Harvey Weinstein was a lot worse than my abuser, but no abuse is acceptable. Facebook and Twitter, and the news media that reports on both, are filling up with #metoo stories that make me cringe and my skin crawl. But I am so proud of those who are able to name their stories, to tell their own tales with authenticity and courage.
My story happened in Virginia in another lifetime. I am an Episcopalian and was seeing our local priest for counseling that got out of hand. Where do you go when the person you are seeing for help is the one who is acting out? I settled on food to change my body size, to make myself as unattractive as possible, and a geographic solution with a move to Maine in January. Not exactly the best time to move, but I needed to get out and found a way.
Feeling safer there, I told a Maine priest that something had happened that was wrong and I didn’t want anyone else to endure the same. I was basically patted on the head and told to let it go. It didn’t sit well but I did it. Believing I was called to ministry, I began the process to seek ordination – and was told by my bishop that I had a problem with intimacy and authority and needed to be more involved as a lay person. Hmmm. Okay. Vestry member, choir member, hospital visitor, altar guild member, stewardship chair obviously not enough activity.
Moved to Boston. In 1992, news broke about Father James Porter and child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I began to cringe and had trouble concentrating. One day in my diocesan newspaper I saw a tiny ad for a booklet on clergy sexual abuse. It was only $5 and I figured that no one would know that I had it. I’d read the booklet and then move on. Except I couldn’t. From page one, that booklet described what happend to me. I was in tears after a few pages, holding my stomach and shaking. It had happened to me. And I needed help.
The booklet was dedicated to a Boston therapist the author had worked with, who happened to practice in my town of Brookline. I called her office on a Friday about an appointment before I lost my nerve; much to my shock, she had an opening on Monday morning. She asked me to read “Is Nothing Sacred” by Marie Fortune if I had a chance before then. Working on a university campus with a theology library next door made that easy.
Twenty minutes into my appointment, the therapist stopped me and told me that there was no question that what had happened to me was clergy abuse, that is was highly probable that the priest had a sex addiction, and was or had abused others. It was shocking how much that relieved me. I didn’t make it up, I hadn’t blown it out of proportion. It had happened, it was wrong, and there was damage.
My diocese had a process for dealing with such things. I went to my bishop with an advocate and a written statement that took me 45 minutes to write after 7 years of living with it. He read it, put down his glasses, looked me in the eye, and apologized to me for the hurt that this had caused me. He believed me. And he did something about it, writing immediately to the bishop in my former diocese where my abuser lived. I got a call from that bishop within a week, telling me that the abuser had been called into the bishop’s office, confronted with my statement, and had confessed.
It was done but not done. I had expected it to take weeks, months, years, and even then, didn’t believe that the abuser would ever acknowledge that what he did was wrong. So I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Long, long story involving many letters and much therapy. My abuser was required by HIS bishop to pay for my therapy as well as his own. I asked that my former congregation be told what had happened, which didn’t materialize. However, they WERE required to have a workshop on clergy sexual abuse. I kept going to church until I couldn’t anymore. Until my anger at the church spilled over and turned my joy into something broken.
Oh, and the bishops. The Bishop of Maine turned out to have been having affairs with married women. And the Bishop of Massachusetts not only turned out to have ALSO been having affairs with married women, but he committed suicide as news was about to break about it. He was the one who had heard my story, who had believed me, and who took action. But my trust was broken. More clergy in positions of power who were not behaving well. I even wrote to the Presiding Bishop about a letter that appeared over his name after the suicide, in which he described the pressures of being a bishop. I told him he was NEVER to equate the pressure of being a bishop, a role that was deliberately taken, with the pressures of being a VICTIM and a SURVIVOR.
I kept those letters, that initial statement, the therapy word collages, my notes, for over 20 years. I would pull them out periodically to look at, reminding myself how far I’d come. My letters are articulate and thoughtful, and very powerful. I finally was ready to let them go when I moved to Texas. I took the files in to work and shredded everything – not to preserve privacy, but because there was power in shredding. I felt lighter. I still have trouble with intimacy and authority, and I still have trouble with church. Not with God, but church.
I still have a huge weight problem and deep inside I know I don’t want to look like someone who is likely to attract sexual harassment. No one does that to fat people, they hurt us in other ways, but I’m used to those. I want to be brave and strong and honest and whole. That last one takes more time than we think. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk opened the wounds again. But I will heal.