Thursday, February 21, 2019

Sexual Abuse in Church Settings is NOT a One-denomination Issue

Today, Pope Francis kicked off an unprecedented meeting on the Roman Catholic sexual abuse crisis by making clear what his expectations are. He called for "concrete and effective measures" to be taken against the "scourge of sexual abuse" by priests. Many of us have heard the numbers. The Holy See has said that in the past decade, 3,420 credible cases of abuse worldwide were reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the body that defends Catholic doctrine), while in the United States it has been reported that 6,900 priests have been credibly accused since 1950. However, the "crisis" is not simply within the Catholic Church.

Currently, Southern Baptists across America are grappling with a sex abuse crisis in the wake of a startling investigative report detailing more than 380 cases where church leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1998. In total, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found more than 700 victims. More than 200 pastors and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have been convicted of, or given plea deals for, sex crimes over the past 20 years.

Based on insurance company data, some experts have taken the position that more children are likely being abused in Protestant churches than in Catholic churches. Far too often we see revelations of church and denominational officials who chose do-nothing responses and who allowed accused perpetrators to move on to new congregations rather than reporting them to the police. This simply has to stop — in every denomination.

Some have said that what is needed is a full-scale national inquiry, similar to one that was done in Australia — an inquiry that focuses on all faith groups and that not only subpoenas documents but also hears extensive testimony. In a five-year study that experts have described as the "gold standard" of such investigations, Australia’s Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse assessed crimes against children in more than 4,000 institutions, including all religious organizations. It not only examined more than 1.2 million documents, but also heard from 8,000 survivors in private sessions and from 1,200 witnesses in public hearings. Then, based on the common institutional patterns it uncovered, the Royal Commission made recommendations for how to make religious institutions safer for children, including recommendations for improved record-keeping and information sharing.

The pervasiveness of the problem and the high stakes of children’s well-being compel the need for such a comprehensive inquiry in the United States also. If we want our children to be safer, we cannot afford the comfortable delusion that this is an isolated problem of a single diocese, a single state, a single faith group, or a single institution.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 — "Jesus wept." When it comes to the sexual abuse crisis within denominations globally, I have a feeling that Jesus is indeed weeping.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso