In an energetic book launch featuring Jamaican drummers and an Indian 'Bollywood' dance lesson, the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) released a new publication seeking to break the silence on sexual abuse of women by clergy within the church.
The launch took place on 19 May 2011 at the World Council of Churches (WCC) sponsored International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) being held in Kingston, Jamaica.
Titled When Pastors and Priests Prey, the book aims to raise awareness about identifying, preventing and overcoming clergy sexual abuse of women, according to Christine Housel, General Secretary of the WSCF. “We hope that this effort will begin a cultural transformation within the worldwide church.”
The book, which was supported by the WCC Women in Church and Society project, offers insights from researchers, advocates and survivors. Also included is a speech by former President Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World Religions in which he states: “The truth is the male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
Dr Fulata Lusungu Moyo, WCC programme executive for Women in Church and Society, called the compilation “a prophetic project.”
For many of the book's contributors, sharing their story became a form of therapy, said Moyo. “When we read their stories, we realise they have moved from being victims to survivors. They have become healers – wounded healers.”
One of the book's contributors described the manipulation her pastor used against her after sexually abusing her: “He taught that to follow Jesus Christ meant we must forgive each other every sin against us. He begged me for forgiveness. He blamed me for causing his temptation. I blamed myself and tried to avoid being attractive. Nothing worked.”
Even as the book's contributors detail painful stories of abuse, they also acknowledge the clergy themselves can help lead the battle against future sexual abuse by pastors and priests.
In her essay about clergy abusing women in Congo, Esther Lubunga Kenge writes that the abusive acts shrouded in secrecy must be brought into the light. “Those who were hiding behind the silence of victims should face the exposure of their actions to the public. Thank God not all clergymen are rapists,” she writes. “God has genuine shepherds of the flock ready to sacrifice their lives for the sheep.”
Dr Valli Batchelor, the project's coordinator, said that if the silence surrounding abuse is broken, only then will there be change.
“Victims are often so trapped in confusion, guilt and self-blame,” she said. “Women victims are likely to remain silent and, as a result, suffer severe depression and higher rates of suicide.”
Inviting women to talk about their trauma was an integral part of compiling the book, said Batchelor, who was born into a Hindu family and then baptised in the Christian faith.
As Batchelor invited IEPC participants at the book launch to dance, she told them she finds that physical movement helps people relax and release trauma. In the book, she writes: “I have found that the dance medium is both expressive of the emotional hurts and needs of violated women and children as well as being cathartic and liberating for the individual in participation in group dramatic dance.”
Batchelor believes that the collective global church community needs to face the fact that clergy abuse of women might be taking place in their own community, wherever that might be.
“Many people from churches say, 'Maybe it happens, but not in my church.' I'd like to challenge that.”
She said she'd like to see a cultural transformation within the worldwide church. “Sexual abuse is a violent use of power,” she said. “It is not an affair – because of that balance of power.”
* WSCF website: http://www.wscfglobal.org/
* More information on Women in Church and Society: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-moveme...
The IEPC opened on Wednesday 18 May and concludes on 25 May.
* IEPC resources page: www.protestantnews.eu/europe/8242
* Live web streaming: www.overcomingviolence.org/
* An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace: www.overcomingviolence.org/en/resources-dov/wcc-resources/documents/decl...
* All Ekklesia's material on IEPC: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ipec
* Twitter (www.twitter.com) hash-tags: #iepc #peace
Ekklesia is running stories from journalist and regular contributor Stephen Brown in Jamaica, as well as official reports from the WCC and other commentary.