The world is full of abuse. It should not be a surprise, then, that those who are wounded in the world (and who isn’t wounded in one way or another?), will look for and seek help. Those who sound reasonable and helpful, who seem beneficial and good, with charm and devotion, will attract vulnerable people. While those skilled with helping others and healing them will have these qualities, so will predators who will look like and appear to be healers when they are anything but. Such predators will find a way to get into positions of authority, and, being up to no good, will use their position of authority and respect for their own benefit.
Rasputin comes to mind as a rather infamous example of someone claiming spiritual authority who was able to use the appearance of holiness and being a healer as a way to get out and hurt many vulnerable in Russian society. He appeared to be a miracle worker, a holy man of God. Many women came to him, and he found his way to use and abuse them to his own benefit. He promoted a very warped view of sin and forgiveness to justify to his followers his abuse, which some, sadly accepted.
This is something I have experienced first-hand many times, but most recently, with friends I’ve met with the Sick Pilgrim Blog. The theme is good, right, and needed: those who are suffering in the world, who seek some sort of faith and yet find it difficult, need a place to feel safe, to talk, dialogue, without judgment. So many people work with and on the blog, and Sick Pilgrim itself is more than a blog but a form of engagement which is coming out in a variety of ways (that it is more than a blog as can be seen by the Trying to Say God Conference at Notre Dame). It is more than a blog. What exactly it is, and what it will be, continues to develop daily.
Sick Pilgrim was co-founded by Jessica Griffith and Jonathan “Ryan” Weyer. There are many others who work for and with the blog and what goes with the blog, several of whom I’ve met in person. I met Jonathan when he was in Indianapolis, doing a job interview; I met Jessica and several others when she was in town, celebrating the launch of the book she co-wrote with Jonathan. I’ve also talked with them for well over a year online, so that I thought I had a good sense of who everyone was.
But, as recent revelations have shown us, there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing; the pilgrimage, which should have been a safe one for those who were needing a safe space to heal, to talk, to explore their own spiritual direction in life, has had within someone looking in at all the pilgrims, and engaging them for his own misbegotten ends. Jonathan, who was interested in the demons of others, had his own demons which was leading him to no good, seen in his lust was for power and control over others, using them and dumping them when he got what he thought he could get from them.
The surprise, shock and awe which I felt when I learned of what happened, talking to some who have been abused, made me feel sick inside, looking back at warning signs which were there for those reading them. He fooled more than the women he hurt; he fooled a lot of us, even saying things which are indicative of trouble (talk of his past, for example, of what he was like before he became Catholic and the women he hooked up with, now reads differently and makes me wonder what the women would have to say). My own brief talk with him in person long before this came out also had signs that he himself at least knew being in a position of spiritual authority put him at risk – he was once a pastor, and he told me it gave him many temptations which wrecked his marriage and caused him serious problems; clearly he had not overcome the temptations and now, seeing what has been revealed, this sign should have been a warning. And yet, I thought he was a wounded Christian, seeking the good, doing what he could to make up for his past, and mercy is indeed key for wounded Christians.
It is easy to want to believe in the good, especially when elements of that good is before you; this makes it easy to be fooled. It is not just those who are abused who are fooled and hurt, but everyone, including, of course, those who trick and harm others. But the safety net should be out there for those who are hurt, for their stories to be heard, and for warning signs to be noted before people get hurt. And if they are hurt, people should be there for them, but also working for them to get proper help, from those capable of giving it, who have a proven record of offering such help.
I do not know how all of that is to be done. Part of being human is being vulnerable to others.
I do know, when spiritual or secular authority is used to abuse people, it needs to be called out and restitution made. Those who have been shown to do harm need to be stopped for the sake of others (and also for their own good).
Those who have been directly hurt need to be heard, given support, given affirmation to be strong and heal. But we must also see how the harm goes beyond the immediate victims: the victims must always remain the priority but in and through them, others are also hurt. There was good being done which was used to establish the space by which evil can find victims. Those working with that good have found their efforts slighted by the evil in their midst. They are also victims (and here, of course, Jessica is not just a victim in this way, but directly as well). They need to also be heeded and helped to find the grace to perfect what is wounded so they can continue the good and not let the evil which has been done to destroy it.
We need to keep track of the time we have been lied to and deceived, so that when we are deceived once again, or find others deceived, we can use the wisdom we have gained in the past to deal with the pain and suffering we see in the present. We must make sure the victims do not feel like it is their fault – it is not – that they should have seen and known what they did not see and know – because we also did not see and know until it was too late. We need to make sure that victims are given what they need to find themselves not only restored but better off than they were before they were harmed.
This is why it is important I say something, even if feebly, in support of those who have been harmed as a result of Jonathan’s connection with Sick Pilgrim. They did nothing wrong. They sought the good. He used the situation and confusion, hiding the reality from the rest of us. They are not to be looked down upon; rather, the way they have shown their strength, once the truth is known, is indicative that victims do not have to remain victims but can fight on, rising with a fiery spirit to promote justice and healing for all who suffer like this.
Men especially must watch and respect the voices of victims. They must let the victims have priority to tell their stories. They must let the victims take priority for their own healing. But they must also be there, with all others, listening, indeed, being vulnerable, helping and encouraging the victims as best they can. Not making judgments on the victims. Not pressuring the victims to follow programs which they think will help the victims. But being there, humbly giving advice when asked, but never making expectations on any of those harmed. Sexual abuse is a grave, demonic evil, because it seeks to destroy, turning a free person in the image and likeness of God into an object to be possessed by the abuser. Men have a role here, helping to tear down the structures of sin which help create such abusive situations, but they must always do it not with programs establishing new forms of reification, but as servants working out of charity and justice.
Sick Pilgrim was formed for the wounded to grow and heal. Its mission remains. The strength of the victims and the community around them proves the mission is true. The demons will come and attack, but hopefully here and elsewhere, when the light shines in the darkness, the darkness can be confronted and expelled time and time again.
[Image=Public Domain image of Rasputin from Wikimedia Commons]
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