If the abuse took place in a church setting, there can be devastating effects on the congregation. These effects result in special needs of the congregation which must be met. The congregational members may be in a state of denial; they may feel confused, betrayed, and they may be angry. Some of the members’ anger may be directed at the offending pastor; others may mistakenly direct their anger at the victim(s) for disrupting the life of the Church. The congregational members need to have a way to express their feelings, to deal with their anger appropriately, and to be told the truth. They need to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse. More importantly, they need to be ministered to by a pastor who understands the issue at hand and who can help them through this struggle to keep and even grow in their faith.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves…” Hebrews 12:5-6
The offending pastor, too, has needs to be addressed. It must be made clear that the pastor is accountable for the behaviors that were exhibited. It is important for the pastor to accept responsibility for the abusive behaviors. It is desirable for the pastor to be repentant; but even with repentance, the consequences for the abusive behaviors must remain. These consequences may take the form of restitution to the victim, counseling for the pastor, and/or removal from office. The goal of these consequences is to restore the offender to wholeness.
“And Jesus told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge…” Luke 18:1-8 RSV
Surveys indicate that between ten and twenty-five percent of pastors have committed sexual abuse. An accurate statistic of this type is difficult to obtain because of the nature of the abuse. We do know that victims are beginning to step forward, to speak the truth, and to report the abuse to the Church authorities. If the Church leaders do not adequately meet the special needs of the victims, oftentimes the result is that the victim turns to our legal system for vindication. It is essential that the Church seek to make justice in order for the victim to be vindicated within the Church setting. If this vindication were to occur in the Church, the victim most likely would not need to turn to our secular legal system for this justice.
“…and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely…” Jer 6:13-14 RSV
Even if the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not have ten to twenty-five percent of its pastors that have committed sexual abuse, there has been at least one. And, there has been at least one victim who tried to work within the Church system to get special needs met after being sexually abused by a pastor. The Church did not meet the needs of the victim, and as a result the victim felt there was no alternative but to seek justice in the legal system. Even if we are to naively believe that this is the only victim of such abuse by a pastor and such injustice by our Church, is not this one enough? One victim is too many. We, as a Church, must seek to understand how to make justice out of injustice and to do so if and when another victim of sexual abuse steps forward and makes that abuse known.
MEMORIAL (1991) - The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Subject: "To Address Sexual Abuse in the Church"
Pastors have been given a tremendous responsibility of caring for the people of God. The pastoral office is a position of great trust, and as such the pastor has great authority and power over others. When the pastor violates professional ethics and sexually abuses another, the effects of sexual abuse are even more profound and devastating than when sexual abuse occurs in the secular world. The Church needs to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse by clergy, develop educational programs for clergy, lay leaders, and congregations, and develop appropriate methods to meet the special needs of all involved when sexual abuse does occur.
Sexual abuse in this resolution is defined as a violation of professional ethics when any person in a ministerial role of leadership or pastoral counseling (clergy or lay) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a parishioner, client, employee, student, etc. (adult, teen, or child) within the professional pastoral or supervisory relationship. The dynamics of this issue are complicated. It is necessary for Church leaders, pastors, and congregations to understand these dynamics, and it is essential for the Church to seek out experts in this field to aid in understanding and in the development of policies that address this issue. One such expert is the director of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, Washington. The director, Rev. Marie Fortune, is well-known for her work in this area.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast;
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me down in the dust of death.” Ps 22:1-2, 14-15 RSV
Let us consider some of the effects and special needs in victims as a result of sexual abuse. The Church is oftentimes considered a “family” or an “extended family.” When sexual abuse takes place in this “family” setting, it can be viewed in much the same manner as incest. It also has similar consequences. The trust in this Church “family” can be hampered or even destroyed. If a pastor is the abuser, the psychological and spiritual effects are heightened. Unfortunately, most victims initially blame themselves for the abuse. If the victims move beyond self-blame, then they usually believe that not only the pastor and the Church are to blame, but that God, too, is to blame. For a pastor is God’s representative. Many victims turn away from their God, their faith, and their Church as a result of sexual abuse by a pastor.
Victims of sexual abuse have special needs. We, as a Church, can meet some of these needs and as a result can help restore victims to wholeness. Most victims need to be able to tell their story – to tell the truth. But they need more than this. They need someone not just to listen and to acknowledge the truth that is being told, but to listen with compassion. To listen with compassion means to suffer with the victim. This is the very least that we can do for victims of sexual abuse. Victims, also, as a part of justice-making, need the offender to be held accountable for his/her actions. This includes having the offender make restitution as a result of this calling to accountability. Victims must be vindicated; that is, victims are to be set free from the burdens that are being carried.