There are 'Harvey Weinsteins' among Church of England clergy – abuse victim

Among Church of England clergy are numerous 'Harvey Weinstein' figures who use their position, power and pastoral skills to abuse women, one victim of assault has claimed.

Speaking anonymously for fear of the repercussions, one woman told Christian Today of the presence of priests who use their role as leader of a church to molest women parishioners.

'We are talking married men making inappropriate sexual pushes at people, trying to start affairs with women,' Helen [not her real name] told Christian Today. 'I know of situations when men in the clergy have used their extensive pastoral skills to trick vulnerable people into a sexual relationship and then dump them when the next vulnerable person comes along.

'It is real manipulation and use of position,' she said.

'What I am talking about it is beyond familiarity and bordering on to actual sexual assault.'

Helen, who is ordained and an abuse survivor herself, said that within the close community of a parish church, the abuser's wife and family is often known to the victim, making it harder to speak out.

'All of this behaviour means that women do not feel able to access the pastoral care from their priest that they should be able to,' she said.

'When you go to church you don't want to be hit upon by your vicar. We do not want it to cross those boundaries.'

Asked how often she thinks it happens, Helen said she would not like to estimate a proportion of vicars who do abuse their role but said it was 'much more prevalent than we imagine'.

She said: 'I think it is more widespread than we think and it is often covered up by saying it was only harmless flirting.'

The fear of being labelled a 'cassock chaser' by male clergy – a reference to women who 'fancy clergy and chase after them' - drives even more women not to speak out, she said.

Her comments come after Helen wrote a blog post for ViaMedia.News detailing her experience. 'I speak of clergy who flirt and make inappropriate remarks to women, making it impossible for that woman to feel that they can safely access pastoral care from that priest,' she wrote.

'Clergy who touch women without their consent – no matter how "innocently", who make sexual advances, who sexually assault and even rape. We have clergy in our midst who prey upon women at vulnerable times in their life, luring them with their "best pastoral skills" and then using the opportunity to emotionally and sexually abuse.'

Harvey Weinstein on the red carpet after arriving at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 26, 2017.Reuters

With CofE clergy's job often tied up with a house or flat, Helen said the fear of what would happen to the perpetrator's wife and family if he lost his job and their marriage broke down added another barrier to women coming forward.

'You may say that that I'm being melodramatic, but what do you think happens to the perpetrators' families in these circumstances?,' she wrote earlier on Tuesday. 'It is they who lose their home and as many do not have any other housing provision, they are left with nowhere to go. The victim knows this will be the price, so they choose to stay silent.'

She called for a 'zero tolerance' policy towards inappropriate sexualised behaviour of any kind in church and said until women feel confident they will be believed, they will continue to hide their abuse and the perpetrators will continue to get away with it.