They call me Simon the Pharisee. “Simon” means “hearing.” In accordance with my name, I heard the call of Jesus and became a disciple after He healed me of leprosy. Candidly, the physical disease symbolized the deeper spiritual disease from which Jesus also delivered me. I was guilty of clergy sexual abuse, a practice that fed on my Phariseeism like crustaceans feed on sewage.
August 1 was Clergy Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Day. I thought it would be appropriate to honor that day by telling my story. Now a recovered offender, I can pinpoint how elements of my religious experience led to the double life I lived. Here they are:
Pride– We Pharisees warded off the encroachments of Greek culture, which threatened to rob the Jews of their identity. Because of this, the people thought of us as heroes, holier and better than the common man; in fact, the name “Pharisee” means “separated.” Consequently, we became very puffed up in our own conceits. Human praise affects the brain similarly to an opiate, so when the praise died down we went in search of another fix: another contrived rule to impose, another righteous ritual to perform, another innocent woman to deflower.
Legalism– We instilled in ourselves and our followers the belief that we could save ourselves through compliance with the law. Since no one can obey in their own strength, we then lowered God’s standard to fit human limitations. This is how legalism teamed up with disobedience and produced a scenario where we strained at gnats and swallowed camels. And molested women. And then tried to have them stoned.
Hypocrisy– High standards minus grace equals hypocrisy. Graceless religious leaders, pressured to be “good,” can only manufacture an appearance of holiness and conceal their true, unconverted selves. Such double-living forces carnality into hiding, where it can flourish like anaerobic bacteria. We Pharisees helped each other hide, too. When one would get caught perpetrating, we’d hush up the matter and shuttle him off to another district.
My best-known victim was my niece Mary Magdalene. Just a child when I met her, she bloomed into a stunning beauty before my eyes. She called it an “affair,” and indeed it felt that way to her. But I know now it was abuse, in spite of her spellbound consent. Specifically, my abuse of Mary qualified as incestuous, religious, power rape, because I was a relative, a clergyman, and an authority figure. It disgusts me to admit it, but I must.
At my house party—the feast to celebrate my healing from leprosy—I still didn’t “get it.” I thought evil of Mary as she poured out her soul in gratitude. Jesus saw the spite on my face and told me a parable that revealed His knowledge of my guilt. Two debtors. One ten times more guilty. Both forgiven. Which one should love him the more? I read Him perfectly: “Stop lording it over her. You’re the one who led her into sin! You should be ten times more grateful, because you’re ten times more guilty.” He knows! I panicked, breaking into a sweat. How could He know and yet spare me? Could it be that He was Isaiah’s prophetic sin-bearer after all?
The weeks after my feast found me paralyzed, as one struck by lightening. Remorse crippled my energies and sickened me to earthly things. At last I turned fully to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing. I realized I had no reason to live except to testify of God’s mercy.
In the place of pride, Jesus gave me contrition. Through the parable, Jesus confronted my sin discretely. The goodness of God in not publicly rebuking me, even when I wanted a public rebuke for my victim, led me to repentance.
In the place of legalism, He gave me the gospel. The message of Christ’s righteousness supplanted my own self-righteousness, and ultimately led to obedience to all the commandments of God, including the command to be sexually pure. Jesus forgave my sin and cleansed me from all unrighteousness. Then He showed me how to walk without falling. I noticed that Jesus never lusted simply because He loved so much. Each woman to Him was a soul for whom He would die in agony. He cherished them far too much to ever objectify them.
In the place of hypocrisy, He gave me honesty. I learned to put off pretension, admitting my weakness and humanity. I learned to confess my faults to trusted accountability partners and then seek the Lord with them for complete restoration.
If a Simon comes into your life, help him out by doing what he wants least. Tell the truth. It’s not “tattle-tailing” to reveal that a clergyman has taken advantage of a member of the flock. Do as Mary did and tell Jesus what happened; then share it with trusted counselors and friends. Do all you can to stop the abuse; thus you’ll be sparing future victims. Lying to protect another is still lying. Be tactfully, discreetly honest. You may lose all your friends for a time; the Pharisees may hate you. But you’ll have the infinitely more valuable blessing of a clear conscience. Remember that Jesus said, “Leave her alone.” That same Jesus will defend you. And perhaps your honesty will set a precedent that a Pharisee like I can follow. Remember, Jesus died for us too. And His grace can heal even the spiritual leprosy of clergy sexual abuse. As one writer noted about me: “The proud Pharisee became a lowly, self-sacrificing disciple.”
You can prevent clergy sexual abuse! For more information, go to thehopeofsurvivors.com.