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Archive for May, 2009

When ignorance is bliss and knowledge a curse

Posted by Ron George on May 27, 2009

A friend of mine said recently that disclosing a former pastor’s sexual misconduct with a woman in our parish did more harm than good; indeed, that it did more harm than the misconduct itself. Some truth is better left unsaid, my friend told me. The inevitable conclusion, then, is that the discloser has done more harm than the offending clergyman. There was a lot more to this discussion. My friend and I were opposed in almost every way we looked at this matter. It was a real eye-opener for me.

Secrecy lift the veil by Leo Symon

Secrecy lift the veil by Leo Symon

My friend disputes the idea that there was any transgression. The woman could have said no but didn’t; therefore, it was a private matter between two consenting adults, and it was certainly not the church’s business to defrock the minister because the woman disclosed an illicit affair. (Both were married at the time.) In this case, the sexual relationship was terminated more than two years ago. My friend believes that no good comes from dredging up this old business. My friend disputes the idea that there was an imbalance of power in this relationship or that any ethical boundary had been crossed. The former pastor was stupid, my friend said, but not wrong in any way that should have led to his being removed from pastoral office. My friend believes many at our church agree with this point of view, which, again, blames the discloser not the pastor.

And another thing, according to my friend: Experts in the field of clergy sexual misconduct are mostly women with an agenda trying to sell their books as well as their point of view.

Some ignorance is bliss, my friend seems to believe, and some knowledge a curse.

Rebuttal does not avail here. My friend isn’t listening, and frankly, neither am I. That we’re not listening to each other may indicate a curse that will confound the healing of the common life of our parish, and it’s something we must attend to, eventually. Somehow, I will want to hear for the sake of the love I have for fellow parishioners who feel this way about the disclosure. I will want to listen compassionately and to hear whatever truth there may be in all that they say. Desire, though, does not suffice at the moment. All I can do is testify.

And all I can say is that secrecy and sexual misconduct ruined my life, unhinged my marriage, alienated my family, derailed my vocation and put me on the edge of the abyss. I wasn’t mistreated by the church. I had been mistreating myself and the church for years — my family, my friends, my bishop, my fellow clergy, let alone the congregations entrusted to me, with whom I left the gnawing anxiety that their pastor and friend had been been all along a liar and hypocrite.

Living the lie was corrosive to my soul, hellish in a way that I thank God I’ve forgotten now almost three decades later. The truth was so painful that I, too, wished it had never been disclosed. I longed to hide from the bright light that casts no shadow, and at times I wondered whether the only hiding place I could find was my grave. I was embittered and resentful of the way my life had turned out, and I lived in denial for years, continuing to lie to some of the dearest people in my life because I believed their knowing the truth would kill me. All that’s changed, thank God, and it’s a long, complex story; but the bottom line is this: Had the truth of my life not been disclosed, I never would have enjoyed the deep satisfaction and sense of well-being that came years later when, by God’s grace, I no longer had to live the lie, deny the truth and wish to die. Christian tradition teaches that the truth sets us free, no matter how painful, no matter how distasteful and no matter how long and arduous the way home. Having, as we say, been there and done that, I can say with some conviction that I’d rather be in the loving arms of my forgiving father than in that far country eating leftovers at the pig farm.

I simply can’t imagine any such thing as truth better left unsaid.


Posted in Christianity, Church, Clergy misconduct, Episcopal church | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »