What does a victim of child sexual abuse look like? Don’t ask Christianity Today.

What does a victim of child sexual abuse look like? Don’t ask Christianity Today.

girl with red veil shutterstock_reducedAn embarrassing apology published by Christianity Today shows that leaders in the faith community still have a lot to learn about child sexual abuse.

The readers of Christianity Today have taught the magazine a lesson—they know more about child sexual abuse then its editors do.

Last Monday, CT published an article on its Leadership Journal website written by an unnamed pastor who is serving time in prison on sexual abuse charges. The article, entitled “From Youth Minister to Felon: My spiral of sin destroyed my life and ministry,” was intended to prevent abuse. Instead, however, it showed that CT editors can be just as insensitive to victims of abuse as many religious leaders have been.

More details about this story can be found here. Essentially, the minister admitted to having a sexual relationship with a female member of the youth program, although he does not reveal her age:

The “friendship” continued to develop. Talking and texting turned flirtatious. Flirting led to a physical relationship. It was all very slow and gradual, but it was constantly escalating. We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things, but the allure of sin was strong. We had given the devil far more than a foothold and had quenched the Holy Spirit’s prodding so many times, there was little-to-no willpower left. We tried to end our involvement with each other many times, but it never lasted. How many smokers have quit smoking only to cave in at the next opportunity for a cigarette? We quit so many times, but the temptation of “one more time” proved too strong. Like David, my selfishness led to infidelity.

The man never uses the word rape or victim or groom. He refers to the relationship as an “extra-marital affair” and describes the victim as being just as culpable as he was. He fails to question his responsibility as an authority figure or the role that power played in the “affair,” and blames the devil for his actions, as well as his wife and children, as “the realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home.” Later, he complains how his life is ruined, now that he no longer has a job, had to drop out of seminary, and will be a registered sex offender when he gets out of prison next year.

None of this is surprising. A hallmark trait of child sexual abusers is to blame others for their actions, most often their victims. They typically fail to take responsibility for committing abuse. On the contrary, they see themselves as victims. What is surprising, however, is that the editors of CT, in publishing the article, seemed clueless in not recognizing these telltale signs. After all, the magazine has had to face the pain of discovering sexual predators among its own ranks in the past.

Readers, however, knew exactly what had been going on and spotted Christianity Today‘s failure to see it. A female pastor wrote:

I’m shocked and horrified to read this author’s assertion that he had an “extramarital affair” with a teen. It is not an “affair” when he is in a position of power and authority over her – it is abuse. It is sexual abuse, and it is abuse of power and authority. I see nothing in this that is brave or courageous – he hides behind the shield of anonymity and avoids direct responsibility for taking advantage of a young woman. . . . When will the church stop spilling ink on the abusers and give time and energy to hearing the stories of those they abused?

Samantha Field, a blogger and rape survivor who notes that her rapist is now a youth pastor, described her visceral reaction to reading the Leadership Journal post: “I have tried many times over the past few days to make my way all the way through it, but I can’t. It . . . it sounds like him. My rapist. It is exactly what my rapist will say when he rapes one of the girls in his care, if he is successfully convicted as so very few rapists are.”

Critics demanded that the magazine issue an apology; many circulated the Twitter hashtags “#TakeDownThatPost” and “#TakeDownThisPost.” But rather than doing either, CT simply posted this author’s note at the end of the piece:

In response to readers’ concerns, the author of this piece has offered the following clarification: “I recognize that what I initially considered a consensual relationship was actually preying on a minor. Youth pastors who do the same are not ‘in relationship’ but are indeed sexual predators. I take 100 percent of the responsibility for what happened.”

Critics were even more irate that the magazine had chosen to give the pastor-rapist yet more page space. “A ‘clarifying’ author’s footnote hardly cancels out five still-standing pages suggesting and flat-out asserting the polar opposite,” blogged Suzannah Paul. “Also alarmingly, the article is tagged for these ‘related topics’: accountability, adultery, character, failure, mistakes, self-examination, sex, and temptation.”

Finally, five days after the post first appeared, editor Marshall Shelley and CT president and CEO Harold B. Smith issued this apology:

We should not have published this post, and we deeply regret the decision to do so.

The post, told from the perspective of a sex offender, withheld from readers until the very end a crucial piece of information: that the sexual misconduct being described involved a minor under the youth pastor’s care. Among other failings, this post used language that implied consent and mutuality when in fact there can be no quesiton [sic] that in situations of such disproportionate power there is no such thing as consent or mutuality.

The post, intended to dissuade future perpetrators, dwelt at length on the losses this criminal sin caused the author, while displaying little or no empathic engagement with the far greater losses caused to the victim of the crime and the wider community around the author. The post adopted a tone that was not appropriate given its failure to document complete repentance and restoration.

There is no way to remove the piece altogether from the Internet, and we do not want to make it seem that we are trying to make it disappear. That is not journalistically honest. The fact that we published it; its deficiencies; and the way its deficiencies illuminate our own lack of insight and foresight, is a matter of record at The Internet Archive (https://web.archive.org/[…]from-youth-minister-to-felon.html).

Any advertising revenues derived from hits to this post will be donated to Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse. We will be working to regain our readers’ trust and to give greater voice to victims of abuse.

We apologize unreservedly for the hurt we clearly have caused.

