Stalking in Ministry
What can be done about it?

Did you know stalking is a serious problem even in ministry. Parishioners and ministers both do it.

In some states it's against the law because at best it can be seriously disturbing to the target victim. And at worst it can be very dangerous...even the target victim.

So...what is this crazy behavior? And how does it undermine ministry? And what can be done about it?

Stalking is...

Obsessional personal contact...

that is craved by one person

and rejected by the other.

Have a look at this animated video...and notice that attraction for the stalker is not to the human personality of the victim... rather it's to objects associated with the victim (called fetishism).

In this humorous example the fetish is bubble gum...though usually it's clothing. It's the best crash course in stalker psychology I've come across...have a look...

Do I Creep You Out | Funny Jokes at JibJab

Now here are some examples from ministry...sorry no videos of these you'll just have to use your imagination...

(Click on the tabs below to open a panel. Reclick to close to minimize scrolling.)

A 60 year old widow stalks a priest

Janet was a 60 year old widow. Her husband's funeral mass was the first for the new pastor...a 37 year old tall...rugged...handsome man with a kindly manner.

Janet...who had not been particularly scrupulous about going to mass on Sunday was now in the front pew at the seven o'clock mass every morning. Nothing wrong with that. However...

she began to write to the pastor...long letters in her own hand complimenting him on what a holy...concerned and Christlike man he was.

At the same time...Janet began to appear at all of the funerals and weddings the pastor officiated at. She would then send a letter telling him how wonderfully he had performed at each service.

After Sunday mass...the pastor stood outside the church greeting people after the service. Janet began to ask him for hugs.

And the priest began to realize Janet was stalking him when she came into the sacristy after the weekday mass and asked the pastor for a hug. He refused and Janet's letters became sulky and abusive...but she continued to be present at all services and to write her letters. She now asks the pastor to hear her confession.

The unwanted personal contact continues...the abusive letters continue. But the pastor refuses to have any contact with Janet beyond a verbal greeting after mass. Suspecting that Janet would use the confessional as an inappropriate way to have private time with him...the pastor has instructed her to go to another priest for confession.

As you have probably already between minister and parishioner based on an obsession of the parishioner for the minister...or the minister for the parishioner can never be defined as ministry activity. Even when the obsessed person uses religious activity to be near the targeted victim.

The other side of the coin is when the minister is the stalker.

Woman gives stalker keys to her house

Marylou was a divorced single mother with three children.

She initially sought counseling from the pastor of her church about getting her marriage annulled so that she could receive the sacraments properly.

The pastor went beyond the boundaries of ministerial counseling and befriended Marylou's children...taking them to movies or for pizza at various times.

Marylou thought this attention from an adult male was appropriate and good for her children. And she expressed her gratitude to the pastor for taking time with them.

Marylou had to her children were latch-key kids who were home alone after school. The pastor volunteered to look in on them when he was free. Marylou was grateful. She even gave the pastor a key to the house in case he should arrive before the children came home from school.

This arrangement seemed alright until Marylou began to miss things from her bureau drawers and she yelled at her kids for playing with her things and not putting them back. The children were confused by this and denied everything.

One night it all became clear. It was about one o'clock in the morning when Marylou awoke and screamed in terror to find someone crouched beside her bed and leaning on it and murmuring. It was the pastor who used his key to let himself in.

He tried to soothe her and quiet her telling her he was praying over her. She screamed at him to get out. She changed the locks on her doors and went to a different church.

How does the obsession get started?

When the stalker and the target are known to each other as they were in the two examples above...the obsession to be with the target usually began in an appropriate relationship.

But the stalking grows out of some imaginary feeling for the target. The feeling is often sexual...either overt or repressed. Or it can be something like revenge.

Notice that in Janet's case...all the boundary violations were on her part. The pastor acted appropriately both before he realized Janet was stalking him and after he realized he was a target.

In Marylou's case...both she and the pastor quickly moved outside of ministry boundaries...from "Religious activity (pastoral counseling)...that brings both minister and people closer to God"...and used each other for highly personal needs.

Marylou invited boundary violations by giving the pastor a key to her house.

What can you do?

Once you know you're being stalked you can take apprropriate action. Each case differs in its details but notice what the targets did in the examples.

Janet's pastor...

  • ...stayed within ministry boundaries
  • ...he confined Janet's contacts with him to mass only
  • ...he sent certified copies of her stalking letters to the bishop and the local police.

Marylou did the following

  • ...Marylou expressed her disapproval by screaming at the intruder
  • ...she changed her locks
  • ...she reported the situation to the pastor's bishop who sent the pastor for evaluation and treatment

Like the crack in a dyke leads to a flood...becoming a predator begins with a boundary violation.

Keep on top of your own boundaries in ministry.

From stalking you can return to relationship boundaries.

Or you can...

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