Is Catholic publishing sexist?

If women want to succeed in business, politics, or entertainment, they have to put out. The sexual revolution didn’t create this state of affairs; it only gave plausible deniability to predators who’ve been doing their thing since long before the 60’s.

It’s only now, in 2017, that society is listening to women’s age-old complaints of institutional sexism, and it’s only now that corporations are cracking down on the male predators they employ. Whether this response is a passing mood or a lasting change, it’s too soon to say.

Is the Catholic working world different?

I don’t know if I can bear to dig too deeply into this question. Certainly, countless Catholic men have discovered that a combination of authority and spirituality makes a fine snare for the vulnerable. The priest sex abuse scandal, especially the ongoing Legion of Christ debacle, illustrates that horror all too well. And, just as in the secular world, many Catholics will excuse and forgive predators and discredit their accusers, and will blame women and young people for tempting and seducing those who prey on them.

But what about in the Catholic working world that extends beyond the actual Church? Are women constrained more than men? If women want to succeed, are they expected to behave in a certain way? Or are Catholics better than the secular world?

It’s becoming more rare, in mainstream Catholicism, for women to be shamed and castigated for simply working outside the home, but sexist attitudes are still pervasive in more conservative circles. Even in online groups specifically dedicated to supporting Catholic working moms, the very members of that group will sometimes suggest that, if a working woman is struggling in any way, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling her to quit work (or to trade in her actual career for an MLM scam).

In some professional Catholic circles, if you do your work, meet your deadlines, and don’t cause scandal, your work is respected, whether you’re male or female. But in other circles, you’ll still hear that it’s actually wrong for women to go to college. I reject the tired notion that the Catholic male priesthood is evidence of systemic sexism, but it’s undeniable that Catholics use the male priesthood to justify that sexism.

You’ll hear that it’s just to pay women less than men, because men are supposed to be the breadwinners, and women who work are robbing men of opportunities (and their manhood). You’ll hear the word “feminine” used as a synonym for “shoddy, inferior, and trite.” You’ll hear that women are, as a species, too emotional and flighty to contribute much of intellectual value.

My personal experience is limited. I only know what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in Crisis and from the Catholic authors at The Federalist. But one thing I’ve actually lived is Catholic publishing, and here’s what I learned:

You can say whatever you want in your Catholic lady book, as long as it’s 90% uplifting, joyful, and encouraging, amen.

Did you ever wonder why I initially self-published my book about NFP? It’s because I approached several Catholic publishers (with the NFP book and with previous book pitches in the same vein), and they told me my book was too dark, too negative, too discouraging, too snarky, too problematic. It frankly acknowledged the struggles of living the faith, and that was unacceptable. It might possibly lead people astray. No one claimed it was was heterodox. It simply wasn’t joyful enough.

I thought they were wrong. So I published it myself, as an ebook. It was exceedingly popular, and then Catholic publishers — including more than one that had rejected my proposal for the very same manuscript — approached me, looking for printing rights. It seemed there was a market for my problematic negativity after all. (And yes, I cackled like Yosemite Sam as the offers poured in.)

Now, once upon a time, Catholic readers tolerated something less than joy-joy-joy from women writers. Dorothy Day, Maisie Ward, Caryll Housleander, and even the humorists Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck spring to mind as non-saints who acknowledged that Catholic woman could find Christ in other places besides kitchen sinks, nurseries, and fields of daisies. (Note that Kerr, Day, and Bombeck were published by secular presses, and Ward started her own company to publish her work, Houselander’s, and others’.)

Today, Heather King, Eve Tushnet, Leah Libresco, Emily Stimpson, Jennifer Fulwiler, Amy Wellborn, Sherry Weddell, Leah Perrault, and Elizabeth Scalia come to mind as Catholic female authors who don’t shy away from troubling questions. I’d be interested to know whether they felt constrained to uphold a certain image of Catholic womanhood, or if they felt free to speak their minds.

Whatever their answer, my own experience is undeniable, and it left a mark. Catholic women writers aren’t required to put out. Instead, they’re all too often required to stuff down. Stuff down anything ugly, anything problematic, anything risky, anything that doesn’t end up with an edifying bow on top.

I’m not naive. Catholic publishers bear a responsibility under which secular publishers do not labor. Catholic publishers must, like everyone else, know and please their audience; but there’s more. What if they publish something by an author who’s so gritty, authentic, and honest that, two weeks after the book debuts, it’s revealed that the author has slid past authenticity and straight into debauchery? A secular publisher doesn’t want to get caught out promoting an author who turns out to be a liar or a pervert, and a Catholic publisher doesn’t want to get stuck with six thousand copies of a Catholic book by someone who doesn’t act remotely like a Catholic.  What Catholic publisher in its right mind would take that risk?

Well, they might, if the author is a man.

In our conversation of several weeks ago, Jessica Mesman Griffith told me that several years ago, she pitched a memoir to Loyola Press. The name inspired by her daughter’s pretend game which involved the seasick pilgrims on the Mayflower. Together, they drew stick figure pilgrims with X’s for eyes, suffering through their strange journey.

Griffith told me:

I always wanted to do something with that title. It was so resonant with what my own spiritual life was like. I’d had this private dream to start a publishing house. I was really inspired by Sheed and Ward, loved reading about their philosophy of publishing and their approach.
I wanted something for Catholic writers where you didn’t have orthodoxy policing. I wanted a space where people would be Catholic, or cultural Catholics, or lapsed Catholics, where we could talk about beautiful things that inspired us.
Loyola declined the book, and the project was put on the back burner. Mesman then met Jonathan Ryan when he was acquisitions editor at Ave Maria Press. In December of 2015, she agreed to co-blog with him at Patheos, and they decided the name “Sick Pilgrim” (again drawing on her daughter’s game) would work well.  The blog, and the accompanying online discussion and support group, took off and developed a wildly devoted following.
Griffith says:
That’s when Loyola came back and said to pitch the book again, but with Jonathan as co-author. Even though it was the exact same book and same title. They said the male voice brings something special.
She emphasized that phrase several times. “The male voice brings something special.” Griffith said:
I recoiled. But, you’re a writer, you’re broke, someone offers you money . . . you do it. It was essays I had already written, about my spiritual life, my background, how I came back to the Church as an adult. I saw how [the blog and group] Sick Pilgrim was affecting people in a good way. I felt like it was its own kind of ministry for people who feel excluded. I saw people coming back to the Church, just from having another voice out there saying, “Whatever, I messed up, and I still go [to Mass].” The good outweighed the bad, even though I was reluctant. 
 And so Griffith agreed to co-author the book with Ryan. It was her idea, her essays, and her title, drawn from her life. But, Griffith says, Loyola didn’t want to publish it unless there was a man involved.
Then, in November of 2017, less than a month after the book debuted, it was spiked . . .  because that same man was involved.
This is just one example. And my own experience is just another example. And what I read in comment boxes is just what I read in comment boxes — those are all just more examples.

