• First Presbyterian Church

When the Church Causes Hurt

Updated: May 23, 2019

by Tim Haworth

Note: The following blog deals with sexual abuse within the church. If you or someone you know has been impacted, Pastor Susan and I are available to provide support and offer guidance to find additional assistance.

Sometimes writing blogs can be difficult. Especially when the words come from a heavy heart. There is a lot of pain being exposed now and in the days to come. This pain is especially difficult because it has been, still is and will continue to be inflicted by the church. And that makes my heart heavy.

This week the Pope has called the cardinals to Rome to try to deal with acts of pedophilia perpetrated priests of the Catholic Church. After decades of silence and covering up this very known problem, does this mean that the Catholic Church is finally going to be truthful about the devastation these priests and the church structure that enables them have caused in the lives of so many? Are they going to go beyond the public mea culpas and dismantle this culture and mindset that puts the institution of the church ahead of the individuals victimized by priests and bishops?

And the victimization goes beyond pedophile clerics. The New York Times published an article on February 5 describing the sexual abuse of nuns and religious women by priests and bishops. It describes how nuns were raped, impregnated and then forced to have abortions. The Pope is quoted in the article acknowledging the truth of these claims. (

These are hideous crimes made even worse because they are perpetrated by “men of God” and all done with the cover and protection of the Catholic Church. The Pope has recognized that there is a structural and cultural problem within the church he refers to as clericalism. Clericalism is defined as an excessive devotion to the institutional aspects of an organized religion, usually over and against the religion’s own beliefs or faith. The cardinals, bishops and priests are given enormous power over the laity. And some have used that power to molest, rape and sexually abuse those placed in their spiritual care.

The heaviness I feel in my heart is for these individuals who have been victimized by clergy and by the church as well. This great evil is made even worse because of the spiritual harm that has been done. I can’t even begin to measure the pain when the abuse comes from individuals and organizations that are supposed to represent the body of Christ. The good news of a God who loves us rings hollow when proclaimed through the lips of an abuser priest or the liturgies of a church that enables and protects those priests. How many see a twisted version of God in the faces and actions of their abusers?

Let us pray. Let us prayerfully lift those who have been hurt into the light and love of God.

Let our churches truly be sanctuaries for those who have been abused, where they can find safety, acceptance and love. Let us create a courageous and supportive space where people can be vulnerable as they seek spiritual healing.

Let us honestly and fearlessly look at the structure of our churches. Abuse by clerics is not just an issue for the Catholic Church. The idea that we must protect the church by enabling and protecting those who are perpetrating evil in the name of that church is rampant across all denominations. My own denomination dealt with abusive pastors by quietly moving them from one church to another. These protective structures are rotten to the core and must be dismantled. It won’t be easy. They have been around for a long time and are deeply entrenched in the culture of our churches. Many in leadership are invested in keeping this structure in place to maintain their power and, in some cases, for their own protection.

My hope is that you and I will find the courage to stand with those who have been hurt by the church and demand that perpetrators be brought to justice AND that the systems that allow, enable and protect these crimes be exposed and dismantled.

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