the Church. We were complicit in keeping this “family secret” because until very recently, no one has been held accountable for these crimes. But, why now?

Perhaps now is the time to reckon openly with this institutional evil because it’s become too public to deny anymore; the casualty numbers continue to mount. Perhaps the sheer weight of this centuries-old evil has finally brought the Church to its spiritual “bottom”; because of these revelations, we can no longer avert our gaze . And just maybe, God’s grace will bring us through this crisis so that we can find a new humility, i.e., placing justice before ego.

May the healing begin.

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