After a while, you have to wonder how many isolated examples there can be, before they form a pattern spelling out “Catholic publishing is still sexist.”

So you tell me. Is there a problem in Catholic publishing, or in the Catholic working world at large? Are women allowed to admit to being human beings with complex, untidy experiences? Are women expected to conform to ideals of womanhood, while men are given more latitude? If there’s a problem, is it getting better?  What do you think?

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EDIT and clarification, 12/7/17: After some justifiable criticism, I have taken out a few sentences that referenced an essay by Jody Bottum. The essay wasn’t actually a good example of what I’m talking about, and bringing it up distracted from the point of this essay. I don’t blame Bottum for being annoyed to be dragged into it.

I did frame my essay as a question, and I wish I had made it more clear it was a sincere one, not a rhetorical one. Several people have answered by suggesting that the more prevalent problem is Catholic publishers being unwilling to publish anything that’s too risky (by way of being honest, not-altogether-tidy, etc.), whether it’s written by a man or a woman.

It happens that women are probably more likely than men to accommodate their editors by toning things down, trimming away the darker stuff, and adding a tidy bow. The result is that women authors get published plenty, but what they publish tends to be more facile and shallow than what men publish. But there can be reasonable argument as to whether that’s due to sexism or more complicated issues.

Image: Detail from photo by Andrew Toskin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Jonathan Weyer no longer employed at parish

Jonathan Weyer, a.k.a, Jonathan Ryan, no longer works at St. Alphonsis Luguori parish, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Weyer, who was pastoral associate of evangelization at the Zionsville, IN church, was co-founder of the Sick Pilgrim blog and had just released a book, but he came under sudden national scrutiny after several woman accused him of sexually and psychologically exploitative behavior and spiritual abuse. The blog’s other founder and his co-author, Jessica Mesman Griffith, also accused Ryan of sexual assault.

As of Wednesday evening, ten women, including this anonymous blogger, have reported predatory sexual behavior by Weyer. One of those women is Donna Provencher, who first revealed to Griffith that Weyer was using Sick Pilgrim’s Facebook community as a place to meet, groom, exploit, and isolate vulnerable women.

Griffith immediately met with the blog’s administrative board, and they determined that Weyer should be removed from any involvement with the site. Griffith also decided to halt production of the book they had just released together.

Weyer posted a statement on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, saying he would leave it up for twenty-four hours, then deleting it within half an hour. Weyer denies that he sexually assaulted Griffith, and claims he thought their contact was “motivated by mutual desire.” He says he was sexually abused as a child.

Provencher, and other women who wish to remain anonymous, say that Weyer deliberately targeted them for their psychological and spiritual vulnerabilities and used his position of alleged spiritual authority to exploit them sexually, then made wedding plans with them, abruptly announced the relationship was over, and gaslit them about their accounts of what happened, all the while simultaneously propositioning and grooming other women online and over the phone.

Weyer says, “I admit I misread emotional cues in my adult, consensual relationships” and that he “sought to make genuine connections with women.”

Shortly after deleting his published statement, he told Donna Provencher via text that their relationship had been a “stupid-ass drama,” and he berated her for making him look bad.

Donna Provencher, who shared her complete account of her interactions with Weyer on Saturday, responded with her own public statement, which she shared on her Facebook page. Her statement is as follows:

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say,” Servant of God Dorothy Day once wrote, “and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.”

That Mr. Weyer was molested as a child is tragic, and for what he has suffered I am truly sorry. But it is at our sacred behest as Catholics to create beauty from broken things: out of suffering, redemption. To use one’s childhood wounds as any sort of diversion or scapegoat for a prolonged and pernicious pattern of abuse toward women is unconscionable.

Many of us – including many of Mr. Weyer’s now-ten known victims – were sexually abused as children or adults, and it is precisely because of our experiences that we stand, as with one voice, to denounce and decry Mr. Weyer’s sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of the vulnerable in our midst. This is not at our option; it is our moral imperative.

Whenever we make an act of contrition, our prayer is threefold: “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, to do penance, and to amend my life.” By this standard, Mr. Weyer in his statement demonstrates no true penitence; he vehemently denies allegations of sexual assault against Ms. Griffith, and vaguely alludes to possessing proof of innocence which he has failed to produce. He reduces the trauma he inflicted upon a friend and partner to a “terrible misunderstanding,” and in a stunning display of cognitive dissonance, in the next breath claims he “recognizes [he] caused her deep emotional pain” and is “truly sorry.”

He relegates me, along with the other unnamed victims, to a subordinate clause about two-thirds of the way through his statement – telling, perhaps, of the value in which Mr. Weyer holds the unique, precious, unrepeatable, irreducible human beings whose lives he has shattered by his actions. He speaks of “landing himself in this mess,” as if he were an innocent bystander or passive participant in his own contemptible abuses, manipulations, and deceptions.

Mr. Weyer has demonstrated no sincere regard for the good of his victims. On Nov. 21, he attempted to call me and texted me asking if we could talk, and when he received no response later texted me an apology for his actions. He then forwarded me his public statement, which he also posted to his Facebook (where it was not visible to his victims) and then took it down within the half hour. A few hours later, he sent me rage-induced text messages in which he referred to the duration of our relationship as a “stupid-ass drama,” lamented that he has “paid dearly for [his] sins,” and accused me of making him “look like a devil in the press.”

On more than one occasion, Mr. Weyer has admitted the facts as presented in my case to be factually true, most notably to the administrators of Sick Pilgrim upon his dismissal Nov. 14. These facts are what I have presented to the media, and I stand unequivocally by my previous statements. If Mr. Weyer finds the facts of the narrative so damning, perhaps he should examine more closely the lifestyle they reflect.

Lastly, Mr. Weyer writes: “Despite news reports, my faith is real; I’m just terrible at practicing it.” Yet Aristotle counsels us that a man is what he repeatedly does. And in the Holy Scriptures, we read: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith – apart from works – is dead.” (James 2:19, 26)

We bear no ill will against Mr. Weyer, and as a child of God, we wish salvation for him. We hope that he receives the psychological help and spiritual counseling he so urgently needs, and we pray that he may someday have the humility and grace to make a genuine act of contrition and, acknowledging the enormity of the sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse he has inflicted upon women, do penance and amend his life.

St. Kateri, pray for us.

–Donna Provencher, Nov. 22, 2017

***
Image: Jonathan Ryan, detail of photo by Michelle Sterling, used with permission

Jonathan Ryan/Weyer still Pastoral Associate of Evanglization at Lafayette parish

This article is the third in a series of investigative reports covering allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse by Jonathan Ryan, a.k.a. Jonathan Weyer, co-founder of Sick Pilgrim. Part I is here; Part II is here.  This series is a collaborative effort by Simcha and Damien Fisher.

