It is an important question, to be sure. But the companion question is often overlooked: how do they treat the pedophile's partner? Earlier this year I reluctantly applied for a position at a well-known church in my area. I was reluctant because I have learned, unfortunately, not to trust religious organizations. But my need for a job over-rode my hesitations. When I was called for an interview, I voluntarily disclosed that my ex-husband had been arrested on child pornography charges--I wanted to be upfront, honest and authentic. I wanted them to know that there was some unwanted baggage attached to my last name. I was invited to interview anyway and graciously thanked for being honest but was also assured that the question would never have come up in the interview, it was a non-issue.
So I went and interviewed and was offered the job, which I accepted. However, the senior pastor felt
that it would be in my best interest to have a confidential conversation with the counseling pastor on the church staff. The session was scheduled the day before I was due to report for work. The counselor walked into the room, sat down and began our conversation by stating that it was his duty to determine my level of culpability in my ex-husband's crimes. His rapid-fire questions were intrusive, suspicious and shaming. At the end of our meeting, he asked if I would change my last name before beginning work the next day (really, this is an impossibility!) He justified his behavior by a brief history lesson. The church had experienced three separate molestations of children by volunteers in a 25-year span of time and according to this pastor, the congregation had very strong negative feelings towards the partners of pedophiles. They would be quite upset if they learned that I was on the church staff. So, I turned the job down.
When my ex was arrested and his case became a media feeding frenzy, the religious organization he worked at made the correct decision to fire him. But they also made the decision to distance themselves from me and my children. I was a former employee and an alum. I was left in dire financial straits and would have been homeless if family had not intervened. I have since learned that at least one member of his former department visits him weekly--I guess to encourage him in the faith. They attend his court dates and offer counsel to him. I am happy that they are reaching beyond judgment, embarrassment and scandal to "minister" to him. However, I have yet to receive a phone call on even a quarterly basis from these men or from this organization. No one inquires how we are doing--or if we are surviving.
The church, it seems, is far more interested in restoring a fallen one than in ministering to the victims of his sin. In fact, as my prospective employer demonstrated, the partner is often held to a higher standard than the perpetrator! She is ostracized, blamed and maybe shunned while he is welcomed into the fold and gently and lovingly "restored." All he has to do is admit guilt--or some level of it--and feign remorse and grace is extended. She, on the other hand, is held to a higher standard. Maybe it is a gender thing--the ole "boys will be boys" attitude or maybe the partner simply threatens the sense of safety and security that religious folk seem to enjoy. Maybe her vulnerability frightens them. I don't know.
But it sure seems like cheap grace and a double standard to this wounded soul.
As a Partner, what do I need from my religious community or house of worship? What should churches do with the pedophile's partner? Here are my thoughts, and this list is certainly not complete:
- Partners should be welcomed graciously and treated as co-victims.
- All services and ministries of the church should be made available to her. She is one of the "widows" that Paul speaks about in I Timothy.
- She should be offered a supportive and compassionate environment in which to heal.
- Supporting her healing means allowing her to progress at her own pace and in her own time; avoid advice-giving unless you have walked in her shoes and certainly do not urge a quick forgiveness or reconciliation.
- Understand that her experience with her pedophile partner is or was mixed; it is rarely all good or all bad. As such, her children may have had a very different experience than she did in the home and need supportive and compassionate people to help them heal.
- Recognize that she has been betrayed in a profound way on so very many levels. Do all that you can to be sure that she is not further betrayed or victimized by the church's treatment of her.
- Learn all that you can about psychological trauma so you will better understand her when she is triggered.
- Under no circumstance should she be placed under church discipline or in accountability with a pastor, elder, church staff member or small group leader. She has been powerless in her marriage for a very long time. Her level of trust towards men and women in leadership may be nil. Give her time to heal and be a trustworthy companion for her on the journey.
- If she is still married to the pedophile, she should not be shamed under any circumstance and must not be told to submit to her husband as a spiritual head.
- Repentant pedophiles should be kept on a very short leash in the church.
- They should be held to a strict standard of accountability; their behavior should match their words completely and at all times.
- Church leadership must remember that deception, manipulation and denial are as commonplace as breathing with pedophiles so must verify, verify, verify absolutely everything he tells them. His partner or former partner is a good place to begin the verification process.
- Understand that pedophilia is very, very difficult, if not impossible to cure.
- Do not try to minister outside of your area of training and competency. Skilled and specialized therapists are still sometimes fooled by these men. Don't think you can do more than they can to help contain and control their behavior.
- Do not, under any circumstance, believe everything he tells you about his wife and marriage or about his prior history and behavior. Remember, he is very prone to incredible deception, distorted thinking and skewed judgment.
|Make the church inhospitable to child abuse!|