Spiritual Life of a Clergy Abuse Survivor

Broken crossFor the last few days, I’ve been obsessively researching spiritual life issues of clergy sexual abuse (CSA) survivors. Why? Because I am one, and because I think my reluctance to go to church now is directly related to my experience. Actually, I know it is, although I didn’t really put the pieces together until the other day.

It happened over 20 years and several states ago, and lasted for almost 3 years. Not intercourse but inappropriate behavior and relationship with someone who was my spiritual advisor. It left me a mess but it wasn’t something I felt safe talking about for seven years, after a particularly horrible case of CSA by a Massachusetts Catholic priest. I read media coverage for months before it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, what they were describing applied to me.

Long story made short – I went to my bishop and worked through my church process to name my abuser, who admitted his actions. And then fought with the church for years to get therapy paid for, and to have the original congregation told. That never happened the way it needed to and he was not defrocked, although I was not the only victim.

Through it all I went to church, sang in the choir, served on the vestry and committees, and even thought I had a call to the ministry. That was squashed by my then-bishop, who later turned out to be an abuser himself. He said I had a problem with authority. I wonder why.

I stopped going to church regularly about 6 years ago. I wanted a break from the choir director I wanted to murder every time he opened his mouth in what felt like abuse. At first it was just weird but it was also almost a physical release to not sit in a pew, listen to the words of the service, sing the hymns. I missed the choral singing that the choir did but that was really about it.

I haven’t been able to make myself to go church for more than a few services here and there over this whole time, and those usually on family visits. So why did I think it would be different for me moving here? I guess it’s just that I’ve always joined a choir and church when I moved to a new place and this is the first time it hasn’t been something that I’ve done or wanted to do.

Church doesn’t feel safe. I don’t trust the clergy, mostly men. My understanding of God as Creator has gotten bigger or just morphed to something more feminine. I haven’t been doing extensive reading or researching to find a spiritual home. I just know that church isn’t it. And I haven’t really grieved the loss.

It was greatly reassuring to talk with a fellow survivor a few days ago, someone who worked through her own abuse case at the same time I did, and have her tell me that it was incredibly normal for me to feel this way, to be having problems with my spiritual life even while other things have gotten better.

All of this is related to eating and being somewhat disconnected from my body. I’m going to just be very gentle with myself right now and try to eat what I need, in moderation, while I spend some time on my inner self, while I’ve neglected.

3 thoughts on “Spiritual Life of a Clergy Abuse Survivor

  1. vickie

    I am so sorry for all that you had to go through.

    After I thought about your love of music – I wondered if there were non church choirs that you might consider. Many of these do their own (non church) missions – like singing in retirement homes, schools, hospitals, etc. I could see you enjoying that type of “work”.

    I think it is truly wonderful that you are ready to start “coloring in” parts of your life that you feel you are ready to fill/explore.

    My world gets smaller as I work through things. It makes total sense to me that other’s lives get bigger as they work on things.

  2. vickie

    I also immediately thought about what I say to my girls – not to trust a priest, a policeman, a fireman, or anyone that we know – 100%. To be kind, but to always be on guard. It is so hard to know how much is my always feeling like I have to be prepared – my own crazies where I have to be ready for the worst case situation at all times – and how much is reality.

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