Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pedophiles, Partners & Churches: Double Standards & Cheap Grace

I personally know a number of partners of pedophiles who live within my geographical region.  And every single one of them are regular church attenders--some employed by religious organizations and all involved with the activities of their houses of worship.  Only one is still with her pedophile husband--he has been in recovery for decades and his church has strong boundaries in place to protect the children of the congregation--boundaries that he respects.  Churches and religious organizations, it seems, are playgrounds for pedophiles.  They are the perfect place to target, groom and victimize innocent children and adults.  And churches are eager to see a repentant sinner restored to grace.  One blogger, the son of a pastor molester, recently tackled the question How Should Christians Treat Repentant Pedophiles? 

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.   
Pedophiles:  And what can the church do to prevent a pedophile from making it his playground?
  • 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. 
It is time for religious organizations to become places of healing for traumatized and betrayed partners and victims.  It is time for abundant grace, compassion and mercy to be extended to them.  But the church must become inhospitable to further abuse, molestation, grooming or victimization by the pedophile. While he may seek restoration and participation, the church must never cease to monitor him lest he turn it into his playground and begin preying on its children.
Make the church inhospitable to child abuse!    


  1. Brenda,
    You raise some vital questions for church leaders. The mistreatment of the pedophile's family is unacceptable. It is fascinating that more people ask how my dad is doing (currently serving a 30-60 year sentence) than how the rest of the family is doing. Every day is a struggle because I preach at the same church where he preached for 27 years. Many of the church members were converted by my dad and they have nothing but fond memories.

    "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."--Excellent point!

  2. Oh Jimmy,
    I am so sorry. That has to hurt so much--pedophiles leave such devastation in their wake. I"m glad you are raising awareness. This has to change--it just has to!

  3. Hi Brenda. It's Penny...from a small Texas town. We corresponded for a while a couple of years ago (via e-mail. I have now been called a trouble-maker by a number of Christian leaders, been kicked out of a women's group and yelled at by a pastor for talking too much about the total lack of Biblical counseling for women married to a child molester (also porn addict and adulterer..and more). My response is...I will continue to keep talking about the situation in narthexes, community halls, on the streets...anywhere, anytime - until I get some Biblical counseling. I'm sorry to say that most churches don't WANT to handle the situation, which makes it the most oppressive institution (and unsafe) in America for women and children. Take heart, though. Boz Tchividjian (Billy Grahams's grandson) started a ministry for victims of child molestation by members within the church...and to train and teach pastors what the appropriate Biblical response should be. Too late for me, though. Check out his website, G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Also google Rachel Held Evans' interview with him (No More Silence). I have not given up on Jesus, the lover of my soul and my savior and Lord...He is weeping, too.

  4. Hi Penny!
    Welcome back and I am familiar with Boz's ministry. Kudos for not being silenced on this critical topic and you are spot on--organized religion has become a pedophile's playground and an oppressive and unsafe place for women and children. And I am so glad you have not given up on Jesus for He truly is for you and for all the oppressed and abused.

    It sounds like you have found some gifts in your wound as well as your survivor mission.


  5. I used to work for the Catholic Church. I left the job a few years before my husband's trial. No one in the church reached out to me. My husband is now at the stage in his sentence where he has time away from the prison. I emailed our priest to see if we could come to Mass together. Silence. Yet my husband has been visited by priests while in prison.
    I am innocent of any wrongdoing, my husband's crime occurred years before we even met, I have lost everything and at times have been suicidal, and my Church has locked me out. Jesus would not have locked me out.

  6. Brenda, thank you for sharing your story. I can relate in that I, too, was married to a pastor/pedophile. My life and relationship with my child has never been the same because the man of God was the devil in our home. I confided in another pastor's wife and learned that her situation was almost as bad as mine. I am on the final rewrite of my book that tells the story of the faithful wife who kept waiting for God to change the man who paraded around the church as a wolf in sheep's clothing.