Today, the Pope apologized publically and asked forgiveness from those who were sexually abused by priests. Previous Popes wouldn’t have done this, I think, and I wouldn’t have believed them if they did. This Pope I believe, a number of reasons. Overall, he has a good track record on issues, he has condemned the actions of those priests and higher-ups who abused their power in the past and — most of all — he’s made changes in the way things are done to prevent it from happening in the future.
As my teacher from seminary, Carole Fontaine taught, the Hebrew word for forgiveness is “shoov” which means “turn around”, “go back” and it’s more than just asking God for forgiveness. It’s about doing different things. It’s grace, but not “cheap grace”. So the Pope and the Catholic Church did the asking the right way.
In the Protestant denominations, most churches have addressed THE issue of the 1990s in much the same way. In my denomination, the United Church of Christ, we got rid of pastors who abused parishioners or had them complete a “process of growth” before they were allowed to get near a pulpit. Then, after that, we established “safe church” policies to make sure kids weren’t alone with one adult, that there were ways to report issues, and so forth. The overall denomination certainly has policies to deal with the issue, but each church is supposed to come up with their own, so that it fits that particular situation. The important thing to know here is that we know how to keep children and others safe. If your church doesn’t have a written “safe church ” policy in place, either don’t go there or make sure they get one in place and follow it. Adults and children should never, ever have to worry about their safety in a house of God.
The church is supposed to be a sanctuary from evil, not a haven for it. Here’s what we know in the UCC: No pastor is ever to have sexual contact with a parishioner, staff member, or person they are in charge of. If there are two consenting adults, there might be ways to deal with it professionally, but the general rule, the starting point for the conversation is no. If your pastor makes a pass at you, or does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is wrong. They know that. It is on them, then, if such contact happens. Ask them/tell them to stop. If it doesn’t, get out of the situation , then tell someone until something changes. Until something is being done differently, you are not safe. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
I tell you this because I know there are people out there who don’t go to church because of abuse of harassment in the past. You should know that we (or most of us, anyway) have done something differently. We have attempted to fix the situation. It’s safe to come home now, safe to be with God.
Is it perfectly safe? Probably not 100% perfect. There are still corrupt, sneaky individuals, and systems out there that let them get away with it, I suspect. You don’t have to be with them. If you’re clergy, you don’t have to be them. If you can’t control yourself, get out of the situation before it gets worse and fix yourself before you hurt somebody’s soul and faith. Therapists, same thing, by the way, only there it’s “psyche” and “mind” you’re damaging.
If this has happened to you, reader, in the past, know that you didn’t do anything wrong. You are not at fault. God isn’t mad at you, not even close! I wouldn’t want to be the person who has abused parishioners and didn’t deal with it, didn’t change, didn’t care to do something, when judgement day happens. If it happened in the past, and that person is still out there, call the denomination. Tell your current clergy person, or another clergy person. We supposedly have done as much as we can. If we haven’t go someplace where they will. As Jesus says, “Come, you who are weary and overburdened. I will give you rest”.
As The Clash used to say, “These are your rights! Know your rights! ”
Resisting and hoping to bring you… peace,