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Sexual Abuse of Minors in Protestant Churches

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The mainstream media has all but ignored the recent Associated Press report that the three major insurance companies for Protestant Churches in America say they typically receive 260 reports each year of minors being sexually abused by Protestant clergy, staff, or other church-related relationships.

In light of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church beginning five years ago, religious and victims’ rights organizations have been seeking this type of data for years. It has been hard to come by since Protestant Churches are more de-centralized than the Catholic Church.

Responding to heavy media scrutiny, the Catholic Church has reported that since 1950, 13,000 “credible accusations” have been brought against Catholic clerics (about 228 per year.) The fact that this number includes all credible accusations, not just those that have involved insurance companies, and still is less than the number of cases in Protestant churches reported by just three insurance companies, should be making front page of The New York Times and the network evening news. It’s not.

The report is even more telling if we consider the plethora of independent or “store front” Protestant churches that don’t have insurance and whose numbers, therefore, certainly are not taken into account in this study.

This bad news for Protestant Churches is sad news for all of us. I would prefer the problem be limited to any one church — even if that church were my own — because it would mean more kids would be safe. But as I have said repeatedly over the last few years, the problem of sexual abuse of minors is not an issue of religious affiliation because there is nothing religious about abusing children. The phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors in church settings is the story of sick human beings taking advantage of their position of moral authority to prey on the weak and vulnerable. If Catholic clergy were to be faithful to their church’s teaching, there would be no abuse in the Catholic Church. The same goes for Protestant clergy. The problem, then, is not one of corrupt doctrine, but of individuals being unfaithful to the most basic precepts of their own religious belief.

Let’s be clear: the report of abuse in Protestant Churches in no way clears guilty members of the Catholic Church — neither the predators nor those who moved them from church to church and put other young people in danger. But the report does give us better perspective. The problem of sexual abuse has no denominational boundaries.

But why, then, is there so much abuse in church settings in general? Because contemporary society is sick and it is producing so many sick people that some of these disjointed souls even end up in churches. It should also be noted that we are more likely to hear about the church-related cases because they tell a more salacious story — what should be white is black, and so on. The Catholic Church is the best story because the blame (and the money trail) can go all the way to Rome.

I would like to be able to say that the sexual abuse of minors is limited to church settings because, if that were the case, once again, more kids would be safe. But it’s not. Sexual predators are in our schools, hospitals, and foster families. It hurts to say it, but because our society is so sick, sexual predators are everywhere.

But there’s hope. Society does not spin out of control on its own. It has fallen with us and it can rise with us. Society is cultivated and formed by human beings who are capable of changing behavior patterns and doing the right thing. The most important thing we can do to heal societal wounds is to teach our children, day in and day out, by words and example, what it means to love and be loved. Disjointed and sick people, the ones who abuse children, don’t fall from the sky. They are born into families, into towns, and communities. It is to the degree that more moms and dads, teachers, pastors, and neighbors are able to pass on the beauty of selfless love that society will start to get better — and our churches too.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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P.S. Sorry for altering our blog schedule! I posted videos on both Monday and Wednesday and so decided to write a column today. Visit my column archive to view these, and the rest of my article history! Next week I will be sure to post your comments and respond to your questions!


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