When clergy are abusers

Editor’s note: The following list was compiled by Carolyn Waterstradt, who holds a masters degree in theology and will graduate with masters degree in social work in April 2012. Carolyn owns Inner Quest Healing, where she works with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. This partial list of grooming techniques was compiled from her research with 18 women who were abused by a member of the clergy. Her book, “Fighting the Good Fight: Healing and Advocacy after Clergy Sexual Assault,” is a compilation of this research and will be available in spring 2012. 

This article refers to spiritual concepts. Please read Lovefraud’s statement on Spiritual Recovery.

10 Grooming Techniques Commonly Used in Clergy Sexual Abuse of Adults

By Carolyn Waterstradt, M.A., MSW Candidate

Whenever members of the clergy cross sexual boundaries with someone who attends his congregation, it is considered a boundary violation. In fact, some US states consider such behavior to be a form of criminal sexual assault. The reason the clergyperson is always at fault in such a relationship is because he holds all the power in the relationship rendering it impossible for the other person to truly give consent.

When this type of boundary violation takes place, a period of grooming often precedes it. During the grooming period the clergyperson chooses a vulnerable victim and works closely with her, gradually wearing down her boundaries in anticipation of sexually assaulting her. Grooming often begins with small boundary violations that gradually progress.

Violations include:

  • Inviting the victim to do special things alone with him such as attending a seminar.
  • Sharing confidential information about other members of the community or about his wife.
  • Accidently brushing up against the victim.
  • Scheduling counseling sessions when no one is around.
  • Touching the victim in a counseling session.
  • Expressing love for the victim. Usually this is first said in the context of brotherly, agape, courtly, or spiritual love.
  • Saying things like, “No one has ever understood me like you do.” or “God sent you to me.”
  • Making an obscene gesture or remark.
  • Asking for details regarding a victim’s marriage, especially if the victim is not being seen for marriage counseling.
  • Asking for information about the victim’s sex life or giving her material that is sexual in nature. Clergy are not trained to ask such questions.

There are other grooming techniques. What ones can you think of?

© 2012 Inner Quest Healing

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50 Comments on "When clergy are abusers"

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Hi Oxy, it’s nice to hear from you!

As for me, everything’s going fine, thanks, but I haven’t been anywhere special. It’s only that I get busy with some other activity from one day to another, and don’t have the time to post here.

I do read more than I post. As a matter of fact one problem I have is the one I’m mentioning to Carolyn below: that when I write things they often turn out to be long. So sometimes I glance at an article here and feel I’d like to comment on it. But the more I think about it, the more things I think of that I could say. Then I end up telling myself I just don’t have the time to write out everything that’s in my head—so finally I write nothing! I really must practice writing shorter pieces!

All the best!

Hello Carolyn, and thanks for responding!

You’re absolutely right about the value of brevity in blog articles. I have to confess to you that being the opposite—very lengthy at times—is in fact a fault of mine. Often when writing I end up feeling that “this” needs to be said and “that” needs to be said, while “something else” needs “more background” or a “more complete explanation.” The result can be a very long post! My own version of the “seduction tactics” list topped out at 1,266 words, which is more than four times as long as your own!

So this is not about length. I do believe the article could indeed be kept to the length you were suggesting, without any significant loss to its basic intention, which was primarily to list these tactics used by certain rogue clerics and invite others to add to them. I hope my own commentary on them was a helpful addition, but it is an optional one. Tthe chief reason my “version” was longer was that the original article seemed to imply certain things I disagreed with, so I wanted to set out my own views more clearly.

Although the appearance of sexism was one problem I had with the article, other problems were with the appearance of rigidity and extremism. These could be resolved while still keeping the article quite short.

I’ll just discuss three of those issues.

First, I don’t see any reason to criticize the list as it stands if it hadn’t been introduced the way it was. The article classes all of these behaviors as “boundary violations” when that’s by no means true of all of them. Fair enough, some of them (like “sharing confidences”) are clear violations of one kind or another, but others may not be.

One example is “scheduling counseling sessions when no one is around.” Surely when somebody has a counseling session with a minister, they don’t expect a third person to chaperone the meeting itself? That would violate their privacy. Perhaps it means there’s no-one else in the building, but I can visualize scores of occasions where there doesn’t happen to be anyone else around, yet the meeting is perfectly innocent.

This problem would be eliminated with a different introduction to the list. Instead of branding all these behaviors as “boundary violations” in themselves, the article could simply point out that what follows is a list of “tactics” (or “techniques,” or “behaviors”) that have been used by clerics to get inappropriately “close” to someone they’re targeting sexually… or something of the kind.

That problem was compounded by the opening sentences which equated “boundary violations” with something even worse: a “criminal sexual assault”! The underlying fault was the failure to distinguish clearly among three different categories of things the article talks about.

One category is the listed “techniques.” These may (but not necessarily) be “tactics” used by predatory clerics, and may (but again, not necessarily) be “boundary violations” in themselves.

A second category whose existence the article implies is behaviors that do constitute real “boundary violations,” but do not involve sexual activity—such as “sharing confidential information.”

