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As wave after wave of scandals hit the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches over allegations of sexual abuse, pastor Liam Goligher and Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia appear determined to drag their church into the same quagmire. Indeed, recent emails that I have received suggest a profound lack of concern for victims of sexual abuse, as well as the possibility of a coverup by church officials.

Today, I’m publishing these emails. Having seen the same sort of passive-aggressive language in my own dealings with abusive clergy in The Episcopal Church, the response of church officials sounds all too familiar.
Of course, I’m not privy to all the details of this situation. But these three emails raise some powerful and disturbing questions:
  • If Liam Goligher and Tenth Presbyterian really care about victims of sexual and other forms of abuse, why wouldn’t they treat Phil Snyder’s efforts as a welcome opportunity to speak up on behalf of possible victims?
  • How could Session have already addressed the issue when the parties seemingly most effected/involved hadn’t been there during the discussions?
  • Why wouldn’t the church itself have called the police? Isn’t that the criticism of the Catholic church, that it tries to handle allegations of abuse internally?
  • Why would the church excommunicate Phil and apparently falsely claim he was being threatening if it didn’t have anything to hide?
  • Why would Dave Collins state in his email that Session now considers the matter to be “closed,” without stating an outcome? Moreover, the reference to matters “directly observed,” sounds very much like an effort to silence a whistleblower, especially when coupled with the shallow reference to “prayer and encouragement.”
  • Why would the alleged victim fear possible retaliation from church officials if Tenth Prsbyterian is a safe environment? My experience is that when people fear reprisals there’s a high likelihood that spiritual abuse is occurring right behind the scenes.
  • Why on this green earth would you ever bring legal action against former parishioner (as in filing for an injunction)? As in my case, when a church goes to court with a member it invariably reveals that, right behind the scenes, it’s a very troubled place.  And just like the Catholic church, the ends don’t justify the means.
My take: The church’s actions sound very much like there’s more—much more—to this story. If it has nothing to hide, why the bad behavior? Why go to court over something that it should welcome, which is people coming forward with concerns? In a day and age when it’s illegal for publicly traded companies to retaliate, why do churches think it’s okay for them to do so? Churches like Tenth Presbyterian simply illustrate that, rhetoric notwithstanding, they are no friend to the poor, the outcast, the oppressed — and that includes those who may have experienced sexual violence or abuse.
I suspect that, in the coming weeks, we’re going to find out that these issues are just the tip of the iceberg at Tenth Presbyterian. Yes, these are unproven allegations, but they have the ring of truth, and there are so many disturbing aspects to this situation that I can only conclude this is one highly toxic church.
Stay tuned.