Adult Clergy Abuse Is Overlooked and Misunderstood: Here’s Why

Adult Clergy Abuse Is Overlooked and Misunderstood: Here’s Why May 9, 2016

By Erin Crosby.


Last week, the archbishop of Oklahoma City removed a priest from his duties after learning the priest had been investigated for sexual battery in San Diego five years ago. In this case, the victim wasn’t a child, but a young adult. As an adult victim of clergy sexual abuse myself, I am saddened but not surprised to hear the priest had been charged only of a misdemeanor and allowed to continue pastoral work. Churches of every denomination should stop diminishing the severity of clergy sexual abuse of adults and begin to institute procedures that protect adults as well as children. This type of change starts with understanding conditions that cultivate power abuse.

I was 27 years old when my pastor started touching me sexually. He’d spent the previous two years gaining my trust, confidence, and respect. He took great interest in my life. We talked about my fears, hopes, and spirituality, and he took on the role of a father. I didn’t understand he was using his position and power to get close to me and to tear down my defenses.

I was not alone. One in thirty-three women in a congregation has experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct from a religious leader at some point in her adult life, according to a 2008 study by Baylor University researcher Diana Garland. Whether it’s a sexual overture, proposition, or an ongoing sexual “relationship” with a congregant, such behavior is doubly harmful because it is often misunderstood or dismissed as a relationship between two consenting adults. But I know from my own experiences and from my experiences counseling dozens of adult victims of clergy sexual abuse that these relationships are not affairs. They are not consensual. Predator pastors have mastered the art of power abuse to prey on women in their care, often intentionally “grooming” their victims and their congregation to accept this behavior.

Thanks to countless media stories, many people have come to understand predator priests groom children by “building trust with a child and with adults around the child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Sex Offender Public Website. But this also happens with adults as well. Predator pastors groom their adult victims—spending one-on-one time together, isolating the victim from others, initiating subtle touches, asking about personal matters—as well as the entire congregation, desensitizing adults to behaviors and practices that result in compromised boundaries and silence. Often, the pastor does this by reinforcing more traditional views of the Bible, such as gender roles that define men as authoritative leaders and women as submissive helpers. This dynamic makes women vulnerable. It made me vulnerable. On many occasions when I angry about what my pastor was doing to me, I didn’t say anything to him or anyone else because I believed it was disrespectful to question or challenge him.

Power abuse can be systemic. The archbishop of Oklahoma City misused his authority in his initial statement about the incident, describing it as “inappropriate” and a “lapse in judgement.” His language condoned and promoted abuse of adults, while diminishing the harm done.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City took a step in the right direction in removing the priest from his pastoral duties, but churches of every denomination need to do much more. Ninety-two percent of respondents in the Baylor study said sexual advances were made toward them in secret. Churches must educate their communities about power abuse and grooming from the pulpit. Doing so removes the veil of protection covering predator pastors. Church policies need to be developed in partnership with organizations like Faith Trust Institute. And, churches must push for legislation that defines sexual contact with a congregant as illegal. Only by understanding, recognizing, and condemning the abuse of power in any sexual situation can churches be safe places again.

The Catholic Church should serve as an example to every denomination of what can happen when power is abused. When a predator has the very authority of God to victimize his prey, everyone is vulnerable. Churches should move swiftly toward prevention before clergy sexual abuse of adults becomes the next scandal to rock the church.

Erin Crosby Headshot_nophotocreditErin O. Crosby is a former leader of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a participant in Dallas Public Voices Greenhouse.

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7 responses to “Adult Clergy Abuse Is Overlooked and Misunderstood: Here’s Why”

  1. Catholic bishops are also enablers of predator priests. Oklahoma City’s Catholic archbishop tried to rely on the doctrine of “expungement” to make the case for a predator-priest from a distant diocese. Both offending priest and offending archbishop should be permanently removed from ministry, as neither can ever be trusted again.