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After revelations that Sick Pilgrim co-founder Jonathan Ryan has been accused of committing a series of exploitative and spiritually abusive acts against several women, St. Alphonsis Liguori Church in Zionsville, Indiana, which employs him as Associate Pastor of Evangelization Pastoral Associate of Evangelization has not responded to inquiries about his status at the parish. The Diocese of Lafayette and the Bishop’s office have also not responded to inquiries. Ryan’s name was removed from the parish website on Monday.

Donna Provencher, who recently revealed her allegations of harrowing spiritual abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of Ryan, said on Monday afternoon that she sent emails to the HR department of the Diocese of Lafayette, but they declined to give her any information about whether Ryan will be dismissed.

“The diocese called me today and they informed me he is being investigated but still employed there,” Provencher said.

She says the HR spokesman told her there will be no way of victims or the public getting answers about his employment because “we won’t be allowed to tell you.” Provencher says the HR spokesman said that Monday morning was “the first she was hearing of [the situation].”

“I’m horrified,” said Provencher.
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“Remember that time when [the Catholic Church] buried a sex abuse crisis and shuffled perps around from diocese to diocese and we all realized that was a terrible idea and they made a whole movie about it? Maybe let’s not do that again.”
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“I’ve heard from two women now who he met in the very early days of the group who had similar experiences [of sexual and spiritual exploitation]. It’s possible it was going on at this rate all along.” The Sick Pilgrim blog was launched in 2015.
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Griffith says she believes his behavior has been escalating, “becoming sloppier and more erratic.”
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Griffith has rediscovered a post Ryan wrote for Sick Pilgrim in February of 2016, titled “Dark Devotional: The Devil Inside.” In it, Ryan says that, when he was younger, he deliberately cultivated a “man of God” persona to become more attractive to girls.

“Because, let’s face it, there is nothing more erotic to Christian girls than a guy who loves Jesus. I spoke in tongues and used my tongue,” Ryan wrote.

Ryan, who sometimes uses the name “Jonathan Weyer,” continues:

“When I reached my twenties, my thirst for spiritual recognition and power led me to becoming a Presbyterian minister (when, in my heart, I just wanted to be a history professor and writer). That was a disastrous decision that eventually blew my life apart. I got divorced and started my life over again at 41 years old. All because of choices I started making in high school: to value my reputation, to grab for power and to allow a deep-seated spiritual arrogance to rule me. I failed all three tests because I failed to remember one simple thing: when religion offers power, control and manipulation, it’s always a very, very bad thing.”

Griffith says she rolled her eyes at the time, thinking he was “trying to be some kind of sexy bad boy,” but now she considers this essay a strong clue about why he was removed from ministry. The behavior he describes as in his past is precisely the behavior he is accused of as recently as Friday.
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Provencher notes that, at the bottom of Ryan’s post is a link to the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.””He was actually outing himself while pretending to be repentant,
Provencher said, “and thumbing his nose at everyone while he did it.”
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Near the top of the website for the Diocese of Lafayette is this message:

“The Diocese of Lafayette and the Office of Safe Environment are pleased to announce that we have been notified by the auditing firm appointed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that we are again in full compliance with all data requirements for the 2015-2016 charter audit period.  The Office of Safe Environment has met all requirements since the inception of the Safe Environment Program and will continue to carry out all that is needed in order to protect our youth throughout the Diocese.”

Ryan was responsible for hiring and overseeing the St. Alphonsis Liguori youth ministry coordinator, according to an ad posted August 29, 2017.

Provencher says the Zionsville local newspaper has contacted her about her involvement in the story, and she hopes this will encourage the church to dismiss Ryan promptly.

 

***
Image: Jonathan Ryan, detail of photo by Michelle Sterling, used with permission
 EDIT November 21, 12:34 a.m.: Ryan’s title at Alphonsis Liguori is Associate Pastor of Evangelization, and not Pastoral Associate of Evangelization.

Sick Pilgrim turmoil, Part 2: Donna Provencher’s story

The following is an account of recent events by Donna Provencher, who accuses Jonathan Ryan (a.k.a. Jonathan Weyer) of spiritual and emotional abuse. Ryan has been removed from his position at Sick Pilgrim, which he co-founded, and his upcoming book has been spiked by the publisher after numerous women, including cofounder Jessica Mesman Griffith, have come forward to accuse Ryan/Weyer of abuse and sexual assault.
This account comes from a conversation Donna Provencher and I had via a Facebook voice call on Saturday, November 18. At the end of Provencher’s story, I have included some pertinent screen shots and excerpts.
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My life mantra, cribbed from Nora Ephron is: Above all else, be the hero of your life, and not the victim.
I had been a lapsed Catholic, self-identifying as an agnostic for six or seven years when I entered Sick Pilgrim.
I grew up very, very conservative. My parents were hard-line, knee jerk, republican, homeschooling Catholic conservatives. I went to Christendom College and encountered a lot of hypocrisy, spiritual abuse, and invoking the Holy Spirit as a cover for bad behavior and mistreatment of people. I didn’t like it!
I had spoken to a friend who works for the Register earlier this year. He said, “I think you’ve been fed this very specific definition of what Catholic spirituality looks like, and you’ve rejected it on those grounds. But there’s room for Oscar Romero spirituality, and Dorothy Day.” He considered me a “rebooting Catholic,” not a fallen-away Catholic.
Then one of my friends added me to Sick Pilgrim. I thought, “These are my people.” I was living between worlds, hanging out with secular humanists, theater people, journalists, but also very conservative friends. I had lost sight of the fact there’s a happy medium.
So Sick Pilgrim was this refreshing, “coming home” experience. I finally recognized my own yearning and my own thoughts and ideas in other Catholics. They’re all about being misfits, but they’re some of the most loving people you’ll ever meet. I saw something deeply good there. It was people, not doctrine, that had turned me off the Church, so it was people, not doctrine, that brought me back. Like Thomas Merton says: “It’s the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
I wasn’t there very long before Jonathan approached me. It was probably less than a week.
He posted a picture of himself making breakfast, and I made some kind of offhand comment about “I want bacon!” or something. He PM’d me and said “Come visit, I have bacon!” I kind of laughed it off, we started talking, and that’s how it began.
The first day we talked was September 20th. [It was about a month previous to this that Ryan allegedly sexually assaulted Jessica Mesman Griffith.] That was on Facebook chat, and we talked for many hours. He asked if he could call the next day, and we talked all night on the phone. It was Sunday the 24th that he told me he loved me. I had been opening up to him about my struggles with an eating disorder, giving him a vast array of detail I hadn’t given anyone else before. It was in the midst of that that he said it for the first time.
Jonathan is a tremendously charismatic individual His Myers–Briggs type is ENFP (which is mine, as well) tend to be very personable, extroverted people who rally a group together. They end up in leadership positions because they are very adept and intuitive about what makes people tick.

