Sexual misconduct among the clergy may be more widespread, complex, and devastating than we realize.

Maria, a long-time New England resident and evangelical Christian, had tried to convince herself she was imagining things, that surely the fault must be in her perception of the new pastor’s conduct and not in his conduct itself—after all, he was a man of God. As an active member and influential leader of Christian education in her Boston-area church, she was determined to give her pastor every benefit of any doubt.

Having accepted a ride home from a Sunday-school teacher’s meeting with the clergyman, who lived in the vicinity, Maria was startled when he caught her arm and began caressing it. But she managed to persuade herself that he was merely expressing concern—albeit inappropriately—for the current difficulties in her life. Although she felt uncomfortable enough to retreat promptly into her house, Maria kept the incident to herself.

“I just wouldn’t let myself think about it,” she says. “I just kept telling myself it was all in my head, that I was making a big deal of nothing.”

During marriage counseling in which she and her husband were attempting to deal with his violent and angry outbursts, Maria again detected suggestions of physical attraction to her on the part of her pastor—behavior she again chose to ignore. But when he called her into his office one Sunday on the pretense of hearing how her classes were progressing and then asked her intensely personal questions about her sex life—claiming that her husband, from whom she was by then separated, wanted to know—Maria began to take her perceptions more seriously. Eventually, she confided in a church elder whom she trusted.

More than a little disturbed, the eldercon fessed ...

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