A third category is sexual activity with a cleric. That’s also a “boundary violation,” but unlike other boundary violations it constitutes the real essence of the offense.

The trouble is that the article as written seems to conflate these three categories as if they were all the same. Yet no reasonable person could agree that merely “inviting someone to attend a seminar” constitutes a “criminal sexual assault”! I hope you see what I mean about the “appearance of extremism.”

I’m not suggesting for one moment that the article needs to go into detail about the distinctions among those categories. It only needs to be clear and simple. I think the repeated use of the ill-defined term “boundaries” causes unnecessary confusion. That’s why I’d personally be inclined to start off by talking about something like “sexual exploitation,” a term I think is clear enough to everyone, instead of “crossing sexual boundaries,” which is more vague. Then it’s fine in the middle to mention how clerics may progressively encroach on people’s “boundaries,” followed finally by the list of “techniques” or whatever they’re labeled.

The second issue is my suspicion that you’ve borrowed some of this terminology and discourse from other sources, but it won’t always go over so well with a general audience. Two things especially stuck out like a sore thumb. One was the word “clergypersons.” I’m sure the writers of the King James Bible would have called that word “an abomination before the LORD!” There are far better substitutes. Another is the last sentence of the first paragraph, which reads as if it was lifted straight from Andrea (“All Sex Is Rape”) Dworkin. I’d moderate that claim to make it sound more realistic.

The third issue is that I think the article may be misleading about what is covered. Here’s the impression I was left with at the end of that first paragraph. Suppose a single woman bumps into an attractive young man—possibly at a Christian rally, or even in the grocery store—and discovers he’s the minister in a church not far away. What does she do? If she wants to pursue a friendship, presumably with more in mind, the most natural thing in the world is for her to go to one or more services at his church, and get to talk to him again. Does this mean that the instant she walks through his church door and becomes “someone who attends his congregation,” she goes all weak at the knees and becomes utterly powerless to resist any sexual advance he might make to her? Or that if their relationship does become “intimate,” that makes him guilty of a “criminal sexual assault”?

Plain common sense should tell us it means no such thing; yet that’s what that first paragraph literally seems to be saying. I had to go to a different Web site to get clarification.

Three-quarters of U.S. states, so I’m told, have no criminal statutes covering sexual relations between clergy and adult partners, but those who do usually limit this to behavior occurring “within the confines of the counseling relationship.”

In other words, this is chiefly about clerics who are acting in a similar professional capacity as therapists toward their clients. That puts a different complexion on the whole matter. It’s not about relationships with anyone who might happen to walk through their church door. That makes far more sense.

I hope that helps to clarify some of the concerns I had.

In the comments above, “position of power” and “grooming” is defined as someone in a formal position of power targeting others. When you are dealing with a spath, formal positions of power are not needed to groom. In any abusive relationship, the abuse creates a power differential that was not present (or if present, to a greater degree). In a sense, all sexual activity between “equals” before the start of abuse becomes sexual abuse afterwards because consent can only be present with equals. So a husband would be just as wrong to have sex with his wife (and for the same reasons) in a relationship with persistent domestic violence as the woman’s pastor (or the counselor who is treating her for the abuse’s after effects).

While an abusive pastor (or other professional) is grooming a congregant ( or client) for sex, he also may be grooming others outside of the professional relationship as well. While these outside relationships are not technically professional sexual abuse, and the victims are by definition not in a “position of authority,” people can still be influenced by the fact that a professional is in a “relationship” with them.

Thank you for posting your article. I believe it was written for the survivors of Spiritual abuse and what you expressed was exactly what I experienced. Your list was accurate to my experience. Your writing was concise and to-the-point, and allowed me to look back over my experience and fill-in the details for myself …. having endured spiritual abuse through a Pastor who did groom me, what you wrote and how it was written was VERY helpful to me. You obviously have worked with survivors and understand the tatics that someone in a “pastoral” position uses to throw off your discernment and cause you to not question the “spiritual authority” that you have been taught from a child on,not to do. Each point is accurate to a survivor who has already experienced this….. Thanks again ~

When any person who is supposed to be a person of responsibility to TEACH or mentor the other person, the person who is the teacher/mentor (pastor, counselor, teacher, military officer, parent–) that person is “one up” to the counseled/client/child and can groom that person for “unhealthy” behaviors, sexual and otherwise. So a Boy Scout leader, Big Brother/Big Sister, tutor, anyone can groom a person over whom they have emotional power and control.

aussiegirl wrote,

“I read an autobiography by an indigenous Australian woman who was taken from her birth family during a dark period of our national history (not so very long ago) when it was considered “better” for native children to be fostered into white “Christian” families or put into institutions/”children’s homes”. I was riled up enough about the horrendous politics of the time that would wrench little ones from the arms of their wailing families but to learn of this poor lady’s sexual molestation by a “nun” at the “children’s home” she was placed at, boiled my blood”