That set of traits is a double-edged sword. It’s like the Spiderman deal: With great power comes great responsibility. He had all these gifts and charisms, and he used them for evil. There’s no other way to say it. His personality was enormously compelling, but it enabled him to be a narcissistic predator who could tap into people’s deepest needs and yearning, and reprogram them. It’s so much more tragic because he’s someone who has such potential for good. It’s diabolical.

He started almost immediately talking about marriage, in the next day or so. He was talking about the chapel he wanted to get married in, and would send me pictures of it. We fought about whether or not he would wear a tux. It was signed, sealed, and delivered. He was so convinced and convincing that this was something predetermined by God.
It’s hard for me to talk about, as someone who was an agnostic for so many years. How did I not see this was predatory behavior? How did I not step back from the teeming religiosity, and thinking, “This is not how God works”?
This is because he is incredibly skilled at inserting himself into leadership spiritual roles.
I was raped a year ago. My mother is schizophrenic and homeless, wandering around Detroit somewhere. My divorce had just been finalized. He sold a very convincing story that not only was it God’s will I should come back to the Church, but it was my vocation to be with him and marry him.
 He has a preoccupation with St. Kateri Tekakwitha. He named his house “The St. Kateri House,” and he took a trip to the Shrine of the North American Martyrs. A lot of the real manipulation started when he latched onto this tidbit that my name is Katherine with a “k.” She was my patron saint growing up. I had religious images of her in my bedroom, dressed up as her for All Saint’s Day.
He told me he pulled over sobbing on the side of the road, asking God where I had come from, since I was so intelligent, and wonderful and vibrant, and had just fallen into his lap out of a clear blue sky. He said he knew it was because St. Kateri had sent me to him. This was happening simultaneously with his exploitative behavior with other girls.
Later, when out of the blue he said, “I’m done with you” (the day after he had sex with me), I was crying in my backyard. I kept praying and thinking about a passage in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, about someone who really devastates her, and she prays God will give her His love for this man. God will give us the more perfect way. I was praying that over and over again.
But God’s love is terrible as an army with banners, sometimes. I realize now that, when someone is exhibiting a pattern of exploitative, predatory, and cruel treatment of women, the loving thing to do is call them to amend their live — and protect other women from them.
I got this idea to pray a novena to St. Kateri. But I did not pray for Jonathan to come back. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have all the details yet. I had this sense I needed to pray “God’s will be done, no matter what that looks like.”
I had a friend who didn’t know the St. Kateri details of the story, and he was telling me how, in some cultures, specifically in Iroquois culture, sex abuse, assault, and rape are almost unheard of, because they thought of women as god-bearers. It’s kind of a prescient thing, hearkening forward to the Theotokos. They believed women had the Creator’s gift in them, and if you defiled them, heaven would rain down justice. They would bring down destructions on themselves.

I just broke down crying, because I hadn’t told him about St. Kateri! And he was like, “St. Kateri doesn’t put up with that shit.” That was a healing realization.

 So, I had been going to Mass again for all of four weeks when I went to Indiana to visit him. He had been beating this drum about how premarital sex isn’t really wrong because we’re getting married, you’re my soul mate, it’s just a nominal thing. He’d joke about doing the marriage ceremony in front of the neighbor’s dog, for a witness.
I didn’t think God was fine with it. But Jonathan really is damnably — and I mean that in the literal sense, like infernally — persuasive when it comes to getting what he wants out of women.
He had sex with me multiple times. He was sexting with me before that. It had been sexualized from the get-go.
I had been going back to Mass, but was terrified of confession. So after having sex with me several times, he made an appointment for me with a sympathetic priest. I went to confession for the first time in seven years, an incredibly daunting confession.
I knew he wanted to have sex afterwards. I was like, “I know I’m not a very good Catholic, but I feel there is something wrong with what you’re advocating here!” I just kind of lived in that insane amount of cognitive dissonance. I was madly in love with him. He had groomed me to be in love with him.
So he had sex with me immediately afterward, and had zero problem with going to Mass the next day. He actively defended receiving Communion, and bullying me into receiving Communion, because it would make him feel guilty if I didn’t. He was sowing the seeds of chaos.
Last night, I talked to someone who had the exact same experience. Someone who wasn’t in Sick Pilgrim, but the same experience, even unto taking Communion right after having sex. Our jaws dropped. She was my alter ego in a different state. This was several months prior to what he did to me. He’s been exhibiting this pattern of behavior for many years. It breaks my heart to think of how many other people might be out there. We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Spiritual abuse hinges on targeting specific types of people. Jonathan went for writers, single moms, women struggling with depression and anxiety, and some who had previous relationships with a narcissistic abuser.
And these aren’t just hearts and minds at risk. People’s lives, their sexual health, is at risk. If you’re sleeping with someone who’s been lying about their sexual history, it’s tremendously dangerous. This is protracted form of potential physical abuse.
It’s one of those moments where someone needs to stand up. This ends with me. This stops now. The next girl, who’s suicidal — and he’s had messages to that effect, and I’ve been in those shoes — next time, someone might commit suicide. It might be a girl twenty years younger, instead of eleven years younger. It would be unconscionable for someone not to stand up, once the pattern has been established.
If you Google “Catholic sexual harassment,” my name is the second one down. It’s humiliating. I did not anticipate my fifteen minutes of fame looking like this.
But Jess and I realized that we couldn’t leave it at “let’s kick him out of Sick Pilgrim.” That’s transplanting an abuser, hoping he assaults some other girl. I’m not about that. He will wound another woman the way he has wounded Jess, and other girls, and he will do that again over my bleeding, broken body. This man does not need to be in ministry, around hurting people, Catholic, protestant, or otherwise.
I was in Indiana from October 20th till the 22nd. Some of my son’s holidays have been kind of shoddy, so we went to a pumpkin patch. I carved a pumpkin with Lucy and Tumnus. He carved a pumpkin with the Sick Pilgrim logo. But he was adamant we don’t tell anyone in Sick Pilgrim I was going to see him. He wouldn’t let me post pictures of us in the group. He was very irked, and made me cry, yelling at me about how he didn’t need Sick Pilgrim people up in his business. He said they had deviated from the true faith, and said he hated them, that they were awful people. He said this was special, and just for us. Classic abuser tactics.
He introduced me to his parents and colleagues. In hindsight, I realize he always introduced me as his “friend,” even though the wedding was set. He was suggesting we should get married right away, so he could put my three-year-old on his insurance.
He had good reasons. He didn’t want his kids and ex-wife to know the details of his personal life; he didn’t want the Sick Pilgrim people to know, because they are heretics who haven’t seen the light. I trusted him. We want to believe we can trust the people we love.
The night before I left, we went on this hayride, and we had a weird conversation. We had been talking about having more kids. He even named the children: Theodore, and Eowyn Kateri. But after the hayride, we had another conversation.
He said he saw the way I looked at babies and played with kids, and he knew I desperately wanted more kids, but he didn’t want any at all. Nope, no more kids, not gonna do it.
I told him, you’re kind of a Catholic figurehead. How are you gonna manage that? He joked about getting a vasectomy. And suddenly the hammer came down: You’re young. You want more kids. I never said I wanted more kids.

