Leaving an abusive spouse is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when your abuser is an Anglican priest and divorce (for any reason) is condemned by your congregation.
Anglican women in Australia are starting to speak up about the abuse they’ve endured at the hands of their priest husbands, the lack of support they have faced in their communities, and their struggles to rebuild their lives. One “safe space” to share their stories is in an online support group:
Jane is part of a private online support group of Anglican clergy wives in New South Wales who were abused by their husbands.
What stunned them when they first met for dinner were two things. First, how many of them there were, and how common and continuing this problem seemed to be.
Several had been part of Moore Theological College in Sydney — the training seminary of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney — when their husbands studied to be priests. All had mixed experiences with the church after disclosing their abuse: some clergy had supported them and pleaded their cases, while others ignored them.
All had disappointing or bruising experiences with a senior church leader when they asked for help.
In many Christian circles, not just Anglican, the Bible is cited as reason for toxic submission to abusive men. As it says in Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands.” But commonly — and conveniently — left out of sermons is the verse that immediately follows: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”
ABC News asked all the major Christian churches in Australia (excluding the Catholic Church, which requires priests to be celibate), how they have handled allegations of domestic abuse against clergy in the past 10 years.
Many said they were unable to disclose data on these kinds of complaints because the information was either too sensitive, too difficult to compile or simply unavailable.
However, a handful of churches said they had received and acted on some complaints in which domestic abuse was a factor.
… a spokesman for Baptist Churches NSW and ACT said:
“Over the last five years we can recall less than five allegations received by our office of domestic violence by clergy. All of these were extensively investigated, including, where required by our policies, by an independent investigator … appropriate disciplinary action was taken where any allegations were substantiated.”
It’s clear the church is currently grappling with how best to prevent and respond to domestic violence, as are a host of institutions.
It’s rather obvious that much of the “unavailable” information is because women are justifiably afraid to come forward. In this, the church’s handling of abuse is not much different than in the secular world. But the secular world has a better grasp on a concept that is compatible with “mutual submission,” as Christians for Biblical Equality understands it: consent. It is impossible to have a healthy sexual relationship without it.
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