Late last year, ABC-Australia published a report detailing the stories of pastors’ wives who had been abused by their husbands. Written by Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, the report is eye-opening, depressing, necessary, and heartbreaking. The wives of pastors featured in the report often suffered years of abuse; suffering in silence lest they besmirch the church and their husband. And when they sought help from the church, they were often ignored. What follows is an excerpt from the report titled, Raped, Tracked, Humiliated: Clergy Wives Speak Out About Domestic Violence:
It’s not easy divorcing a priest, let alone a violent one.
Jane has taken up smoking since she separated, wears more make-up and listens to music at full volume — all of which would have intensely irritated her ex-husband.
Rebellion has many guises; some self-destructive, others artless and unaffected.
On a cool Spring afternoon in Sydney’s outer suburbs, she stands in her kitchen, turning up the volume to the song, Praying, Kesha’s paean to staring down — and surpassing — abusive men, and says, over and over, as her feet slide in rhythm on the floor, “This is my song! It’s mine. This song is everything.”
You brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this: I wish you farewell
Days spent dancing are rare for Jane, though. Some weeks she drops her children to school then crawls back into bed, spent.
She is on the single parent pension and regularly goes days without food. But, just recently, she told 7.30 and ABC News, she has found her voice. And, like other women who have spoken out about abuse in a sudden recent spate of global assault allegations, she is determined.
When she speaks of her faith in God, her face shines. When she speaks of the violence she experienced at the hands of her husband, a senior Anglican priest who worked in a series of parishes across Australia, she trembles.
And when she speaks of the response of the church to her plight, her jaw sets in anger.
Every night of her 20-year marriage, Jane’s husband would wake her up several times for sex. If she objected, he would wait until she fell asleep again.
“He was very sexually abusive from the start,” she said.
“He would watch pornography, drink heavily, and come to bed. I would wake up with him touching me, inside me and I’d say to him, ‘Stop I’m pregnant’ or ‘I’m really tired’ and he would just wait until I fell back to sleep and continue. He knew how much it upset me.
“If I said ‘no’ during sex or ‘no I don’t want to do that’, he would get angry and sulk. And so it was better for me to give in than to have to put up with that.
“Or he would get angry with the kids, so if I gave him sex he wouldn’t get angry. Therefore the kids wouldn’t cop the abuse.
The young mother became sleep deprived and exhausted. Finally, she decided she could not continue to cater to her husband’s needs at the expense of her own health.
“I actually went to him one night and I said ‘I need a break from our sexual relationship … and we need to work on our marriage’. He said: ‘I’m here for you, you have my support’, and then he proceeded to rape me.
“He took what he wanted. And I think he knew in his mind it was one of the last times that he could have me.”
Jane was devastated by the assault. She became deeply depressed, stopped eating and had a breakdown: “I was very unwell for about a year, I really struggled with everything.”
Her husband even confessed his sins to a member of the church hierarchy, who told Jane that, if it was true, she should report him to police. But, Jane says, the clergy member did not offer her any support.
A year later, she left her husband for good.
Jane is part of a private online support group of Anglican clergy wives in New South Wales who were abused by their husbands.
They message each other or speak most days, providing a sympathetic ear or suggesting new counsellors when things are desperate.
What stunned them when they first met for dinner were two things. First, how many of them there were, and how common and continuing this problem seemed to be.
Second were the similarities in their experiences: after committing their lives to supporting their husband’s ministry, each had been forced to leave after decades of emotional, financial and sexual abuse which had left them depressed, fearful and, for some, suicidal.
Several had been part of Moore Theological College in Sydney — the training seminary of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney — when their husbands studied to be priests. All had mixed experiences with the church after disclosing their abuse: some clergy had supported them and pleaded their cases, while others ignored them.
All had disappointing or bruising experiences with a senior church leader when they asked for help.
It has been a year since they found each other, a year spent submitting police reports, talking for hours, struggling to pay bills and seeing psychologists. And they now also share a common anger.
They claim to have been silenced, their abuse covered up and their experiences ignored by a hierarchy that, they say, continues to see domestic violence as a peripheral female problem.
Several months ago, an investigation by 7.30 and ABC News revealed women in Christian communities were being told to endure or forgive domestic violence, and stay in abusive relationships, often due to misappropriation of Bible verses on submission.
Since then, hundreds of women — a number of whom were clergy wives from different denominations across Australia — have contacted us to tell their stories.
Many did so out of frustration that some church leaders had responded to reports of domestic violence with denial, demanding urgent response.
In recent weeks, the national and Sydney Anglican churches have formally apologised to survivors of domestic violence in their ranks, and even confessed some clergy were perpetrators.
The problem is this: the Australian church knew this was happening decades ago — that it was not just rogue parishioners who were abusing their spouses, but its leaders, too. And very little has been done to fix it.
You can read the entire report here.