He never came to bed that night. I was upstairs crying. He was downstairs watching Stranger Things. That’s my favorite show. Now I have a “Friends don’t lie” tattoo.

He dropped me off at the airport like a sack of potatoes. It was like something just shut off. the only way I can describe it was like he got body snatched. He was cold, angry, warping reality, attributing terrible motives to people.

On the plane, I wrote to him, so in earnest, so in love with him. I wrote this long letter on those airplane barf bags, wrote and wrote and wrote. I told him I loved him, and we could work through the issue about kids.

But look, I’m just now coming back to the Faith. To quote Julia Brideshead, “Probably I shall be bad again.” Like C.S. Lewis, I was the unhappiest convert in all of England. I had found that Catholicism was the worst way of living, except for all the others. I told him, I’m not going to go through all of that — divorce, rape, eating disorders, a suicide attempt at age nineteen — and then be a halfhearted Catholic, not in a Catholic marriage.

There are layers upon layers. I run the risk of someone reading this story and saying, “That girl is a bad Catholic, and disingenuous.” To that person, I say: Yes. We’re all bad Catholics. But Jonathan’s behavior was bad on a fundamental human level, fundamentally violating the social constructs we need to survive as a society. It goes beyond “I messed up.”
I’m not setting myself up as a bastion of Catholicism. I like to talk about Dorothy Day, but I’m no Dorothy Day. I get that. That’s why it’s so difficult to come forward, knowing people will think I’m complicit in my own sexual abuse. But these were massive, massive violations against women. How can it be informed consent if you’re not informed about someone who is not who they say they were?
When I got home, I sent him that letter, saying I want to have a truly Catholic marriage. And he dumped me the next day, in a Facebook message.

I had applied to a number of positions in Indiana, at his urging. I told him I had sent a résumé to a job there, and he said, “Are you sure you don’t want to go back east with your family?”

And then he said, “I’m done.”

I’ve had some bad breakups in my life. This was not a bad breakup. There’s a difference between the necessary evil of realizing a relationship isn’t meant to be, and someone who has deliberately misled you from the beginning. At this point, he was already with his new soulmate.

I was extraordinarily confused and broken. I had attempted suicide when I was nineteen, but this was hell. I didn’t know which way was up. He had gone out of his way to isolate me from the Sick Pilgrim group, saying terrible things to me about Jess from the day I joined, because he perceived her as rejecting him after he sexually assaulted her. He very intentionally engendered this profound distrust of everyone in that community. So I left.
You had this person in a position of spiritual leadership, a paragon of Catholic virtue that every girl wants to end up with, and he had positioned himself as a spiritually authoritative voice. He knew all my darkest secrets. Jess says abuse by narcissists is “soul rape.” I’ve experienced both kinds. It’s an apt analogy.
It also had a catastrophic effect on my just-burgeoning spiritual journey. That was a mine field to navigate. I had just come back. I actually did believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church. I tried not to, but I do. I had just come to that point in my life. I had left the Church over spiritual abuse and hypocrisy, and this was a horrible déjà vu. It reminded me of that passage in [C. S. Lewis’] A Grief Observed: The danger is not that we will come to believe there is no God, but that this is what God is really like: deceive yourself no further.
Jonathan was so inextricably entangled with my reversion experience, it poisoned everything. He sees himself as a Christ figure. It permeates his entire interview with you.  He says, “This is how Jesus would handle it.” Actually, Jesus wouldn’t be in this position of defending Himself from abuse allegations! Baptizing his cruel behavior in the name of Jesus. So repugnant.
I’ve been rewatching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I feel like I got sucked into some weird Ryan cult. I will openly admit I haven’t been to Mass since I got back from Indiana. I feel terrible. I want to go. I just can’t. There’s this internal shattering.
I don’t blame God for any of this. God is not at fault when evil people do evil things. At the same time, I couldn’t figure out where my faith began and where Jonathan’s sticky fingers ended.
This is going to sound strange, but the last week has been one of the most painful weeks of my entire life, but also the most freeing and liberating. Jonathan underestimated this. He didn’t think he’d eventually target the wrong person.
When Jess messaged me last Sunday morning [after I left the Sick Pilgrim group], she said, “You don’t have to tell me anything, but Jonathan’s behavior has been erratic. Do you want to talk?” And I just cried. I just wept. She was the first person who reached out. She was so gentle and compassionate. That’s who Jessica is. I just told her everything.
I’m never going to play the Holy Spirit card again — never say He inspired some action or event. I’m a little squicky about that. But something prompted Jess, who had just walked out of Mass. We were not friends at all. We had briefly exchanged editorial messages about a thing I had written about Stranger Things. Jonathan had terrified me about her.
The first thing she said was, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you.” She let me talk about everything. She let me tell my story, and honored that, and listened to my heart, which was a mess. I don’t remember when she told me about her own experience, and others’.
So I thought, “Maybe these Sick Pilgrim people aren’t so bad after all. There’s a predator out there. It’s not Sick Pilgrim’s fault, and not the Church’s fault.” That was a huge healing.
She told me about Jonathan’s new girlfriends, and it was so freeing, like in Dawn Treader, with Eustace’s scales being pulled off: It hurt like billy-oh, but it was so good to see it come away. Life had been salvo after salvo, blast after blast, but it was so profoundly healing to be believed — and to have the community take immediate action.
A number of people, five or six people, signed off on his dismissal letter. But he didn’t respond to all of them. He wrote an intimidating, threatening, “lawyer up” email, and sent it only to the two who were his victims. It was very calculated. He sent me a text: “I hope you’re happy. You got your revenge.”
One of the admins, Matt Lafleur, wrote this beautiful post about how it’s part of the behest of Catholics to look out for broken things. He has his own physical disability, and this was very moving to me. Remember, I had been in the group six days before Jonathan came along. But they wholeheartedly embraced me. They gathered evidence and sent Jonathan a letter dismissing him by Tuesday afternoon. I posted my testimony to the group Tuesday evening.
This is how we are supposed to deal with predators in our midst. They do not represent the Church, or the Holy Spirt, or St. Kateri, but they are in fact blasphemers. Abuse against women is a sacrilege, an interpersonal sacrilege.
This week was empowering. I feel like myself again. Narcissistic abuse is like a drug addiction, and truth is your serum, your anti-drug, combatting it. The light of truth was jarring, but restorative to my faith.
I am planning to go back to Mass for the first time this weekend. I feel like I had fallen into a well, a very narrow well with a very long shaft, and I was sitting at the bottom in the muck. I was desperately suicidal, and nothing made sense. People were calling to me, and telling my life was bigger than this, but I couldn’t hear it. It sounded far away. I was locked in this echo chamber of pain.
I give immense credit to the Sick Pilgrim community, and to Jess, specifically, for pulling a front page-worthy rescue, drilling a parallel well, pulling me out of there fist over fist. I give them tremendous credit for such decisive action and such compassion. It made me able to identify Jonathan’s actions as diabolical, not God-ordained.

