Boundaries are the limits that allow for a safe connection in the clergy-congregant (counsellor-client etc.) relationship based on the parishioner’s needs. A boundary violation occurs when a pastor (counsellor) places his/her needs above those of the congregant (client).
A basic professional expectation is that the clergy is responsible for monitoring boundaries and needs to be aware of the early danger signs. Blame cannot be placed on a congregant (client) for a professional violation.
Identifying a boundary violation is difficult because the violation usually involves a process of manyinteractions rather than a single event. Often many more subtle boundary violations may occur before a clergy (counsellor, professor, youth leader, other professional) engages in sexual misconduct.
A boundary violation is:
- A violation of the professional/ministerial role
- A misuse of authority and power
- An abuse of power that takes advantage of someone who is in vulnerable life circumstances
- The absence of meaningful consent
- Irreparable damage to one’s profession, career, loved ones, and the victim/s involved
- Never the fault or responsibility of the victim but is always the responsibility of the professional
Clergy Boundary Violations:
- Roles are Reversed – The congregant (client, youth, etc) becomes the caretaker of the pastor (therapist/youth leader/other professional, etc). The reversal of roles may be obscured, and the congregant (client) may not experience the violation until some conflict develops.
- A Double-Bind Occurs – A congregant (client, etc) is caught in a conflict of interest, and the available options involve some kind of risk. A congregant (client, etc) can be placed in untenable binds with the pastor/other professional. For example, a congregant may be dependent on a church leader, consequently they can feel trapped and unable to be independent.
- A Secret is Involved — For example, critical information can be kept from the congregant that gives the pastor an unfair advantage. The pastor gains the cooperation of the congregant without having to reveal his/her true motive or full agenda. The congregant may be manipulated into participating in the pastor’s plan, which does not serve the congregant’s best (safest and professional) interest.
- Professional Privilege is Indulged – The pastor by virtue of his/her role uses the pastoral role and the power of that position to further personal interests.
Early Warning Signs for the Professional/Clergy:
- Getting too caught up in your own agenda and ministry goals
- Using people to insure your own success rather than listening to their needs
- Starting to feel more like a friend than a clergy
- Spending more time with certain members because of the return it gives you
- Beginning to see someone outside more formally structured settings
- Failing to develop other interests and relationships outside your parish