The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

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.

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5 Responses to “When ignorance is bliss and knowledge a curse”

  1. Geoff said

    You know that I am not “a believer” in the usual sense of the phrase, but I definitely am a believer, even though an imperfect practitioner,of living an ethical, spiritual life. I am cynical regarding humanity and don’t subscribe to any organized religion. I believe we are motivated by our appetites, and that there is rarely not a prid pro quo in our actions, but it is ethics and personal responsibility, self-control and empathy which makes us human and separates us from (some would say) the other animals on our planet. It is our natural state, it is the “Golden Rule”. Now if we could collectively just take a big, deep breath, accept responsibility for our actions, and choose to live an honest and ethical life,….ah well, I’m a dreamer and a romantic. You speak wisely my friend.

    Abrazos, de tu amigo.

  2. Catherine said

    Your recent posts have been riveting, Ron. I support your courage in speaking out, examining the issues and allowing God’s healing light to penetrate this painful situation.

  3. Patsy said

    Ummm. Interesting art. I wonder if the maelstrom in the center of Deborah Randall’s art is NOT the TRUTH, but rather the storm of hurtful words spoken by the two people in the heat of anger?

    I’ll admit that this truth FELT that black, that violent, that destructive when I first heard it and I too wished that I hadn’t been told. I wondered how on earth a truth that broke my heart was ever going to set me free. I’m still wondering. My heart is still broken. I often long to take offender and accuser in my arms and tell them how their foolish choices have hurt me, but that through each of them God imparted great gifts into my life that have enriched me, and for that reason I love them both. If I ever momentarily lose sight of the fact that the gifts are God’s, then I’m left with the haunting fear that the gifts weren’t very good after all.

    I suspect that your friend is also MY friend and that our friend has not yet read “When a Congregation is Betrayed” and probably won’t ever. It also seems that our friend has chosen to take the side of the offender against the accuser, when in truth, there aren’t any sides. We are all in this together and we will not all be well until every one of us is healed.

    • Pelican said

      Interesting take on the art, one of many ways to look at it. Its dialogue with the commentary is paradoxical.

      As the column states, we have many friends who hold these views; so yes, your friend may be my friend; in fact, it’s likely; however, the column is not about our friends but their views, which if held by a significant number of our friends are significant for the life of our parish.

  4. Donna said

    God bless you, dear one…

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