It’s really important we call things by their proper names. Sometimes we tiptoe around these terms, “spiritual abuse,” “emotional abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual abuse,” and “psychological gaslighting.” We call it “mistreatment.” Let’s call it for what it is. J.K. Rowling says fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself. The word isn’t scary. The thing is scary. Let’s call them out properly for committing these heinous actions.

I’m not allowed the privilege, as a Catholic, of believing anyone is beyond the reach of redemption. From the bottom of my heart, I hope that someday he will be able to acknowledge the wrong he has done and the people he has hurt. So far we’ve seen complaining, how persecuted he is, and how much other people have hurt him. He’s not expressed sincere concern for the people he has harmed.
I had this conversation with him about going to confession and then having sex. I said, “When I say the act of contrition, I say I’m not gonna do it again. But I’m gonna do it three hours later.”I told him part of repentance is amending your life. He hemmed and hawed. He said God didn’t really mean it. He fought with me about it.
I loved this man. I loved who I thought he was. I hope my speaking up (even if it means coming up in a Google search for the rest of my life), and Jess and other victims coming forward, will make him take stock of what he has done, and he will change his life.
I pray for Heaven for him. I don’t hate him. I really do hope he stops posturing as the victim. He is not the victim. We are.

 ***

[end of Donna Provencher’s story.]

The image at top is composed of three messages from Jonathan Ryan.
The first is from the Sick Pilgrim admin group. This was his first response when the admins sent him a letter terminating him from work with Sick Pilgrim. Ryan says “I fully admit what happened to Donna. I’m not proud of it.”
The second image is from the first message he posted in a secret splinter group immediately after he got kicked out of Sick Pilgrim (he apparently did not realize that Donna was a member of this group). Ryan tells his friends: “I vehemently deny anything that was said.”
The third image is a message he sent to Donna. He says: “I hope you’re happy. You got your revenge. Congrats.”

More reading of interest:
On August 28, after Ryan allegedly assaulted Jessica Mesman Griffith and before he began his relationship with Donna Provencher, Jonathan Ryan posted an essay about abusive narcissists on Sick Pilgrim. The post has since been scrubbed, because it upset so many of the readers. Here are two excerpts that have been preserved:
Trump is the Incarnation of all narcs, but we don’t even have to go that far afield. There are men who seek the utter destruction of women, not their not their flourishing. Most of them don’t look like Trump or have large, obnoxious personalities. Indeed, they are charming angels of light, with cut jaws, put together appearances and neat, orderly cars. But, these angels of light seek destruction of the light and the annihilation of the Image of God in others. They do anything they can to negate the talent, the intelligence and the beauty of the women in their lives. They don’t want ‘power,’ they want destruction by being in love with concepts of themselves and in doing so, twist things that ought to be good. Their God-given maleness becomes twisted into a prison-made shiv that plunges into the heart of every woman who comes into striking distance.

[…]

In the years since my divorce, I’ve befriended a number of women who have come out of relationships with men who are narcissists of the most heinous kind. I’m horrified at how these strong, accomplished and put-together women are often sucked of their God-given personalities and talents to the point of considering suicide. Indeed, in a few cases, the women have tried and thankfully failed. But in one particular case I know of (a friend of a friend), the man talked the woman into killing herself and is reaping the narcs ultimate dream: adulation for his bravery and the sympathy of other soon-to-be victims. It is truly diabolical. And it makes me wonder how much I may have done this to women in my own life.

 

Allegations of spiritual abuse and sexual misconduct throw Sick Pilgrim into turmoil

Books are being destroyed, and an online community is in shock following the revelations of alleged sexual and spiritual misconduct by one of the founders of Sick Pilgrim.

Sick Pilgrim, the popular blog and online community for Catholic misfits, announced Friday afternoon that it’s severing ties with its co-founder, Jonathan Ryan, a.k.a Jonathan Weyer. Sick Pilgrim, which is hosted on multi-faith blogging platform Patheos, also announced that it’s spiking the newly released spiritual memoir, Strange Journey, which Ryan/Weyer co-wrote with Sick Pilgrim’s co-founder, Jessica Mesman Griffith.

The book’s publisher, Loyola, said in an email on Friday:

“Loyola Press has ceased publication of the Work titled Strange Journey: How Two Homesick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church,  and the corresponding publication rights in that Work have reverted to the authors.”

According to a statement by Griffith, all remaining copies of the book will be destroyed.

“[T]he relationships Jonathan had formed with several women he met through the blog and in the community had in fact been inappropriate, predatory and exploitative.”

Sick Pilgrim, founded in 2015, recently partnered with Notre Dame in hosting a Catholic literary conference, Trying to Say God. Sick Pilgrim won the Wilbur Award for best faith-based blog in 2017.

Griffith refers to the Sick Pilgrim online community as “a de facto support group for those recovering from spiritual abuse,” and says, “Jonathan betrayed our trust and manipulated people who were attracted to our writing and the online group for this very reason. It is for their protection that he was swiftly and decisively removed.”

Griffith counts herself among the women Ryan manipulated and exploited. Since Griffith posted her statement, more women have come forward to say that Ryan exploited them.

Griffith’s entire statement can be found at the bottom of this story. It was shared first in the closed Facebook community, and then publicly on another Patheos site.

On Thursday night, Jonathan Ryan confirmed he is no longer associated with Sick Pilgrim.

“I was kicked out, actually,” Ryan said,

Ryan, who is 43, said he was removed from the blog for allegedly using the blog and Facebook group to meet women. Ryan said he has had three consensual relationships with women he has met through Sick Pilgrim, but that he has done nothing wrong.

“This is not a Harvey Weinstein situation,” he said.

The first relationship, Ryan said, was an “emotional” relationship with a woman who contacted him about a post he wrote for the blog. Ryan says they developed a deep relationship, but says, “Nothing happened, a lot of emotions going back and forth and that’s it.”

In a phone interview on November 16, Ryan denied, with qualifiers, that the relationship was sexual.

“No sexting that I remember. At least, I don’t think we did,” he said.

In a November 14 email from Ryan to Mesman and the board of Sick Pilgrim, Ryan said,

“The only woman from [Sick Pilgrim] that I’ve met or asked for a relationship is Donna. I’ve not sought, to my knowledge, to meet anyone other than Donna.”

“Donna” refers to Donna Provencher, who made a public statement a statement alleging exploitation by Ryan.

