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What's a secrecy contract?

 

Churches often get victims to sign a contract for secrecy, saying they will never talk about it with anyone else, other than perhaps their therapist. They are also called confidentiality agreements. Whatever they're called, the point is secrecy.

These sorts of contracts silence the victim while leaving clergy perpetrators in pulpits. They do nothing to inform congregations. They do nothing to ferret out the truth. They do nothing to protect other kids. They are the antithesis of openness and transparency.

In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a policy against the use of secrecy contracts. Baptist leaders are still using them.

Why do victims sign them? Because they are usually in desperate need of counseling and because they are psychologically fragile. Because they still bear the great weight of undue shame caused by the abuse, and because the nightmare in their heads is so awful that they can't imagine ever wanting to talk about it anyway.

So, the church uses the victim's own shame against them. The church throws a few thousand dollars at the victim for counseling, and in return, the church gets the victim's signature on a secrecy agreement. Rather than helping the victim break the silence and heal, the church contractualizes the victim's own shamed silence into a stony permanence. It's just further exploitation of people who have already been horribly exploited by religious leaders.

The money the church pays has nothing to do with helping the victim or with protecting others. It's hush-money.

Here is the secrecy clause that was in the contract presented to me:

"All parties and their attorneys agree that the terms and provision of this Agreement are highly confidential and that neither Claimant nor her attorney, agents, representatives, or family membes nor Defendants, or any of its officers, directors, managers, employees, or agents shall disclose any of the terms or provisions of this Agreement to any third party....No press releases OR OTHER COMMUNICATIONS will be issued concerning this Agreement OR THE SUBJECT MATTER THEREOF."

This was done by Stephen Wakefield, long-time attorney for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the largest state-wide Baptist organization in the country. I refused to sign it.

But it's publicly reported that a secrecy agreement was obtained from another Baptist abuse survivor, and it was in another case in which Wakefield was one of the attorneys. And there have been others.

By their very nature, these contracts usually do stay secret. How many more Baptist victims have been silenced by the work of Stephen Wakefield and by other attorneys for Baptist churches? How many Baptist clergy predators are still in pulpits as a result?

If you're a clergy abuse survivor, I urge you not to sign such a thing. Religious leaders stole way too much from you in the past. Don't let them take your voice.