The Christian Right & Child Sex Abuse
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Apr 13, 2013 at 08:31:40 PM EST
The American Christian Right has a problem that I think has not been adequately addressed by most interested journalists, scholars and activists. The problem is that the conservative Catholic Bishops and the conservative leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have such a bad record when it comes to child sex abuse, that it should be counting against their moral and official standing far more than it has.
The ongoing scandal of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy and cover-ups by the hierarchy is not only well-known but is so horrific that the moral and the official standing of these leaders and those who run interference for them needs to be directly questioned.

Frank Cocozzelli is an exception who proves the rule in this area. He has been zeroing-in on the way that the American Catholic Right (notably prominent neoconservatives and members of Opus Dei) has consistently defended the hierarchy against all comers when it comes to the clergy sex abuse scandal.  Frank, among others, has called for the ouster of the convicted enabler of a priest convicted of producing child pornography, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph.  But much more could be said and done by so many more -- and not only by Catholics.  

I would like, for example, to highlight that the Catholic hierarchy not only routinely violates its contemporary claim of zero tolerance for clergy sex abuse, but has engaged in a double standard when it comes to disciplining prelates.  While Bishop  Finn remains in office, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit who advocated that the Ohio state legislature extend the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases, was removed from office.

That the same U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that has done such a poor job of addressing the sex abuse scandal is stacked with and led by culture-warring, family values proclaiming conservatives appointed by the last two popes is well-known.  Much less well-known is the struggle within the SBC.  I was struck by a post by Christa Brown at the blog of the Associated Baptist Press which asked:  "When will Southern Baptist Convention address clergy sex abuse?".  Brown, who also blogs at Stop Baptist Predators, discusses how the SBC has yet to develop policies to protect children in its care.

While other major faith groups have recognized the need for clergy accountability mechanisms, Southern Baptists persist in denominational do-nothingness.

Since 2006, clergy abuse survivors, and others, have been asking the Southern Baptist Convention to implement denominational safeguards against clergy child molesters. Southern Baptists have refused.

The requests are nothing radical. We asked for the sorts of safeguards that already exist in other major faith groups in this country. We asked that the denomination provide (1) a safe place where people may report abusive ministers, (2) a denominational panel for responsibly assessing abuse reports (particularly those that cannot be criminally prosecuted), and (3) an effective means, such as a database, of assuring that assessment information reaches people in the pews.

In 2008, TIME magazine ranked Southern Baptists' rejection of a sex-offender database as one of the top 10 underreported stories of the year.

Now here we are in 2012, and Southern Baptists are still sitting on the sidelines.

Robert Parnham of the Baptist Center for Ethics sees the matter clearly

Catholic and Baptist leaders have more similarities than differences on the child-abuse front. Both have harmed church members and the Christian witness by not swiftly addressing predatory clergy and designing reliable protective systems.

By way of contrast, let's also consider that the liberal mainline Protestant denominations -- the ones that respect the moral capacity of women to determine their reproductive life, and many of which not only welcome LGTB people, who are then treated with dignity and equality, but may serve in leadership roles -- do not turn a blind eye to the problems, but also seek to prevent and address child sex abuse by clergy and others.  

These include, among others, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ (PDF), The Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association.  What's more, the progressive Religious Institute has resources for religious organizations considering developing policies and programs in this area, and consults with those who are looking to improve their policies and performance.

What I have outlined here is far from a comprehensive treatment of the subject, but it is a fair sketch of the difference between the conservative churches that provide much of the base and leadership of the Christian Right and many other traditional religious denominations.  

My question is:  Can the SBC and the Catholic Bishops be taken seriously on anything else when they cannot get it together to actively protect children from sex predators -- especially their own clergy?




Display:
Finally, it's getting out into the open!  At least, more so than before!  (As I've told people repeatedly, especially people who only follow the news - it's not just a Roman Catholic Church hierarchy thing - several other conservative denominations are also guilty!)

Very good.  Very good indeed.  I have several friends who will be very happy at this news.  A couple may cry (if I can reach them - lost touch)... because of the things they'd been put through (including being blamed and punished for their own sexual abuse - one grown woman was sexually abused as a toddler and the church and some relatives STILL blamed her years later, especially because the perp was still in jail).  A few more people I know will start demanding when the church that hurt them will face the issue.

It IS a conservative problem.  I think eventually it will be tied to a combination of the autocratic and top-down hierarchal structure that is so common in the conservative churches combined with the attitudes held toward women and children found in the same.

This is good news on a painful and touchy subject!  At last one of a handful of churches repeatedly named time and time again for the problem is starting to address the issue (or parts of it are).

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 01:34:02 PM EST


As a Catholic, I think the bishops are all too eager to call for others to forgive them, but they don't show any sign of repentance. I wish Finn would have the decency to resign before the Vatican recalls him, but I think they won't do it unless it affects their bottom line.

by khughes1963 on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 09:58:17 PM EST

I don't think that it is an accident or coincidence that the denominations with the problems in this regard (Catholic Church, Southern Baptists) are at the Authoritarian end of the spectrum.  Not only does this lead to a mindset that clergy and other leaders have considerable "power over" others, it also leads to a mindset that church members should submit -- and that whatever happens, they owe allegiance to the church and need to keep quiet about abuse.

Mentally healthy, non-authoritarian organizations are a lot less likely to have clergy or members who believe they have a right to do whatever they wish -- and if they do find evidence of such behaviors, are more likely to realize that something needs to be done, both to help the victim and to discipline the offender.

And of course, it also comes down to having a mature and healthy attitude toward sex.   The prurient attitudes of many Catholic clergy and Southern Baptists can lead to a lot of juvenile "playing doctor" type of behavior, followed by blaming the victim and failing to acknowledge -- and willfully misunderstand -- one's own biological urges.  Except for the damage that is done to the victims, the immaturity of it all would be laughable (as well as sad).

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