“(I)t may not be illegal to target vulnerable women whose spiritual lives have been exposed to you, who are openly struggling with depression and anxiety, who have told you all their deepest, darkest secrets — to tell them you want to marry them, keep them a dirty little secret, sleep with them, dump them, and start dating your next soulmate before the milk in your refrigerator expires – but it’s certainly a grievous breach of ethics for even an ordinary person, let alone one literally in the business of souls and bound to uphold integrity and Catholic ethics.”

Provencher’s entire story is here.

The second relationship Ryan acknowledged, in the phone interview of November 16, involves his blog partner Griffith. Ryan claims that the two shared a kiss after a night of drinking while recording a podcast. He says they ended up at his house, and that the contact was mutually consensual.

Griffith says she had newly arrived in Indianapolis after separating from her husband. She said, in a phone interview on November 17, “Ordinarily, I do not enjoy being in the same space as him.” Ryan told her his priest was coming to his house to bless it. Griffith says she was “in severe emotional distress, and he knew it. She says she told Ryan she “needed something holy” and that it “would do her soul good” to be there for the blessing.

But when she got there, the blessing was already over. Ryan and the priest, who is his employer at Zionsville, Indiana, were sitting outside on the patio drinking whiskey.

Griffith says she was in a terrible emotional state and hadn’t eaten in three days. She accepted a glass of whiskey and then another. She says she recorded the podcast, but was not conscious of what she was saying. She says Ryan told her he later deleted it, because it was “a drunken mess.”

“This never happens,” said Griffith. “It’s not like me. I was conscious, but not aware. The last thing I remember, I was sitting on the patio. The next thing I remember is waking up on his sofa in his living room with his hand up my shirt.”

Griffith says she immediately drove home and spent the next two days crying. “I was so horrified, I didn’t say anything,” she said. She says Ryan sent her “an outrageous love letter as if we’d had some deep meaningful experience. I wrote back one line, saying I’m traumatized this happened. He became angry and sent me an abusive response, as if I had wronged him.”

“I’m not denying the fact that something happened,” Ryan said.

Ryan claimed to have emails that he and Griffin shared in the days following this incident in which they were joking. He did not provide copies of the emails.

Ryan also denied, in a phone conversation on November 17, that he trash talked Griffith behind her back in order to diminish or undermine her, as Griffith alleges in her statement. “The fact is,” he explained, “she’s just a fucking nut to work with.”

When asked to explain that statement in light of his denying he spoke badly about Griffith, Ryan said he would tell people that Griffith can be difficult to work with.

In an email dated September 5, Ryan told Griffith (who is separated but still married),

“[I]f you want [our relationship] to be something more, and feel like all of this happened for a reason (us moving to Indy, etc and so on), then I’m here for that too. This is what I feel. I think all of this did happen for a reason and its not accident . . .
“I look at the picture of us in the graveyard, with you bending around the corner of the tombstone and smiling at me, and it just feels right. Full disclosure, I even have that picture on my desktop right now.”

 

Griffith said, “I was with a colleague and a member of the clergy. I felt I was in a safe space to have a meltdown. But there was a predator there.”

The incident happened in late August. Two weeks later, Griffith says, Ryan began a relationship with Donna Provencher. Provencher has saved all the emails from her relationship with Ryan, and will be expanding on her allegations in a forthcoming article here.
Griffith says he told Donna she was an egomaniac, that she wanted full control of Sick Pilgrim, that she was a bad mother and an alcoholic.

In another conversation later Friday afternoon, Ryan said that after Griffith and the board of Sick Pilgrim they were severing ties with him, he sent a letter to Griffith and Sick Pilgrim leadership seeking reconciliation. He does not want to rejoin the blog, but he does want to come to an understanding with them.

“I’m trying to do this the way Christ would do it,” Ryan said.

Ryan blamed Griffith and the others in Sick Pilgrim fro blindsiding him with the accusations, saying he wished they had come to him first.

“I’ve really been hurt by this whole thing,” Ryan said.

Ryan wants Griffith to select a priest or spiritual director to mediate with them, rather that going through a court battle.

“That’s not how Christ would do it,” he said.

In her statement, Provencher said:

“[Ryan] sent an email to another girl in Sick Pilgrim telling her he loved her and that God had destined them to be together for all time on Sept. 4th; that he was telling me the very same thing by Sept. 23rd; and then dumped me and started dating a close friend of his within a week or so of breaking up with me Oct. 23.”

Asked about the accusations that he acted in a predatory manner in his relationship with Provencher, Ryan said it was a consensual relationship. He initially denied knowing that Provencher has mental health issues, but when pressed Ryan said that Provencher had shared her mental health diagnosis with him. He then said he initially did not think of Donna Provencher as mentally ill, nut the she had a “histrionic” personality.
“That one’s a little fuzzy for me,” Ryan said.

Ryan, who is Pastoral Associate of Evangelization at Alphonsis Liguori Catholic Church in Zionsville, Indiana, said he simply wants to move one and be at peace with Griffith and the other in Sick Pilgrim.

“I want to do what Christ wants me to do, and that’s not pious bullshit,” Ryan said.

“He’s one of these people that sees the holy spirit speaking to him daily,” Griffith said in a conversation of November 17. He would talk openly about what the Holy Spirit wanted him to do, she said, and then change his mind the next day.

Griffith said she ignored red flags about Ryan’s behavior because the entire mission of the Sick Pilgrim online community, which includes about 200 people, was to make a place for odd people.

“We’re all weirdos,” she said. “It’s our charism. That’s the danger of a group like this. You say you’re open to everyone, but it’s hard to know where to draw the line. But this was beyond tolerating weirdness. This was getting predatory.”

People used the Sick Pilgrim online group as a place to “talk about stuff they felt like they couldn’t talk about in church,” Griffith said. “Many are on the fence about leaving, and have found a way to be Catholic again by finding this community.”
The group, says Griffith, “attracts vulnerable people, abuse victims, the mentally ill. But vulnerable people attract predators.”  Griffith says that she would occasionally have to warn people to be cautious, especially about making physical contact with people you’ve met online.
Griffith said she only had to remove three people in three years for inappropriate behavior; but with Ryan, she noticed open flirtation with women in the group that would escalate quickly, then disappear, and then the woman would leave the group.
“This happened a couple of times. This woman [Donna Provencher] was talking very openly about her challenges with mental illness. I saw open flirtation [between Provencher and Ryan], and then suddenly she left the group. Immediately after, Jon posted a very dramatic narrative about being in love with another woman that the Holy Spirit told him he was in love with.”
So Griffith reached out to her to ask if there was anything she could help with. She says Provencher wrote back within thirty seconds, saying she had been “dying to talk.” When she heard Provencher’s story, she said she had to act. Griffith says that Ryan made elaborate promises to Provencher, encouraged her not to trust anyone else in the group, met with her, had sex with her, then abruptly broke off the relationship.
 