  2. Anyone, adult woman,man, or children are easy targets for abuse by priests.
    Having worked for the jesuits, i found that a covert system a protocol exists to groom and sexually/spiritually abuse adults by priests who have developed occult powers in possession, bi location, remote viewing, spiriting energy cording, astral projection, hypnosis, trace states and other means to stalk and hijack their target and literally torture them… they leave no paper trail and no proof.. ..
    I knew a jesuit priest who could trance out the whole group of early morning mass goers in less than 2 minutes and then proceed to abuse them with everything from fondling to making their tongues wobble when receiving communion.. and everything in between.. he could make them say ridiculous things during the peoples prayer request during the mass, and he would laugh. he was a jesuit satanic priest who met an untimely death around age 50.. I happened to be a spirit filled person who was sent into this situation to witness it and testify to it..
    People have no idea how diabolical this religion and priest hood is..
    This happened in Santa Barbara California at the jesuit church.
    The bishop at the time was Patrick Ziemann, who was rapist and who extorted over 14 million dollars from the Santa Rosa California diocese where he later worked..He had his own private priest boy toy who he would call for sex on demand.. He also was sued by several men for rape…
    His story is documented in a story entitled BISHOP BAD BOY..

  3. here are the facts,christians have led the usa in child rape for over 200 years in a row…not isis,not taliban,not alquida and not muslims it is the christians..



  5. There are countless problems with the appalling and widespread abuse by clerics of children and adults. Two of the problems that bother me a great deal:

    1) People grant clergy a totally undeserved free pass, wrongly assuming they are more “moral” and/or have “higher standards” when it comes to trusted behavior, with their own, or their children’s lives. One of the most heartbreaking segments in a documentary about Catholic priest abuse of children was the (now adult) children describing going to their parents to report the abuse, and being punished as a result. “How DARE you say that. Father So-and-So would NEVER do that.” These people trusted priests over the word of their children, and permitted the abuse to continue, in some cases for years. I cannot even imagine what that does to a child. It’s simply horrific. The identical is true for adult victims. Their word is doubted. “Pastor/rabbi/imam (etc., etc.,) So-and-so would NEVER do that. Why are you trying to destroy this great person? You must have tempted them in some way.” Blame the victim!

    2) The complicity of the organizations. Any organization can find themselves in the terrible position of discovering they have an abuser in their midst. The right things to do are to immediately protect the victim, report the abuse to all the proper authorities, and comply in every possible way with any investigations and subsequent legal judgements. But apparently that’s exceedingly rare. These organizations conceal rapists, vilify the victims, and enable further abuse, in a disgusting effort to protect their “reputations”. I can forgive any organization for unknowingly having an abuser on staff. I cannot forgive them for not directly confronting the problem and instead attempting to conceal the abuse. You want to protect your “reputation”? Instantly move to address the problem and prevent further victimization.

  6. Remedy: Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune. An oldie but a goodie, as she describes the exact grooming and manipulation that you describe, in spiritual terms, and how to break it. A reliable source from the white light occult community. I’m not surprised about this, as during our two-three years with a Melkite community, the priest was a master of trance induction, psychic vampirism, and grooming. One expects to be energized and uplifted by religious services, not drained of everything one is, energy, and vitality. He was also a master of gaslighting, tried to drive me away so as to get into my now-husband’s pants (not that he’d succeed…). He had a whole congregation sucked in.

    He nearly burned down our rooming house by “ignoring” what he was cooking on the stove. He took in a noncustodial mother and her three kids, all of which (we understand now) showed signs of sexual and other abuse, across state lines, harboring her from MA authorities. He tried to get a tenant to “pay” for late rent with a sex act, then stole his bike when the guy refused. He was picked up for soliciting teen postitutes, and his bishop promised to take him out of OH in return for dropping charges, and the legal authorities here should have refused and instead colluded and let him. He was put to work at the eparchy chancery writing educational materials until that bishop died (house arrest better than nothing, but still wrong).

    He later got assigned to Christ the King Melkite in Yonkers, which burned down in the late 1990s. He went on “sabbatical” for several years not long after that. As far as I can tell, he was living in a home for runaway teenage boys in Manhattan, run by another Melkite priest (fox/henhouse), and he might have been reassigned to a Brooklyn Melkite parish and then reassigned to Christ the King. This guy is bad news, but the Melkite eparchy doesn’t have enough priests to go around, so they keep circulating their worst priests.