This is something I normally do not consider, since my professional and personal inclinations are to concentrate entirely on the needs of victims.
But there are several different types of abuse, and let’s start by saying, here and now, this is a look at abuse of position.
In any relationship with a power imbalance, whether domestic, managerial, adult/child, wealth/poverty or other, the possibility of abuse is always there and is always one of power abused.
When it comes to social work and other jobs in the civil service, if an older powerful man with the gift of offering a job, texts suggestions that she might enjoy a good spanking, to a teenage job applicant, it’s fairly clear what must happen. They have to be suspended and, upon proof, dismissed for gross misconduct. They are then deemed to have made themselves unemployed and cannot claim job seekers allowance for 12 weeks.
Simon Danczuk – you may immediately be thinking.
and yes, this is precisely what should happen to him as a public servant who has abused his position of power over a vulnerable young woman.
Some have said that, since she was past the age of consent (just), she is not vulnerable and this is “not such a big deal”. I’d say no, it was clear cut but, that it is worth exploring what moral and professional rules should apply to such cases when, for example, the victim is not definable in law as such. (i.e. no actual law of the land has been broken).
In social work one has a position of power, no matter what age differences apply between client and professional. It is perhaps easier to see when the client is under age, but as teachers know only too well, that area is policed – and offences punished – heavily. When an adult client trusts a professional counsellor, doctor, or priest, and that professional finds themselves sexually attracted to said client, – and that client finds the professional equally attractive and actively responds to their “love”, then what we have is the classic breach of professional code. In a Danczuk type case, I strongly suspect that the HCPC would revoke Social Work professional registration in perpetuity.
There are plenty of grey edges to this type of breach. A doctor who is perhaps treating someone who has mental health problems, finds they are drawn to the patient as a sexual partner, they both wish to consummate this and so s/he ensures s/he is transferred to the list of a different practice, so they can then start a sexual relationship – no longer as doctor and patient. That is possibly within acceptable professional codes. The fact that the position of power was what started the process of cathexis and led directly to a relationship between one powerful adult and another vulnerable one, is morally very dubious, but not a breach of the strict professional code.
A priest who counsels a parishioner is another case in point. Take the typical example of a male Anglican priest seeing a troubled young mother whose relationship and mental health stability have failed, and who seeks “God’s guidance” in pulling her life back together. Let us also say that this priest is married and proceeds to have an adulterous affair with this vulnerable younger woman…
What would the church do on being made aware of this situation?
I have been informed that the adultery in this hypothetical case is an offence that warrants suspension from the priesthood, for a period of time…and …that’s it?
To me there is a much more serious issue for the church, (of England, but this applies to all others), to address than the adultery, damaging though that might be. The professional breach, the abuse of power is, in my view, much worse than that of the example of the doctor, and than a professor shagging one of his/her students.
The issue when someone comes seeking “God’s help” and gets help from “God’s representative”, that then becomes line-crossing abuse, is in so many ways far worse…
Suppose they began with counselling sessions – using theological examples of how Jesus helped the vulnerable, and his teachings on compassion?
No problem (at least for the religious) I presume.
Suppose they developed a friendship born of her desperate need and his desire and they then prayed together, and found that “God blessed their feelings”,
Suppose they then moved in together, told everyone that God had approved their union, and that he was getting divorced, and all was fine…
Suppose that this new relationship fails and the priest sees he “made a mistake” and goes back to his wife, who, in a spirit of Christian forgiveness, takes him back…
Church rules should, in my view consider the breach of counselling rules to be a permanent bar from the priesthood, above and beyond any issues to do with their attitude to the adultery.
But the Bible has nothing to say about professional conduct, and quite a bit to say about the sin of adultery (for which, throughout history, it is the woman who tends to get very severe punishment). The Bible is in fact, quite clearly, an entirely inappropriate reference book for guidance for anyone living and working in a post medieval era.
My own moral code says that the self delusion involved in “prayers that get answered”, typically to suit a personal desire, is not something I can ever forgive. You have to go right back and undo the deluded belief of “knowing God”, and “hearing him tell you what he wants”. Without doing that, there can be no real repentance, no acceptance of personal responsibility, and therefore no forgiveness from me.
You may feel differently?
The idea that there are priests, all over the world, pretending, YES, pretending – to offer God’s comfort to the mentally disturbed, vulnerable, or otherwise gullible, masses – is a massive problem.
Along with other forms, including the indoctrination of children into these delusions, this is abuse on a massive scale,
of the people,
by organised religions.