The issue of clergy sexual abuse is not going away any time soon. Sadly, it is a very common occurrence, in fact, according to Lifeway Research, “44% of Protestant churchgoers say they have been sexually victimized. 12% of these instances happened within the church.” In these victim spotlight posts, I hope to give a voice to the otherwise voiceless, to victims who have suffered from this heinous abuse of power and whose story may otherwise go untold.
The following is Kim’s story. It is her truth as she recounts it. Her abuser is simply referred to as Pastor X.
My name is Kim, and I am 43 years old. I have been married for 11 years, and my husband and I have two beautiful children, ages 5 and 10. In 2012, my husband and I became missionaries in Puerto Rico. We were sent out by a non-denominational Christian church. Our assignment lasted 5 years.
While on that assignment in Puerto Rico, I met my abusive therapist. He claimed to be a pastor who also did counseling. I’ll call him Pastor X. Pastor X was from our hometown in Pennsylvania. He accompanied another pastor who was visiting for a week in order to minister to us.
One of Pastor X’s specialties was a ceremony he referred to as the father’s blessing. The idea behind the father’s blessing was that Pastor X would stand in as a father for those who had difficult or absent fathers. He would then proceed to apologize as if he were their father. Lastly, he would offer a kind of fatherly “blessing.”
This appealed to me as I had never met my father, but I never brought it up. I was too busy hosting all of the visitors and caring for a toddler. While in Puerto Rico, I gave birth to my son. I was induced without cause, given high doses of Pitocin without consent, afforded no pain relief, and forced to give birth laying on my back. Only a handful of the nurses spoke English. I was denied seeing my son for hours after the birth because of outdated hospital rules. Needless to say, it was highly traumatic.
Afterward, I endured postpartum depression. Despite my intense suffering, the church offered nothing in the way of a solution. They simply offered to pray for me. While storms were brewing inside my marriage and family, hurricane Maria was ravaging the world outside. As soon as the hurricane passed, we headed back to the states. It was 2017. Weathering a hurricane and leaving the mission field so suddenly took a toll on me.
Unfortunately, our marital issues followed us home. In addition, my grandmother, who raised me, passed away unexpectedly within the first year back. I also found out that the father that I never met had passed away. I learned that he died alone, and I was shocked at how deeply I would grieve for a man I never knew.
I remembered Pastor X and the father’s blessing and called him immediately. I needed this blessing. I went to his home and followed him and his wife into an office. His wife remained with us as the pastor gave me the blessing. When it was over, Pastor X asked if he could hold me since I had never felt a father’s embrace. Reluctantly, I agreed. Besides, his wife was present, and I trusted him.
The experience proved to be very cathartic. My emotions came spilling out. Seeing my anguish, the couple invited me to return. They said they would help me process my grief. For the first time, I had hope.
Soon, I was seeing the couple on a regular basis. My husband was happy about the arrangement, at first anyway. Pastor X was clearly in charge, and I assumed his wife was there mostly for “accountability.” The pastor would hold me during these sessions, and I ate it up as I felt like he was giving me what my father had not.
One day, I arrived and the pastor was with another client. They were laying on a futon together under a blanket. He asked her permission to have me join. It felt awkward, but I agreed. She and I became friends. After this episode, Pastor X began asking me to lie with him. His wife seemed unaffected.
One day, I told Pastor X a story about how I was jealous of my friend’s relationship with her father and how she felt safe sitting in his lap even as a teenager. The pastor then invited me to sit in his lap. It was uncomfortable, but I was determined to heal this broken part of me. We agreed to try again another time and did several more times.
I was growing closer to Pastor X and his wife. I considered them spiritual parents. I began to open up about my marital problems. Pastor X felt my husband was abusive in some ways and suggested we both come to a session so we could work on the relationship. It was a disaster. Pastor X pushed my husband’s buttons until he exploded and demanded we leave. After that, my husband forbade me to see them, so I began sneaking out. I couldn’t lose my spiritual parents.
Things took a strange turn after that. Pastor X started asking me questions about my sex life. He said these issues were important to discuss if I wanted to fix my marriage. I trusted him although I found some of his questions too personal. He began telling me about his extramarital affairs and about visiting the Asian massage parlors.
