Ex-wife of convicted pedophile writes open letter to Editors of Christianity Today after they published and then removed an article written by a former youth pastor and convicted pedophile.
Sometimes when people go through a horrific experience, they become an expert in their “field” from what they learn and are able to benefit so many others because of what they have gone through. Brenda is one of those survivor-advocate people. She and I connected on the blog after she found this article: Being Married to a Pedophile: A Wife Speaks Out and Offers Hope to Other Wives of Pedophiles. Since then, Brenda has been using her devastating experience to help others who are walking a similar path.
Last month, Christianity Today (CT) ran an article, From Youth Minister to Felon, in their publication, The Leadership Journal. It was written by a convicted pedophile and former youth pastor. After a huge negative public response, the editors at CT eventually pulled the article and left an apology. But for Brenda, it was not enough. As the ex-wife of a pedophile, she felt inspired to write an open letter to the editors of Christianity Today to encourage them to address this issue more proactively and more deeply.
A few people who understand systems of abuse have looked over Brenda’s letter before it was sent out to CT and published here. We all think what Brenda has written is very important and helpful to the Christian community, because we’ve not done a very good job of handling sex abuse cases – and we can learn much from victims. If CT follows her strong suggestions, they could set the standard for the church’s response to sexual abuse within our midst.
Below you will find Brenda’s open letter she sent to Christianity Today and allowed me to publish. Thank you, Brenda, for going beyond the grief and pain in your family’s personal circumstance to help so many others by writing this excellent piece. ~Julie Anne
Predators in Our Midst
An Open Letter to the Editors of Christianity Today
Recently you published an article in both Christianity Today and The Leadership Journal from a convicted felon who was formerly a youth pastor. After an avalanche of protest, you correctly removed the article and issued apologies. Thank you for responding to the deep pain and concern of many who are deeply impacted by the predators in our midst.
However, as the ex-wife of a convicted pedophile – Dr. Donald Ratcliff, former Wheaton College professor specializing in Children’s Spirituality – I urge you to go further and take the next step: suggest new standards for churches and ministries by doing a series called “Predators in our Midst.” Certainly you must be aware of this growing problem, particularly after the high-profile cases in your own backyard during the past few years, including that of my ex-husband. I believe you have an opportunity, if not a duty, to more thoroughly inform your readers about the challenges of living with predators in our faith communities. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to devote an entire issue of both publications to this pressing problem.
I would urge you to address at least these 10 topic questions. As a set, they cover key human, church, and legal elements and create a core introductory resource library for developing healthy systems in addressing childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
1. What is a complete and honest psychological profile of those sexually attracted to minors?
The caricature of the “dirty old man” no longer applies, if it ever did. These individuals are incredibly difficult to detect because they are so good at hiding their criminal behavior, manipulating and deceiving others and abusing in plain sight. The letter you published and then retracted had several glaring characteristics that I have learned are quite common among predators. People sitting in the pew need to understand the devious, manipulative and deceptive tactics that predators use to both target and groom their victim. This is probably the most important piece of a good safety plan and is woefully missing in our communities of faith.
2. What are the distinctive challenges facing victims of sexual abuse by a trusted member of the faith community?
These victims in particular tend to struggle with a host of problems including issues of faith, trust, and intimacy for decades, if not for the rest of their lives. It is not simply a matter of forgiving and forgetting, as many are urged to do! The church needs to unequivocally support the victim and assist them in accessing services that they need to heal, including services inside and outside of the faith community. Under no circumstances should the church act as the “investigator” and take on the role of law enforcement but rather should do what they are called to do which is to serve as the hands and feet of a God whose heart bleeds at the pain of the abuse victim.
3. What are core emotional and relational requirements for spiritual healing for victims of abuse?
Sexual abuse within the context of a faith community has the potential of destroying the victim’s faith. One author called childhood sexual abuse a soul killer (Michael Reagan, Twice Adopted). The church has a unique opportunity, indeed responsibility, to seek to tenderly and sensitively model compassion, understanding, empathy, and comfort for the deep spiritual wounds CSA creates, both within the victim and his/her family. This support is not to replace ministering to the very real tangible needs the victim and family face, but rather to enhance that ministry by sensitivity to the challenges to faith that CSA creates. Spiritual healing for victims must not include insistence on forgiving the perpetrator. Eventually, victims may come to the place of being able to forgive, but it is incredibly detrimental to their recovery to insist on this too early in the process.
