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Carolyn's Story

"He broke my connection to all that is holy."

Carolyn recalls that all she ever wanted in life was to serve in the church. Her pastor's betrayal robbed her of that and stole her spirituality. When her pastor's overtures began, Carolyn was in her early 30s and had been a member of a Lutheran congregation for ten years. Nearing completion of seminary, she was seeking a direction for her life. She was active in her congregation and the minister of youth; she looked to her pastor as her mentor and supervisor.

One Ash Wednesday, Carolyn was in tears, full of doubts about her faith. Her husband suggested that she contact the pastor for guidance. The pastor told her that she was in crisis and offered to rearrange his schedule to provide a counseling session at her home. After the first session, the pastor told Carolyn that he thinks of her as a man thinks of a woman and hugged her.

Despite her misgivings about this incident, because of his position in the church Carolyn trusted him and benefitted from the spiritual guidance. As they continued to meet, the pastor told Carolyn that they were spiritual lovers and mentioned St. Francis and St. Claire, knowing they were her favorite saints. On another occasion, he kissed her on the lips in his office, but said it was a mistake and would never happen again. He told her he was concerned about her marriage. Carolyn recalls he used a particular Bible story to encourage her to forsake her children and husband and follow him.

One day in counseling he raped her. Afterwards, he said, I knew you wanted that. We need to keep this secret because it would ruin the church. The pastor told Carolyn that God had put her on earth for him, and used the language of incarnational theology to make this point. He sexualized the liturgy and Bible stories.

If this was any other man, I would have known it was not right, said Carolyn. But church is supposed to be a sanctuary. I couldn't make sense of what was happening. He broke my connection to all that is holy.

Carolyn said all she had ever wanted was to serve the church and teach her children to love God, but all that has been taken away from her. She and her family left the church where the abuse occurred, and have tried since to join other congregations but without success. Her children want nothing to do with organized religion and have doubts about God.

What hurts me the most is that this wasn't just physical rape, she said. It was spiritual rape.