It was difficult to turn on the radio yesterday and hear a grown man, on the verge of tears, saying that no amount of money would make him a ten-year-old boy again.
The judge accepted a $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the victims of clergy sexual abuse. But, even as the money changes hands, we all know that it’s not enough.
It has become my reluctant calling to pastor people who have been sexually abused by clergy. I say “reluctant” not because I don’t want to help the victims, but because I haven’t sought after any such ministry. Here, on my porch, with the sun rising and the haunting voice of that man in my mind, I’m writing about it for the first time. And yet, in each place that I’ve served, I have led people through the dark valley of betrayal, the self-inflicted guilt, the emotion-numbing addictions, in the hope of eventual healing.
You know what it is? As a pastor, once you have gone through an experience, and found the way out, you leave tracks on the road. Then, other people who are walking through the same dark path somehow sense that you’ve been there, and they come to you to so that you can lead them through it as well. That’s the beautiful thing about ministry.
Our family went through this horrendous experience, meaning that a member of my family was a victim of pedophile pastor. It shaped and formed everything in my life. If you’ve ever read Joyce Carol Oates, particularly We were the Mulvaneys, you can get a sense of the effect, the magnitude of the betrayal for everyone who’s related. Except that when a pastor’s involved, it’s a blow to your entire spiritual life as well.
At my first call in Abbeville, Louisiana, abuse shook the entire community as the acts of Gilbert Gauthe unfolded. Although the massive scope, sordid hiding, and abhorrent covering up of the cruelty made it even more painful, we know molestation and abuse is not just in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sally Morganthaler’s writing honestly about it, from another perspective.
I once heard a church historian explain that much of the molestation occurs because of our view of sex. Many Christians see sex as penetration (remember? “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”?).
We learn this message as high schoolers in the church. Home base is off limits. First, second, third, and a-l-m-o-s-t touching the plate, is okay. But no home runs.
Is celibacy the same deal? Surely, even if this is the case, we know that ten-year-olds should never be involved.
Strangely, this morning I find myself grieving with the victims. And, for some reason, grieving for the church as well. Maybe that’s because the church is not just an institution, it’s made up of people. And I know that we have a long, dark path we have to trudge through before we can find our way out.