4. Do not forget educating and ministering to the partner of the predator!
Include at least one article on warning signs that you may be married to a pedophile. The signs are there but they are very subtle and the perpetrator easily and convincingly explains them away. Partners of pedophiles are really our first line of defense against child sexual abuse, but they need to know that what they are sensing, if anything, is real and it is dangerous. Pedophiles are experts at minimizing, covering up, blaming, explaining away, and telling you that you do not understand the situation correctly. It is not innocent or harmless, though the pedophile may insist it is. We need to educate partners to reconnect with their gut so they can recognize the subtle signs that something may be off in their relationship.
5. How should the church respond to all of the people caught up in an allegation or incident of CSA?
First, there is an absolute moral and, in the majority of states, a legal responsibility to report known or suspected abuse, period. Civil authorities – police and child protective services – are trained to intervene and investigate. Clergy and/or congregation members should not delay or fail in reporting, or seek to investigate on their own, lest they potentially destroy evidence, tamper with witnesses, or otherwise impede the important legal processes for perpetrator and victim. Second, there is also the need for a timely and strong ministry response. This includes compassionate and unconditional support for the victim and his/her family, as well as the secondary victims—the predator’s spouse and family. Most pedophiles are married and have children, some molest their own children, and others don’t. These spouses and children are also devastated when disclosure occurs and are often labeled as collaborators and thrown to the curb with the predator. The children are seen as future perpetrators, even if they were never molested. The faith community also needs to tend to the betrayal wounds suffered by the members of the congregation when a trusted leader is arrested due to crimes committed against children. How can this be done without inflicting yet more pain on the victims, their families and the congregation?
6. How should the church respond to a partner who is in denial?
Recognize the partner of a perpetrator may, in rare cases, deny the abuse claims and insist that her spouse is innocent. Faith communities need to know how to deal with this tricky situation, should it occur. Support for the victim needs to be the first, second, and last concern of the church even if it means a partner in denial is gently asked to remove herself from the community so healing can occur for the victim as well as the congregation. At the same time, it will be crucial to the partner’s well-being to keep connected rather than to separate and shun.
7. How should the church respond to the families of perpetrator and victims?
Often the faith community extends grace and mercy to the perpetrator and forgets the perpetrator’s family as well as his victim. We become so enamored with “ministering to the fallen” that we fail to adequately care for the spouse and children of the fallen or of his victims. Both families are traumatized, and often financially devastated (i.e. loss of family income for the perpetrator’s family and cost of intensive therapy for the victim). They need the faith community to tenderly and carefully meet their spiritual, emotional and financial needs. Overnight the members of the perpetrator’s family have become widows and orphans when the life they thought they had ended. Both families are fragile and need the faith community more than they ever have.
8. What safeguards must a church have in place to protect the children in their congregations?
These safeguards must be far more than mandatory background checks. Most predators are not caught because they are that good at manipulation and deception, so background checks alone are not sufficient. There are excellent resources out there with vital information that needs to be disseminated. For specifics, see the work that Boz Tchividjian and GRACE consistently do in this area.
9. What should the leadership in a faith community do to encourage healing of the congregation after an event?
What does healing look like? How can we avoid extending naive forgiveness and trust to the predator? You have correctly recognized, after the fact, that the author of your article does not exhibit true repentance or remorse for his criminal behavior. This is common with pedophiles; church leaders need to be informed so they don’t put the welcome mat out to an offender without protections in place.
10. What should the response of a faith community be when a registered sex offender wants to attend their church?
Far too often, I fear, the response is an open-armed welcome without appropriately strong and consistently enforced boundaries and restrictions. Discipleship offered needs to involve highly-knowledgeable and skilled ministers – not just someone who sincerely wants to help. Pedophiles are liars and manipulators; they simply cannot be trusted with children, period. Again, Boz Tchividjian wrote an excellent article on a church that hired a known sex offender as pastor and then was surprised when he molested one of their children.
As a woman deeply impacted by marriage to a now-convicted pedophile in a high-profile case, I urge you to grab the awareness and momentum that have arisen from your retracted article – do something substantial to address this growing problem within our faith communities. Don’t stop at just an apology, you owe your readers more. Become the banner carrier and set a higher standard!