I think I might have written to the woman, years back. Was she one of the “Forgotten Australians”? The woman I wrote to and received correspondence from, was. If anyone’s interested, look up “Forgotten Australians” on the internet. There were/are HUNDREDS, if not THOUSANDS of them. The part about the “dark period” of Australian History, I understood that, too, from the film, “Rabbit Proof Fence”

A very sad thing, indeed. I am glad that what followed were hearings in the Australian government, where hundreds of those abused, addressed the authorities, en masse or with petitions, via a collective grievance, trying to obtain reparation. It wasn’t just Catholic institutions/orphanages that perped, it was also other religious institutions, like the Salvation Army. Worse, when brothers and sisters and whole families were separated..much damage.



moveingon wrote,

“Downside look after their own, old Gregorians as they are known is like one big boys club ..old boys send their children, they enter the same house as daddy and everyone knows the rules!”

Sounds like a misogynists’ haven, to me, much like that one Greek Island reserved for a monastery, ONLY MEN, where no woman is allowed to set foot on it..can’t remember the name of it, I think I read about it in National Geographic, but it was long ago, so am not sure.

Yes..very cushy..with a pristine view of the (I guess Aagean) Sea for a view, all around..probably plenty of chances for skinny dipping with fellow monks, too. LOL


I once met a dock worker, a red-haired Irish man, well in his 40s, who told me, “The Catholic Church is a petri dish for pedophiles.” I did not inquire as to details, but I had a feeling he knew from personal experience.

Another man, a musician I know, raised in the Catholic faith, told me that a nun once boxed his ears when he was a kid. He told me, “When she dies I’m going to pee on her grave site and sing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ “.. and I believe him.


To bellaangel’s question, “So where do I start to heal? Abuse from #1. #2,#3, #4 or #5??????”

I agree with skylar..GO NOWHERE NEAR A CHURCH! If you can, go read the web sites/URLS,, and .. .. suggest you read the articles, if only to get a different perspective. I am not trying to persuade you to become an athiest. I’m certainly not one, but I don’t think of God the way I once did, because of MULTIPLE experiences in my past with..usually FAKE CHRISTIANS, but the last big mistake, with my ex-spath, involved, I think a Jewess who I also think colluded with him (my ex was raised as a Methodist) to do me in..though her Christmas tree was never any prettier than the ones I used to put up each year, when I lived with him, before she did. So, it’s not just ONE phony religion or fake religionists or fake spiritualists, who have impacted my life, in nasty ways, but several, and across more than a 40-year period of my life. I’m done with organized religion. For good.

Know that I believe EACH and EVERY WORD you have written! I know you speak the truth.


Dear Zim, Thank you for your suggestion…and i will definately look into the site your suggested. I have been terribly hurt by many “Christians” but I will always hold dear the relationship I have with the Lord. He is the ONLY one that has been there for me, day or night through all of this.

……as I was driving in this morning to work I was thinking of another situation where a “Christian” used their religion and “wisdom” to judge me. After all had happened,(she saw the work of the Spath…..but then heard through GOSSIP the lies of what the spath brought out from my past to use against me to deflect his mask from being torn-off) I called her…. (NOT KNOWING SHE HAD JOINED IN THE GOSSIP)….and was telling her how a man at one of the properties I manage was stalking me,coming to the office everyday, and how the employees were having to step in and protect me from this person. This man is a diagnosed Schizophrenic and he would see me to pay his rent etc….. I was only relaying the details of the day how 2 co-workers had to get in his face to protect me (….the next week,not anything to do with me or the situation his family had him committed to the hospital to get his meds regulated) HE is the one with a nmental health condition…I only take his rent!
…..Anyways, Do you know the response of this “Christian” and “Friend”? ……..”Well, he was connecting with that broken place in you and you need to see what is broken in YOU that he would come around and his SPIRIT would CONNECT with your SPIRIT and pick out that broken place in YOU”, and I never heard from her again!!!!!!!!!!

…….please understand the man was physically attracted to me, I never had any conversation or anything with him, and he is a diagnosed Schizo were I work….and he is in and out of the hospital CONSTANTLY because of his condition and his inablilty to remain stable on his meds. BUT SOMEHOW ALL OF THAT DID NOT MATTER….. I WAS JUDGED AND FOUND THAT EVEN THOUGH I NEVER EVEN SPOKE WITH THIS PERSON, IT WAS SOMETHING BROKEN IN ME THAT WOULD CAUSE HIM TO STALK ME, SOMEHOW RELATED TO MY PAST……AND I NEVER HEARD FROM HER AGAIN! i tried to call her back, to see if I had really heard her right, and she would not answer my call.

I have never known such judgement since the spath has told his sob stories,lies and deception to friends and family to tun them against me, and to cause the ambient abuse he so loves!! It has been 2 years in April ……and not ONE person from a church I was in for 30 years has driven up my driveway, written a card or called…..not one….to find out the whole truth of what has happened. Ever heard the story of the Good Samaritan? ’cause I have been in the ditch and they all just keep walking past and never even bother to look in my direction…..they just keep walking.

But in all this I still believe in the God of the Bible, because He is Love…and He has not left me.

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