My name’s Eric Bonetti. I’m the publisher of this blog.
A resident of Northern Virginia, I spent much of my life in The Episcopal Church.
My interest in the topic of abusive churches and people who abuse comes from my own experiences with abuse prior to leaving The Episcopal Church. Perhaps not surprisingly, I write from a progressive perspective. Yet, much like The Episcopal Church at its best, I welcome a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.
Most recently, my family and I experienced a serious issue of spiritual abuse at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria Virginia. In a nutshell, I asked the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to mediate a dispute between me and the rector of the church, Bob Malm.
The diocese responded by saying that my experiences with bullying, as well as questionable HR, cash management, financial reporting, and governance issues in the church were “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” and declined to get involved. So much for the baptismal covenant.
Malm promptly launched a comprehensive campaign of harassment and retaliation that included:
- Instructing parish staff to shun and exclude me and my family from the church.
- Intentional misuse of our memorial donations to the church.
- Repeated violations of church canons requiring confidentiality.
- A smear campaign.
One thing led to another, and Malm falsely accused accused me of threatening him in an effort to shut down my online and public criticism of him. As part of this, he committed perjury, falsely stating under oath, and while advised by attorney/parishioner Jeffery Chiow, that my mother or someone purporting to be her had repeatedly contacted him.
This simply did not happen.
Further, Malm unsuccessfully attempted to drag my mother, dying from late-stage COPD, into court.
Through it all, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia refused to address Malm’s perjury, saying it will only get involved if he faces criminal charges. Given that perjury is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, the diocese is de facto saying that perjury is acceptable conduct for clergy. And heaven help those sexually abused by clergy—it would appear that unless there is a conviction, victims are without recourse from within the church.
From these experiences, I learned that:
- Corrupt churches invariably support abusive clergy.
- Even with readily available and incontrovertible evidence, abusive churches will refuse to look at facts.
- Church members turn a blind eye to abuse by clergy. Or, as Robin Hammeal-Urban puts it, “If it’s inconceivable, it’s imperceivable.”
- Victims of abuse invariably face retaliation, including from parishioners.
- Church canons and written policies aren’t worth the paper they are written on. (Unless property is involved, in which case denominational officials fairly foam at the mouth over their applicability.)
- Most are nowhere near as tenacious as I am when fighting back.
My hope is that, from these experiences, I developed compassion for those hurt by the church and a willingness to resist injustice and oppression. And yes, I still believe in the inherent dignity of every human being.
I also know that abuse is abuse, regardless of type. Whether spiritual, emotional, financial, relational, sexual or other, abuse hurts. Abuse causes suffering, both for victims and bystanders. It is profoundly damaging to the church. (In fact, as of this writing, Malm has announced his retirement. Meanwhile, my former parish has lost 1/3 of its pledging units and is lurching towards major financial difficulties.)
So, I write about abuse of every sort. Abuse is ubiquitous in all denominations and faith traditions. My hope is that, by sharing my observations and experiences, perhaps others may find comfort, or understand the importance of addressing abuse in the church. Or maybe even choose to join in resisting injustice and oppression.
I’m also happy to write about your experiences of abuse in church. In doing so, I will do my utmost to maintain confidentiality when asked to do so, although I cannot guarantee that a third party may not be able to access your communications with me. I also welcome third-party submissions.