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Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies address sexual assault

Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies address sexual assault

In a letter released today, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies, Rev. Gay Clark Jennings invite the members of the Episcopal Church to spend Ash Wednesday and Lent meditating on how “we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment.”  The letter speaks to the recent flood of allegations regarding sexual assault and rape, and calls us to greater self-awareness. The full letter is below in English then Spanish:

Dear People of God in the Episcopal Church:

In recent weeks, compelling testimony from women who have been sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men has turned our minds to a particularly difficult passage of holy scripture:  the story of the rape of King David’s daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13: 1-22). It is a passage in which a conspiracy of men plots the exploitation and rape of a young woman. She is stripped of the power to speak or act, her father ignores the crime, and the fate of the rapist, not the victim, is mourned. It is a Bible story devoid of justice.

For more than two decades, African women from marginalized communities have studied this passage of scripture using a method called contextual Bible study to explore and speak about the trauma of sexual assault in their own lives. Using a manual published by the Tamar Campaign they ask, “What can the Church do to break the silence against gender-based violence?”

It is, as the old-time preachers say, a convicting question. As our societies have been forced into fresh recognition that women in all walks of life have suffered unspoken trauma at the hands of male aggressors and harassers, we have become convinced that the Episcopal Church must work even harder to create a church that is not simply safe, but holy, humane and decent. We must commit to treating every person as a child of God, deserving of dignity and respect. We must also commit to ending the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church just as they corrupt our culture, institutions and governments.

Like our African siblings in faith, we must create contexts in which women can speak of their unspoken trauma, whether suffered within the church or elsewhere. And we must do more.

Our church must examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years. When facts dictate, we must confess and repent of those times when the church, its ministers or its members have been antagonistic or unresponsive to people—women, children and men—who have been sexually exploited or abused. And we must acknowledge that in our church and in our culture, the sexual exploitation of women is part of the same unjust system that also causes gender gaps in pay, promotion, health and empowerment.

We believe that each of us has a role to play in our collective repentance. And so, today, we invite you to join us in an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on February 14 devoted to meditating on the ways in which we in the church have failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment and to consider, as part of our Lenten disciplines, how we can redouble our work to be communities of safety that stand against the spiritual and physical violence of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Neither of us professes to have all of the wisdom necessary to change the culture of our church and the society in which it ministers, and at this summer’s General Convention, we want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future. May we find in our deliberations opportunities to listen to one another, to be honest about our own failings and brokenness, and to discern prayerfully the ways that God is calling us to stand with Tamar in all of the places we find her—both inside the church and beyond our doors, which we have too often used to shut her out.


The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President of the House of Deputies

Estimado Pueblo de Dios en la Iglesia Episcopal:

En las últimas semanas, el testimonio convincente de mujeres víctimas de acoso sexual y ataques por hombres poderosos, nos trae a la mente un pasaje particularmente difícil de las Sagradas Escrituras:  la historia de la violación de la hija del Rey David, Tamar, por su medio hermano Amnón (2 Samuel 13:  1-22). En este pasaje, una conspiración de hombres trama la explotación y violación de una mujer joven. Ella fue despojada del poder de hablar y actuar, su padre ignora el crimen, y el destino del violador, no el de la víctima, se lamenta. Es una historia bíblica desprovista de justicia.

Por más de dos décadas, las mujeres africanas de comunidades marginadas han estudiado este pasaje de las escrituras utilizando un método llamado estudio bíblico contextual para explorar y hablar sobre el trauma de la violencia sexual en sus propias vidas. Utilizando un manual publicado por la Campaña Tamar (the Tamar Campaign), las mujeres preguntan, “Qué puede hacer la Iglesia para romper el silencio contra la violencia de género”?

Es, según los predicadores de antaño, una pregunta convincente. A medida que nuestras sociedades han sido obligados a reconocer nuevamente que las mujeres de todos ámbitos han sufrido trauma tácito a manos de agresores y acosadores masculinos, nos hemos convencido de que la Iglesia Episcopal debe trabajar aún más para crear una iglesia que no sea solo segura, sino también sagrada, humanitaria y digna. Tenemos que comprometernos a tratar a cada persona como un hijo de Dios, que merece dignidad y respeto. También debemos comprometernos a poner fin al sexismo sistémico, la misoginia, y el abuso de poder que afectan a la iglesia, así como corrompen nuestra cultura, instituciones y gobiernos.

Igual que nuestras hermanas africanas en fe, debemos crear contextos en cuales las mujeres puedan hablar sobre su trauma tácito, tanto si lo sufrió dentro de la iglesia o en otro lugar. Y debemos hacer más.