In a phone conversation, Ryan described the relationship as “completely normal.” He called his removal from the blog, and the spiking of
Strange Journey, and overreaction.

“It is overkill,” he said on Thursday. “I have proof of everything I’m saying.” 

As of Friday evening, Ryan not yet provided this proof. 

An interview with the Provencher is scheduled for Monday. (Update: Provencher’s story is here.)

Ryan expressed concern that this development could cost him his job. He said no one had ever come to him about any potential issues in the past few years over his behavior.

Before he co-founded Sick Pilgrim, Ryan converted to Catholicism. He had been a Presbyterian minister.  Griffith says Ryan, who is divorced, initially claimed the had quit that job, but then admitted he had been removed, saying it was “not a good fit.” Ryan is also the author of two paranormal thrillers.

Griffith says that after her conversation with Provencher, she immediately went to the administrative board of Sick Pilgrim. They discussed the women’s testimony, and then consulted an attorney, afraid that the woman would be subject to retaliation. In addition to Provencher, two other women came forward at that point, providing testimony and screenshots that demonstrated predatory behavior by Ryan. These women are not willing to speak on record.

It was only at the end of the summer that Griffith discovered that Sick Pilgrim, which was established over three years ago, is in Ryan’s name only, although Griffith is the one who conceived of the blog, came up with the title, vision, and image, moderated the community, and edited all the essays for over seventy contributors. When she asked Ryan whether he had been paid during that time, he said the money had gone to direct deposit and he didn’t really notice it, and would pay her later.
In a phone conversation, Ryan said he spent the money that came in on things for Sick Pilgrim, such as podcast equipment.

The blog will remain dormant.

“I don’t know what will come of it,” Griffith says. “I don’t need scorched earth. I just don’t need him in a position to hurt vulnerable women.”

Griffith says it’s incredibly painful to see the destruction of the book she worked on for years, the site she founded, and the community she fostered. But “the book makes him appear a trustworthy spiritual guide,” she says. People assumed he was reliable because she associated with him, she says.

“I hate to think he’d use that to groom someone else. I’m not going to provide a henhouse for him to raid.”

***
Correction November 18: This article originally stated that Ryan is 41 years old. This was a typo. Ryan is 43.

***

BELOW IS THE OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM JESSICA MESMAN GRIFFITH:
This is my official statement. I wanted to share with you before posting on the blog, as it contains more information and I didn’t want it to come as a shock to anyone. You should hear it from me. You’ve become like family to me. I can only say I’m sorry I didn’t speak out sooner as maybe it would have spared others some pain. #metoo indeed.
*
On Sunday, November 12, 2017, it came to my attention that there have been relationships between Jonathan Ryan, the co-founder of the Sick Pilgrim blog, and various women in the Sick Pilgrim online community–a community that had become, over the last year, a de facto support group for those recovering from spiritual abuse, in addition to a place for artists and writers to come together to discuss what inspires us and/or troubles us about the Catholic Church. (This Facebook community is a private group–one must request to join–but it’s not a secret. We have advertised it on the blog and on Facebook multiple times and invited anyone interested to send us a request to join.)
It quickly became apparent, upon investigation of these claims, that the relationships Jonathan had formed with several women he met through the blog and in the community had in fact been inappropriate, predatory and exploitative.
By Tuesday, November 14, the Sick Pilgrim administrative staff had collected enough testimony and evidence to send Jonathan a formal letter notifying him that he had been removed from the online community and should no longer publish any work or give interviews or public lectures under the name Sick Pilgrim.
We have always been committed to making our community members safe and have removed people from the online group for less. We have had a zero tolerance policy for online harassment that has often been controversial, but I’ve always wanted to err on the side of protection of the vulnerable. I consult with the admin team, but I take full responsibility for the decisions to remove members from the group.
Our decision to dismiss Jonathan Ryan from both the group and the blog–and to publicly denounce his actions–was based on the following:
–His position in the group was not that of a peer. It was that of a co-founder, former Presbyterian pastor, and current Catholic ministry leader, a holder of public trust. For this reason, he had a responsibility to the members of this group to carry himself with self-control and safety. He did neither.
–He private messaged women in the group with romantic intent, making plans or suggesting to meet with more than one of them in person. At least one has reported that when he met her in person, they had sexual intercourse.
This woman was (1) a good deal younger than him; (2) struggling openly (as narrated in the group) with mental illness; (3) in extremely stressful life, financial, and relational transition, and thus (4) quite obviously vulnerable. The power and position dynamics were simply inexcusable and unconscionable. We have evidence that he indicated to this younger woman that she could expect marriage–going so far as to pick out the chapel where they were to be wed–and that intercourse was part of that trajectory. Even if, at the time, this intercourse was consensual, the woman in question gave her consent under false pretenses. Again, the power and trust differential was severely abused.
–We have received, from multiple people, written statements and screenshots from conversational threads in which Jonathan narrated conflicting accounts of a disturbing predatory experience that I, personally, had with him in August of 2017. None of these accounts corresponds with reality, which included him groping me after I’d had too much to drink. I also received evidence that he was maligning my character and calling into question everything from my writing to my parenting and even my adherence to church teaching, presumably to undermine my credibility in advance of me telling my story.
This is why I believe the women who have come forward. I’m one of them.
Sick Pilgrim–the blog and the group–in addition to being a place for artists and “weirdos” to talk church, was conceived and designed as “a field hospital for the spiritually wounded.” Jonathan betrayed our trust and manipulated people who were attracted to our writing and the online group for this very reason. It is for their protection that he was swiftly and decisively removed.
Jonathan also wrote a number of posts condemning the narcissism and predatory behavior of abusive men–after assaulting me–which now strike us, at best, as disingenuous and at worst, as part of a pattern of grooming women to trust him as an ally.
The Sick Pilgrim community unequivocally repudiates Jonathan’s actions. We are an informal group of artists, writers, and theology buffs–not a legal entity, not a lay apostolate of the Catholic Church, not an intentional community. But it is important–essential–that we protect the marginalized and vulnerable among us, who have come to us for spiritual companionship and support. I will do everything in my power to do so.
To that end, I have also contacted Loyola Press, publisher of the book Strange Journey, which Jonathan and I co-authored about our experiences of healing and wonder in the Catholic Church. As a result, Loyola Press has terminated our contract. All remaining copies of the book will be destroyed. I stand by that decision and applaud Loyola for their swift response.
To say that I am deeply sorry for the wounds this has caused those who trusted us as friends, companions, colleagues, spiritual leaders and Catholic writers is the understatement of my lifetime. I began Sick Pilgrim in part as a project for my own healing from spiritual and emotional abuse, and these experiences and revelations have broken my heart all over again.
If you have questions or concerns or further information regarding this story, you may contact the administrative team of Sick Pilgrim at admin@sickpilgrim.com.