Dissecting the Lamb of God: The Other Devastation of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Article excerpt

What is truth? Truth is something so noble that if God would turn aside
from it, I would keep to the truth and let God go.
--Meister Eckhart

In October 2003, a group of psychotherapists from Male Survivor (the National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization) prepared for a weekend of recovery for 15 men from four Christian denominations who had been sexually abused by religious leaders: priests, ministers and nuns. We were five therapists coming from California, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts who facilitate weekends for male survivors of sexual abuse across the country. It took countless conversations and endless meetings with clergy abuse survivors to make this particular event happen. We had contacted other support networks for clergy abuse survivors of every faith: Protestant and Catholic Christians, Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus. There were no networks we could find for Muslims.

After months of research and interviews, we found a site that was not affiliated with any religious organization. We knew that most retreat centers have too many artifacts, statues, smells, and confinements that are reminiscent of both the Church and the sexual abuse. And, for many men, just going to a remote site in the woods was a reenactment of their past. There were some of the facilitators on the team who had to take extra personal care as well. We had our own personal histories with clergy sexual abuse.

We had spent a year networking with survivor groups, negotiating with the fear and rage of potential participants who did not trust that there could ever be a safe enough space or community to do the work of recovery. Many had not only been abused by clergy and revictimized by their Church's neglect or disdain, but also violated by the therapeutic community as well, either by bad boundaries, incompetence, or outright sexual violation.

It was our goal to make the weekend affordable for any participant who wished to attend. None of the facilitators were compensated for the work. We also asked men to have their churches pay for the weekend, but most of the churches refused to do so. However, every single man who wished to was able to come, with scholarship funds and help from past weekend participants.

Before the retreat, as we prepared for the weekend, one of the Jewish therapists wondered aloud, "Why will this weekend be so different than any other weekend of recovery for survivors?" His question was reminiscent of Jewish Passover, when the youngest child of the house is supposed to ask "Why is this night different from all others?" Were these individuals and their experiences any different from all the others who had experienced a mutation in their rite of sexual initiation--the loss of trust and safety in relationships, loss of the sense of body, of boundaries, the confusion, the self-destruction, the numbness, the deadness, the despair, the shame?

We would realize soon enough that this particular weekend was quite different. For these men, their deepest sense of spirit had been contaminated. The family of the family, which is the Church and the culture that supports it, had often betrayed in action what it had spoken in word. Western notions of suffering, sin, and God, and the Eastern concept of karma, had been bastardized to fit the needs of the perpetrators. Frequently, families sided with the Church, which is not supposed to fail any of the people of God.

For Judeo-Christian survivors of clergy abuse, the inherent theology of God as father and Church as protector seems a sham of in the light of one's unwordable experience of self, and of soul. The Catholic catechism, for example, indicates that a child is responsible for his actions at seven years old, the age of reason. This means that a child who has barely begun to read should know how to stave off an assault. He should be able to comprehend the complexities in a skewed relationship with one the world said was most trustworthy. …