Clergy Sex Abuse. It’s Not What You Think.

The grand jury investigation out of PA released last week, which shed light on the church’s futile attempts to conceal hundreds of cases of sexual assault, was not easy news for me to process.

Catholicism is my faith paradigm. I was raised and formed to believe that this is where God is! Growing up, we learned that priests were people called by God to help us experience God’s grace in the sacraments. I remember learning , when I was seven years oldpreparing for First Penance and First Eucharist, that priests act in persona Christi, in the the person of Christ, when they are ministering the sacraments. As a little kid, this left quite the impression on me, as I’m sure it did for many children. For this reason, when a priest perpetrates an act of sexual assault it’s particularly scandalous. These are the people we expect to be the closest to God. How could they act in such a way that is so un-God-like?

Sexual exploitation, including abuse, assault and harassment, and the silencing of victims are not crimes exclusive to Catholicism or organized religion. Gymnast Kayla Moroney was paid to sign a non-disclosure agreement by USA Gymnastics when she reported that Dr. Larry Nassar- who was later tried and sentenced to 60 years for criminal sexual misconduct- had been abusing her since 2011. Sexual assault is a particular issue on college campuses, in the military and in the restaurant industry. The #metoo movement, which was actually founded before the existence of hashtags and went viral after women in entertainment started talking about sexual harassment and assault. Most surprisingly, despite claims to follow strict protocol about consent and protection from sexually transmitted diseases, members of the adult film industry are beginning speak publicly about their own horrific accounts of sexual violence that they’ve experienced on set. Producers and directors have gone to great length to <a href=;>silence victims, and cover-up criminal wrongdoing.

Clergy Sex Abuse. It’s Not What You Think.

The adult film industry- an industry who promotes sex for pleasure and the Catholic Church- an institution who claims that sex is an act of true self, are both plagued by rampant allegations of sexual assault, and both are employing the same methods to keep this problem a secret. While I was researching today’s video, I stumbled upon this quote from an article in the Salt Lake tribune

“If a female performer says something about an on-set experience there will be 100 responses, and many are saying, ‘This is what you do for a living,'” said attorney Karen Tynan, who has represented performers and directors in sexual harassment claims.”

When I’ve shared about my own experience of sexual harassment in pastoral ministry, I was surprised that people close to me have responded in almost exactly the same way, “this is what you do for a living-“ meaning that I should expect or even tolerate harassment (or worse) because I chose to stay aligned with a faith paradigm which has not yet come around to embrace women’s ordination.

Although I do think it needs to change, I would not name the patriarchal culture of the institutional church as the cause for sexual harassment and abuse. Nearly half of the best -director nominees at the 2018 AVN awards were women. The adult film industry considers itself to be progressive and supportive of women’s empowerment. If this was about the church’s supposedly antiquated views on gender & sexuality, why is an industry with diametrically contrasting views plagued by the very same problem?

There are voices within the clerical system and outside of it who claim a latent homosexual subculture among our ordained is the reason why it is so difficult to confront systemic sexual misconduct. I would disagree with this statement as well. The adult film industry thrives on diversity of sexual preference, orientation and predilection.

Finally, I would hesitate to say that celibacy is the problem. Organizations which do not require celibacy of their leaders, and even demand the opposite, are going to great lengths to conceal an epidemic of sexual violence.

Who do you serve?

The readings for this coming Sunday call us evaluate our relationship with God and plant our feet on a path of freedom from sexual exploitation.

Who are you? Who are you really serving? Do you serve God? Have you deified your ego? Is God an imaginary friend you confected in a theological Build-a-Bear shop?

Joshua addresses the tribes at Schechem and says…

If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve…
but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

We have two options for the second reading. The first one avails itself to misinterpretation and the alternate, Ephesians 5: 25-32 is slightly redacted

If you feel confident enough to preach on the longer version of the second reading, you can read more about this passage here. Regardless of which form you use, in the context of the other two readings, this Paul’s letter is more about the Ephesian ideal of marriage as a metaphor for church, than speaks about Church as metaphor for marriage.

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds the apostles that the Spirit is life, but the flesh will fail to satisfy. It was such a difficult teaching that some of Jesus followers had left, and Jesus gave them the option to leave, as well. Ultimately, Simon Peter decides to stay, as he is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. He asks, “Lord, to Whom should we go?”

Who’s in Charge?

I think that a lot of the brokenness we experience in the world today-most especially the sexual exploitation which leads to assault that is rampant both in the Church and the adult film industry — is a ritual practice of religion which deifies the ego, which transforms the body into the moldy bread of low self esteem, and transforms the blood of the vulnerable into the cheap wine of power. It’s the opposite of Christ. Jesus said, “the flesh is to no avail.” If we look within our bodies to soothe our souls, the relief is temporary. The Spirit, unconditional self-love, God, is forever.

As I’ve mentioned before in earlier vlogs, you are created in the image and likeness of God. You are a beautiful, beloved creation, with gifts and talents that only you can bring to the world. I believe that exploitation exists because we have neglected this truth- that each one of us is a beloved by God.

Our society does not promote this value. It encourages us to find our identity on what we can do with our bodies and minds, both in the workplace, as workers, as earners, as top-performers in school, in business and in sports, and in our personal lives as partners, as mothers, as fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. We have a lot of kids —-and adults too- —- who are going through life feeling very confused, feeling like they need to spend lots of money, take lots of pills and have lots of complicated surgeries because their identity is founded on being male or female— and when their predisposetions are not in alignment with biology—-society says that there is something wrong. Women are encouraged to abort fetuses that show even the slightest signs of deformity. We live in a culture that relegates people to the function of their bodies.

Our bodily identities are transitory. The advancement of new technology can relegate professions that were once lucrative into obsolescence. Eventually graduation comes around and the top student is now about to enter the workforce. Athletes retire. Relationships don’t always last forever. The responsibilities of motherhood diminish as children grow and establish their own independence. As humanity makes progress, gender roles have become less distinct. Nothing about our identity is guaranteed by biology or society.

So who are you? For me, it’s not always so easy to answer that question, but my best answer is not rooted in what society or biology says I should do. Rather, I answer that question in relationship to God. God is something greater than me and God has named me. This something greater than me has called me to something good in this world. That’s all I know. What about you?

Who do you serve? And where do you go? Do you really serve God, or do you serve the God of your imagination? That kind of God isn’t really God at all, but unfortunately, the God of who we want God to be is the God is the God who was idolized when acts of sexual abuse were concealed in the name of protecting priest-offenders. That God is as much God as the God served by the sex offenders of the adult film industry. It’s not God. It’s selfishness. That’s the “flesh” Jesus was talking about.

True freedom from sexual exploitation-in Church, in entertainment, in schools and work- asks us to stop playing God, to stop making God out of the clay of words, to acknowledge a higher power, a more expansive mystery beyond the self. For the non-believer, this can be as simple as saying, “hey, there is a positive and loving force that’s bigger than me. I’m not in control of all this, and I don’t have to be.” For the believer, this could mean divorcing ourselves from our own expectations of how God is supposed to act. For church leaders, it might mean that we have to stop trying to stop using God’s words or authority we believe to be given by God to justify wrongdoing. This kind of freedom is freedom from the desire of the flesh to be right, to be in charge, to be in control. This is real peace that we can find in God and God alone.

To whom will you go? As for me and my house, we choose something greater than just us.

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