The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt: The Courage to Tell the Truth

Vienna Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest and most conservative Presbyterian Church (USA) churches in our area, is seeking forgiveness after the horrifying details of a sexual abuse scandal have come to light. In 2005, the church leadership thought that their youth director, Eric DeVries, had been inappropriate with a member of the youth group, and so they forced him to resign and reported the case to Fairfax Child Protective Services.

Then in 2008, incoming Associate Pastor David Jordan-Haas realized that there was more to the story and would not ignore the whispers he heard about the youth director. He began asking questions and the sordid details came out, showing that DeVries was particularly adept in the art of religious seduction. Using the stories of Scripture to ensure teenaged girls that they would some day be together, preying on them during youth group trips, Eric DeVries may have enticed as many as twelve teenaged girls.

As a Presbyterian pastor who also serves in the metropolitan D.C. region, I am part of a Presbytery, a governing body that connects our congregations in our worship, mission, and discipline. I am overwhelmed with sorrow that this has happened. I shudder when I think about the emotional and spiritual damage that has been done to these women.

I know that in the days, weeks, and years to come, members of the Presbytery will be trying to resolve why the initial response to this tragedy was paltry. Was the denominational leadership too quick to move on without fully investigating the incident? Did we work as hard as we should have to listen to the victims and seek justice for them?

Those are the concerns ahead of us, but until we get into those difficult questions, I want to stop and say thank you.

To the women who have been carrying the memories of this abuse, hiding these hand-scrawled notes, and trying to make sense of the church in light of these relationships, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the courage and conviction it took for you to speak.

I don't know how your faith is in all of this. I know that mine is shaken by the events that have taken place, and I only read about it in the newspaper. I didn't have to live it. But, please know that this pastor is extraordinarily proud of you for finding your voice. You have spoken out, even when you thought that people would not believe you, when you were afraid that they would blame you, or when you thought they would laugh at you. You had the courage to demand justice and wholeness. And, for you and for all of those who speak on behalf of the abused, I am deeply grateful.

[Taken with permission from, the blog of the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, originally posted April 4, 2011.]