MIRIAM: Since the man who had hurt us was there that Sunday, this was one of those Sabbaths when the constant presence of ushers in the hallways was absolutely necessary to me. If you have not been traumatized by violent crime, it might be hard to imagine how I felt. I will try to show you:
In your mind, seat yourself in sacrament meeting. You review the past week, your outward actions, and your innermost thoughts. Seeking purification before God, you ask forgiveness. You entreat the Savior for strength and healing. You beg for help to function day after day, to be able to work through the trauma you’ve endured. You beg God to protect you, you beg God to guide those around you and those in authority to protect you from your abuser.
Some days are better than others. There are hours when you don’t even think about it. There are moments like a Saturday grocery trip, when, like a rushing wind engulfing you, you’re frozen. The silhouette of a coat and boots sends you into a state of panic. You can see that it’s not him, but your body is still responding. You forget where you are, you forget what you’re doing.
The next day, you’re in the pew again, feeling the calm start to wash over you. You have hungered for these minutes, for the promise of renewed peace, for communion with Christ. The bishop begins with announcements, introducing the confirmation of a newly baptized child, the niece of your abuser. As your heart swells in love for this child and her new steps in her journey, your own child’s relaxed posture stiffens. He starts to tremble. You look up as a familiar silhouette again emerges into view, up onto the stand, surrounding the ordinance chair along with other priesthood holders. It’s him.
You look to the bishop, the one who has cried with you in his office, who has heard of the abuse, of the police reports, of the concrete evidence of abuse. You look to your bishop for help. How can he be here, how can he be up there?
The bishop is not at the podium, and he is not seated on the stand. He is in the priesthood circle, his hand on the back of your abuser, joined together for the confirmation.
A seismic shift seems to shake the room. Your hand shoots to your throat as a wave of nausea passes through you. Someone is praying in the microphone at the priesthood circle. No one seems to have noticed that you are being harmed. Again. Right now.
Bishops are called to unrelenting, difficult tasks. They can be charged with the spiritual welfare of grievous abusers and their victims, simultaneously. These stories are not always obvious to outside observers. It might take time to recognize the abuse in a situation. When not immediately clear, the first appropriate reaction might be to put it in Schrödinger’s Box: believe the alleged abuser who says he is innocent and also believe the alleged victim.
Our bishop struggled with our story. The man who libeled, trespassed, harassed, and finally assaulted members of our family is very persuasive, lies easily, and cuts a very sympathetic figure.
Our situation dragged on for many months, the bishop began as mediator. After our abuser started issuing death threats (which we could not prove), the abuser insisted on a disciplinary council for us. The bishop asserted that such a council would not reflect well on our abuser and asked us for our input.
I had been reading about violent people who snap, and since the abuser lived next door to us and our young children, I feared pinning him in a metaphorical corner. I pleaded with the bishop to not proceed with a council and he did not.
Several months later, we finally obtained concrete evidence. When the abuser and his wife trespassed onto our property, my husband confronted him. As our teen daughter videotaped from her bedroom window, she watched my husband demand the abuser to leave. The abuser then punched my husband to the ground. My husband briefly lost consciousness, but the video shows the wife laugh hysterically, “Ha ha ha, he is dead, he is dead!” before they both leave our yard. Thankfully, our daughter’s terror was short-lived. My husband opened his eyes after just a few seconds and came back inside the house.
This time we had proof. We filed a police report. Friends came to support us and one also informed our bishop of the incident. First, as usual, the bishop sympathized. He was indignant at the abuser’s actions and wanted to respond proactively. Later in the evening in a subsequent conversation, his attitude changed: Maybe my husband had pushed him? No, and we had proof that the abuser attacked unprovoked. The bishop waffled. His final commentary was disappointment that we had filed criminal charges on a Sunday.
A year later, our biggest problem is solved. The abuser no longer lives next door. Yet he still attends our ward. Two Sundays ago, he came and ordained his son to the office of deacon. The motions of that Sabbath were smooth and uneventful, but afterward it took me days to work past the anxiety my body produced, the built-in defense mechanism that is engaged every time I see him, even more so when I see him acting in a position of spiritual authority.
This man still maligns our family and spreads rumors, even about our children. In Sunday School, he has commented with accusing anecdotes of conversations with us, words that only I will recognize, a passive aggressive whistle heard only by me.
This man has never expressed remorse to us. Sometimes abusers do, but keep abusing. This man still tries to harm us. Our abuser certainly has not shown a consistent effort in changing behavior, quite the contrary. I do not know how the bishop sees him, but I do know that feelings cannot replace facts. I know this man has not fully repented, I absolutely know he has not sought restitution with us.
The harm he has done and does is perpetuated with every memory and reminder of him. When he continues with the appearance of holding the priesthood in the church, the harm is worsened, and we are victimized again.
Where is the “Amen” to his priesthood?
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