Nuestra iglesia tiene que examinar su historia y llegar a un entendimiento más amplio de la manera en que manejó o manejó mal los casos de acoso sexual, explotación y abuso a través de los años. Cuando los hechos lo dictan, debemos confesarnos y arrepentirnos de las instancias en que la iglesia, sus ministros o miembros han sido antagónicos o insensibles a las personas—mujeres, niños y hombres—que han sido víctimas de explotación o abuso sexual. Y hay que reconocer que en nuestra iglesia y en nuestra cultura, la explotación sexual de las mujeres es parte del mismo sistema injusto que también causa brechas de género en la remuneración, los ascensos, la salud y el empoderamiento.

Creemos que cada uno de nosotros tiene un papel en nuestro arrepentimiento colectivo. Entonces, hoy, les invitamos a unirnos en un Día de Oración el 14 de febrero Miércoles de Ceniza dedicado a meditar en las maneras en que nosotros en la iglesia no hemos apoyado a las mujeres y otras víctimas de abuso y acoso y a considerar, como parte de nuestras disciplinas cuaresmales, cómo podemos redoblar nuestro trabajo para ser comunidades de seguridad que se opongan a la violencia espiritual y física de la explotación y el abuso sexual.

Ninguno de nosotros pretende tener toda la sabiduría necesaria para cambiar la cultura de nuestra iglesia y la sociedad en que ministra, y en la Convención General de este verano, queremos escuchar la voz amplia de la iglesia mientras definimos cómo proceder tanto en expiar por el pasado de la iglesia y formar un futuro más justo. Que encontremos en nuestras deliberaciones oportunidades para escucharnos unos a otros, para ser honestos acerca de nuestros propios fracasos y quebrantamientos, y de discernir devotamente las maneras que Dios nos llama a estar con Tamar en todos los lugares donde la encontramos—tanto dentro de la iglesia como más allá de nuestras puertas, las cuales hemos usado con demasiada frecuencia para excluirla.


Rvdmo. Michael B. Curry
Obispo Primado

Rda. Gay Clark Jennings
Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados


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Michelle Wright

With all due respect to the Presiding Bishop, it’s long past time for study and prayer. It’s too late for that. Repentance means that the church must act. I’m tired of empty words, no matter how noble they are. It’s time for the church to actually do something to protect future victims.

I was assaulted in church by my boss, a lay employee. When I reported it to the priest and to the diocese, nothing much happened.

The only action taken was a slap on the wrist for the perpetrator, where he was required to take a safe church class. These classes aren’t a hardship. They’re routine, and indeed, they’re required in the Roman Catholic Church.

He called me a liar.

He kept his job.

Something must be done so that the church can take concrete action, not only when clergy go astray, but when lay employees hurt their underlings. Otherwise, future victims will never be safe, and all of the talk of repentance, love, and justice will be meaningless.

Eric Bonetti

I wholeheartedly agree with Wendy.

It also is imperative that we reach a shared understanding that retaliation will not be tolerated. When I filed a Title IV complaint with the Diocese of Virginia asking it to mediate a situation in which I was being bullied by a member of the clergy, the diocese not only dismissed the matter as “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” it pointedly ignored multiple complaints that the priest in question had instructed parish clergy, staff, and lay “leaders” to shun us and exclude us from the life of the church.

To make matters worse, Bishop Shannon recently issued a pastoral letter claiming that these issues were investigated and resolved long ago, and decrying the unwillingness of family members to be reconciled. Given that most of those affected by this situation have not so much as received an apology, why on earth would he expect reconciliation?

As long as retaliation is okay, Title IV is a sham.

Eric Bonetti

PS I might even rephrase my statement that Title IV is a sham to say that it is a trap for the unwary. It promises respect, concern, healing, forgiveness and repentance, but when dioceses allow retaliation, Title IV offers pain, suffering, broken relationships, loss of faith and disruption to faith communities. The great irony, too, is that when retaliation occurs, it is a lose-lose situation. No one comes out the winner.

Ann Fontaine

Posted on General Convention Unofficial FB page by Jane Schmoetzer
“As I posted elsewhere, and with respect, I find this press release to be poorly done. If someone hasn’t yet heard “the voice of the wider church” on the issue of sexual harassment, they either haven’t been listening or they are not ready to take the issue seriously. And asking *all* to pray and atone for leadership who abuse the trust placed in them, either by acting or failing to act, is inappropriate. Quite bluntly, it strikes me as an “all lives matter” response to a “black lives matter” grievance.”

Yes– hard to believe they have not heard our voices. We have been crying at their door for years – like the persistent widow. I worked as an advocate for victims when Title IV was first passed. I had to give it up for my health — the lack of response was deafening. I don’t think that has changed much– especially when it comes to bishops.


[Wendy – please sign your first and last name when commenting. Thanks, editor]

Yes. Please include in safe church training as well as misuse of power in the form of psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse, that occurs with women perpetrators as well as men. These invisible types of abuse are hard to validate and cause devastating injury to the soul. Thank you for bringing these issues into the light.

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