Victims and Instigators

Commenter Micha raised the point of victimhood among women who are involved sexually with clergy. It’s a valid question, as it is. It sort of plays into my thesis that most predator clergy focus less on their root sexual orientation and more on the weak: children, teens, and adults who are immature or more malleable. What about women (or even men) who actively seduce priests and ministers?

I presume that the Baylor study’s 3% of women were those who self-identified as victims, as that was the focus of the work. If they were to locate numbers on consensual relationships or instances in which the cleric was seduced or raped, I expect the 3% would be higher, and some clergy-victims would be counted among the ranks of the ordained. All that considered, a few comments:

A minister or priest receives unwelcome sexual advances. It has happened to me. I have always felt the freedom to disengage, to refuse the relationship offered. Once I erred seriously. But actually since I’ve been married, these last fourteen years have been blessedly free of unwanted advances from women. My own mistakes I can admit and take responsibility for. One very strange situation involved a pastor who seemed to always be involved with my failed relationships with women in one parish, plus certain hints that I might be SSA. His own weird behavior puzzled me. Especially in light of my situation, he never once spoke of a possible vocation for me. But he always had a strange curiosity about my social life. That’s about the closest I’ve ever come to being a sexual victim, but I had supportive friends, my two 12-Step groups, and a mentor who helped me transcend the ugliness of all that mess–which was far more than the weird sexual vibes he gave off.

That said, I know that ministry is a very lonely vocation. While it would seem that the psychological and theological training of clergy would put them in good stead to recognize their own problems, this is not always the case. Some clergy live a very sheltered existence. No question they would be fodder for the advances of predators. And from within the ranks of priests and ministers, as well as from their parishioners, I’m sure they have been tricked or trapped.

I suspect that abused women greatly outnumber clergy victims. Commenter Micha:

No word on the women who target clergy despite how plentiful such women are, eh? That would interfere terribly with the modern woman=victim no matter what feminist narrative.

I’m a skeptic on this meme. A person’s political philosophy (feminism, for example) is mostly independent of their own sexual boundaries. I’m not 100% sure what the point of this comment is, but I imagine that many feminists are concerned about manipulation of the weak. It would seem that 3% of American female Christians are victims by their own definition. Separate from that, a certain percentage of women have attempted to seduce clergy, and some have succeeded. What that percentage is, I don’t know.

While I would not want to minimize the notion of victimhood, especially among women–I have had many women friends who were sexually abused or raped as children, teens, and even as adults. I suggest a path to healing is possible. My own journey of inner healing has been very difficult and demanding at times. There have been times when I was satisfied to be the victim, rather than to be assertive and take back my own life.

The secular culture celebrates victimhood to a great degree. Even the yelling and anger about the president belies a victimhood: “Look at us poor conservatives: the socialists are taking over and we need our bishops/guns/talk radio to rescue us!” Seriously, Oprah and Phil and other media talkers seem to revel in presidency over a panel of victims. Get the tears out, and make a spectacle. What’s not tv worth watching is the months and years in recovery, the recognition of one’s own cooperation in the victim mentality, and the gradual healing many people find when they are tired of being the prey of the powerful. But again, this healing has to take place in its own time, on its own agenda.

Back to clergy as victims: I’d be interested in such a study, were it ever done. Wouldn’t you? But let’s not obscure the problem exposed by the Baylor sociologists. Three million women have been victimized in some way by religious leaders.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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