Interfaith Council of Central Florida Statement
For immediate release
November 21, 2019
As spiritual and community leaders, we must say unequivocally that we believe protecting the young and the vulnerable is a crucial spiritual and social value. We recognize that whenever adults – especially those in a position of authority and power – abuse the trust placed in them, the injury inflicted is immense. It is the responsibility of all of us to seek to prevent harm and to promote healing whenever it does happen.
Last month’s arrest and subsequent suicide of Bryan Fulwider, who had been a member of the clergy and of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, have highlighted the importance of religious leaders and communities taking responsibility for the health and safety of our community. To that end, we state that we commend the brave young woman who was willing to come forward with her trauma.
We believe the survivor.
The survivor in this case will not get to see her abuser brought to justice in a court of law. However, her humanity can be honored, and her experience validated, by the response of the community. Recounting childhood sexual trauma is always difficult. It takes particular courage to bring forward abuse by someone in a position in power and a role of sacred trust. Too often survivors who do come forward have not been believed, are ignored, or are ridiculed. We reject such responses. The Interfaith Council of Central Florida affirms this survivor and prays for her ultimate healing in the time and way that is best for her.
We have heard from many friends and community members that our initial statement shortly after the arrest (a letter to our email list dated October 7, 2019) failed to strike the tone of concern and commitment to justice that we were seeking. The statement was written at a moment in this painful saga when we were still coming to terms with the reality that our friend and colleague had indeed been involved in a deeply harmful, inherently abusive, and profoundly damaging relationship with a child under his pastoral care.
To all those who have been harmed by our words, we are deeply sorry.
In our statement, we unintentionally participated in a societal pattern that all of us have witnessed too many times – that when someone in a position of authority, power, and reputation is accused of wrongdoing, they are very often given the benefit of the doubt at the cost of their accusers.
We refuse to be complicit in this pattern. The Interfaith Council of Central Florida is undertaking sincere soul-searching and taking concrete steps to put structures in place that will keep all our processes and decision-making transparent and accountable.
We are also engaging with the Victim Service Center of Central Florida to determine what deliberate steps we can take to better serve survivors of violence and abuse. We are committed to equipping the faith and thought communities represented on our Council with the resources and best practices to reduce and eliminate patterns of abuse within our communities and to believe and care for survivors in the tragic situations where abuse occurs.
We are deeply concerned for all in our society who have been harmed through abuse, whether recently or decades ago. We recognize that this last month may have re-traumatized many who have experienced abuse in the past, forcing survivors to re-visit painful memories and re-experience the damage done.
If any who read this are in need of additional support at this time, we encourage you to seek professional counseling. You may wish to start by contacting the Victim Service Center of Central Florida’s Free Confidential Helpline, which is staffed by Master’s level counselors 24 hours a day and can be reached at 407-500-Heal.
To all those who are hurting for these and other reasons, we hear you, we take seriously what you say, and we recognize the depth of your pain. In whatever ways we are able to do so, we are here to help.