I developed feelings for Pastor X that I didn’t understand. I now realize this was transference. Transference occurs when the patient directs emotions towards the therapist that they experienced in the past about someone else, perhaps a parent-figure or a spouse. I was sickened and confused by these feelings because he was my father-figure. One day, I told the pastor how I felt. He agreed we should be careful, but instead of being more careful, our communication became more intense. We began texting and calling each other frequently.
At first, Pastor X assured me he would protect me, but later he confessed that he had feelings for me as well. This only added to the confusion. What did I want? I wanted him to protect me. I wanted a father-figure.
I was so distraught I ended up in the ER. They did not admit me because I was not actively suicidal, and I could not bring myself to confess the reason for my distress. I went to Pastor X’s house afterward, and he wanted me to go lay down in his bed. I refused and went home.
My husband began treating me terribly. He suspected something was going on with the pastor. One night, when Pastor X knew my husband was working overnight, he called me on video chat. He was naked and touching himself. I looked away in shock. He asked me to join him in mutual masturbation, and I refused but he continued to coerce me. Instead of hanging up the phone, I reluctantly joined.
He was not pleased that I would not take all of my clothes off. When he asked if I orgasmed, I lied and said yes. I so wanted to please him. I cried when we hung up. I was shocked and confused and felt dirty.
Pastor X called me another time, drunk, telling me what he wanted to do to me. One night, he was so drunk that he called and demanded my address. I did not comply. I was ready to end it, but I needed help and I was terrified to tell my husband. Instead, I suffered alone. I told the pastor that his sexual advances towards me were incestuous since I was supposed to be his daughter. Wasn’t that the whole point of the “father blessing?”
I called the friend I mentioned earlier in the story, the one who had been sharing a bed with Pastor X. I feared the same would happen to her. I invited her over and told her everything. She was horrified. She confronted the pastor and when my husband caught wind of the details, he was livid. It almost cost me my marriage because he did not grasp that this was abuse. After all, wasn’t I a grown woman? Doesn’t that make this an affair? He didn’t understand that I didn’t want this. That I didn’t know why I couldn’t say no. That I was desperate to please my father-figure and thought I’d lose him for good if I didn’t comply.
My husband’s verbal abuse escalated. At first, I thought I deserved it. After all, I hated myself for what I had allowed. It wasn’t until much later that I came to terms with the fact that Pastor X groomed and abused me.
With some encouragement from good counsel, I went to the church that had given this pastor a certificate for ministry. After hearing my story, they revoked his certificate and required that he do some work with them. They apologized and sent me on my way. I understand that they eventually recertified him, which is appalling.
The police were unable to do anything because Pastor X was not licensed through the state. I have tried to call him out publicly through online reviews. He has removed all but one of them. Early on, while my husband was still upset with me over the supposed “affair,” Pastor X would inform my husband every time he found out I had left a negative review. He would tell my husband that I had not revealed all the nitty-gritty details and that if I wasn’t careful he would expose all of it. That only poured fuel on the fire.
Pastor X was successful at silencing me for a while, but my husband and I have finally found some healing. It was not easy, but a good counselor told my husband that what that pastor did to me was abuse and that he would lose me if he continued to punish me for being victimized. Our relationship was not perfect after that, but my husband has gone a good long time now without mentioning it.
I so want to expose Pastor X, but I am afraid because he has already done so much damage to our marriage and to me. Part of me pities this man’s wife and part of me finds her complicit. After all, she did absolutely nothing to stop the pastor’s behavior. I heard recently that this pastor was inappropriate with another woman. Apparently, he has rebranded himself as a “life coach” and advertises intensive weekend-long in-home sessions. I often wonder if Pastor X intentionally destroys marriages so that he can then claim the wives. I could be wrong, but it seems to be his M.O. Regardless, Pastor X is ruining lives, and he needs to be stopped.
If you have suffered clergy sexual abuse or abuse by anyone with power over you, you are not to blame. The abuse was not your fault. See www.amynordhues.com/resources/ for a list of helpful websites, books and groups.