I doubt that many survivors of abuse reading this apology feel that the magazine truly “gets” it. What should editors promise? To get educated on the issue of child sexual abuse.

Religious organizations have repeatedly failed victims by refusing to report such crimes. Faith leaders have claimed ignorance about being able to recognize abuse. One archbishop recently said he wasn’t sure if, at one point, he even knew it was a crime. As I point out in Breaking Their Will, Vatican documents that discuss clergy-perpetrated abuse refer to the act as sinning “with” a minor not “against” a minor, indicating a presumption that victims are not really victims, but accomplices.

And now we have the country’s foremost Christian publication unable to see a victim in a story they chose to publish, even as the abuse is being described in textbook fashion.

If the editors of Christianity Today truly want to “dissuade future perpetrators” of child sexual abuse, they owe it to survivors to learn how to recognize it.

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared on Religiouschildmaltreatment.com.

3 Comments on "What does a victim of child sexual abuse look like? Don’t ask Christianity Today."

  • Zina Bennett says

    I think it’s ridiculous that the churches take up for these people. They hide behind religion to do what they really want. Nobody cares about the kids and their families. This is the hardest thing that families go through and there’s really no programs to go through to help. Kids need somebody to talk to and so do the parents. It never seems that the family ever gets back. Getting churches involved are wrong. So where do you go when something like this happens. The churches need to stand up and take responsibility for what’s going on in them. We as parents can’t go out and take the law into our hands, so the church needs to stand behind the victims until everything is over. Just because you preach doesn’t’ t give you a right to take someone’s innocence and make the blame themselves for you a grown person did.

  • I was raped by Father Leon Gaulin at St Thomas More parish in Durham NH in March of 1975. In that one night, he condemned my soul and my life to a living hell.

    I have heard Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, and other Cardinals, Bishops and Archbishops, whom if the truth be told, are nothing more than Pedophile Pimps, like Timothy Dolan, Bernard Law, Justin Rigali, Roger Mahony, Donald Wuerl and so many others, whom participated in the cover ups of the rapes of children, by pedophile, hebephile and ephebophile priests of the church, go on and insult, denigrate and defame us survivors of priest rape and soul torture.

    NO ONE CAN EVEN BEGIN TO IMAGINE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO THINK BECAUSE YOU WERE RAPED BY A PRIEST, YOU WERE GUILTY OF THIS YOURSELF, THAT YOU HEAR SCUMBAGS LIKE BILL DONOHUE AND OTHERS GO AROUND AND SAY WE WERE NOT RAPED BECAUSE WE DID NOT PUNCH OUR RAPISTS IN THE FACE!!! THIS MEANS WE NOT ONLY ENJOYED OUR RAPES WE WERE FULL PARTICIPANTS AND ARE HOMOSEXUALS BECAUSE OF IT!!!

    Or that we are nothing more than a bunch of money grubbing, gold digging, anti-catholic bigot liars whom are only trying to cause trouble for their holy church.

    I cannot say how many times a Roman Catholic parishioners has DEMANDED I stop telling lies about their leaders, how I am evil for spreading lies about their leaders and how I deserve to burn in hell because of what I say about their pedophile pimp leaders.

    But hey…..according to them…I should ONLY forgive my rapist, I should NEVER speak ill of them, I should NEVER seek to have them prosecuted for their crimes, we should just turn the other cheek. Oh and yeah…please come back to the church…we love you.

    The RCC said they would do everything to help us victims. Yeah right. They denied me my case because I “lied” according to them and then they used the statue of limitations against us to have the case dismissed when my lawyer sought to get information on my rapist ephebophile priest. Nope….suck it up and deal with it sunshine…this is how we take care of those whom stand up to us and demand justice.

    Oh and Bill Donohue attempted to get me charged with hate crimes because i mouthed off to him over his disgusting bs he says against us through a series of phone calls over two years. They convicted me in a court in Berlin NH for harrassing him. It is now being appealed to the NH Supreme Court.

    See the judge, Paul D Desjardins, called my lawyer and the district attorney into his chambers after he sentenced me to the MAX for harrassing Donohue. He admitted bias against me.

    So what am I supposed to think, when the judge is a Roman Catholic, the prosecutor Dan Buteau is a Roman Catholic and they prosecuted and sentenced me to the max when I stood up to Bill Donohue whom says of us priest rape victims:

    This is not a pedophile problem, this is a homosexual problem.
    You did not punch your priest in the face, that means you wanted it and you enjoyed it.
    This is not pedophilia, get it right, I am the only one telling the truth, this is a homosexual problem.
    These people are all liars, gold diggers looking for a payday from the church.

    My life has been destroyed by this. I have lost my home, I am homeless and living below poverty so far I cannot afford a roof over my head even if I wanted to. I have lost everything really for standing up for myself and other victims.

    I wish these jerks at Christianity Today would speak to a victim like me and get the real story. I got so much provable evidence it is not even funny…but no one wants to talk to the victims…it is much easier to talk to the rapists than it is to look one of us dead in the eye and hear our tales of horror, pain and suffering…but hey what can you expect from Christianity Today?

    Oh and Donohue is being sued by a priest rape victim for his defaming him, by going on national tv and in national print and knowingly lying about him.

    • Frank, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your painful and important story.
      Janet

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