This story is part of Safe Church Ministry's SOS Series. Due to the volume of discussion already generated from this story, the comments on this post are now closed. The author of this article has provided the final comment.
In 1980, my husband and I began attending an annual retreat for CRC clergy which was affiliated with my husband’s profession. It was always a great time of fellowship and mutual support with other clergy and their wives. In 1995, when I was at the retreat, I was standing in the pre-retreat social gathering area with a beverage in one hand and a small plate of fruit in the other when I felt a pinch on my buttocks and heard this whisper in my ear, “Why do you have your ass sticking out that way?” I was surprised and stunned. It was done by a long time clergyman who was high up in the organization. He insinuated I was being intentionally sexual with my body. I was not, it was his problem and he was totally out of line. I should have decked the guy with a back hand but I was too shocked. After the evening meeting when a group went out to a restaurant for a while, I recounted what had happened. I was assured that his behavior was assaultive.
After a sleepless night, I sought him out the next day and asked if he remembered what he said to me the previous day; his answer, “Yes, I do, but please don’t tell anyone what I said.” I asked if he was still in therapy and he told me he had completed the therapy upon recommendation of the therapist. I suggested that he likely needed to go back and continue addressing his inappropriate behavior (I was aware that he had a previous incident wherein he had blackmailed a woman with money to keep quiet about sexually inappropriate behavior with her. It was found out by her spouse who reported it through an appropriate channel. As a result of that situation he was required to attend therapy).
After that exchange I told him that I had already spoken with others about the incident and was also planning to inform the board overseeing the organization that sponsored the retreat. Interestingly, I was told that Safe Church Ministry could not deal with it because the incident did not happen in a church. The organization’s board chose not to deal with it either because he was no longer the director. What did happen was that the man’s credentialing church formed a committee to deal with the situation. It is my understanding that he and his wife were in the process of changing from one church to another at that time and a committee of all men had been formed from the two churches. After several communications with a committee member, I and my husband were contacted and asked to meet with the man and his wife and the committee of all men.
At the beginning of the meeting we were informed that the purpose of the meeting was to bring about reconciliation. In response, I informed them that I felt that reconciliation would be premature because the incident had never been discussed openly with me, the perpetrator, and the committee. The convener of the meeting agreed, and time was spent discussing the incident and why I felt his statement was inappropriate.
After some discussion, the man was asked point blank whether or not he had said what I reported and whether he understood it was inappropriate. His response was, “She is accurate but I will never ask for her forgiveness.” I told him that I was hurt and disappointed but no changed response followed. The meeting ended.
I was told that the committee would decide what consequences would be levied and that I would be informed of the status of the decision. I was contacted several weeks later and informed that the committee recommended a two year suspension of his ministerial credentials. I did not ask to have a report sent to me in writing and I did not inquire/monitor as to the continuing status of the situation during the two year period of time. I believed that what I had been told by the head of the committee was done.
Several years later I was informed by a reliable source; who knew the situation and outcome, that his credentials were never suspended. I believe this was a deal made by the “churches’ old boys’ club.” That was very surprising and disappointing, as well as a reminder that situations are not always handled with honesty and in respect of the one who was assaulted.
Before the next yearly retreat I was informed that he would not be allowed to attend the retreat. This was the decision for several years before a new director of the organization asked if I would allow him to again attend the retreat. I told him that I did not think it was my place to prevent his attending as long as he understood that there should not be contact with me. That was the situation for at least the last dozen years.
I always hoped he would not be at the yearly retreat, and if he was, my husband and I avoided him and would not sit anywhere near him. One year, just before the beginning of a session I was caught off guard. He pushed himself in front of others through the row where I was sitting and stuck his hand out toward me, wanting to shake my hand. Sickening!
His presence at the retreat always resulted in anxiety for me because I never knew where he might be lurking. He is now deceased and I can finally attend the retreat without the anxiety of his presence.
Several years ago, while in the process of moving to a different location, I happened upon the written information about the incident. I decided to throw it away, knowing that I would likely not revisit the situation with others in the future. In response to the recent #MeToo movement, I was again reminded of the devastation that sexually inappropriate and assaultive behavior causes for women and men in all walks of life.
***This article has generated a great deal of discussion. The author of this article has provided the final comment and comments are now closed on this post.***