09 June, 2009

Is sexual abuse among clergy unique to Catholics?

Sexual abuse by Christian clergy is a problem of huge proportions. The only thing good about this problem is that is that it is exposed and many churches and denominations besides the Catholic Church are acknowledging their problem and discussing and implementing strategies to overcome the problem.

There have been over eight hundred priests removed because of allegations and/or suspicion of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Studies have shown that the statistics are 1.5% to 4% of priests have been involved in some kind of sexual abuse. There have been only two Protestant groups who have done studies that I know of, which are the Southern Baptists and the Church of Christ. Among Baptist clergy the figure is about 14% and among the clergy in the Church of Christ it is higher but has not been released publicly. Most groups are afraid of studies and it appears that around 15% may be average among all Christian groups. One thing that is very clear is that no Christian group is handling this problem very well and most are in denial and involved in various degrees of cover-up. One of the instances I am aware of is the Church of God denomination in Cleveland, Tennessee who had a bishop arrested for child sexual abuse (22 counts, if I recall correctly) and almost immediately, all references of him were removed in their website and the church denied even knowing him. One must also keep in mind that until fairly recently the psychiatric community believed that pedophiles could be treated and cured. Many churches including the Catholic Church treated the clergy and trusted the psychiatrists when they said they were cured and would not abuse again. It is also interesting that in studies among other professions with contact with children, such as teachers, that the statistics are similar. I am encouraged that the Catholic Church has a zero tolerance policy for these abuses and is working to eliminate practicing homosexual priests from active clergy and identifying problem candidates at the seminary level.

I have given this issue a lot of thought since the statistics have started to come out as to why there are great differences in the statistics between Catholic clergy and Protestant clergy. I really do not think the celibacy issue has anything to do with the lower statistics for Catholics. I believe I have a unique insight being a convert to Catholicism and having worked for years in a Catholic seminary among Jesuits. My thoughts are that the difference in statistics is the result of the different views of Catholics and or Protestants towards their clergy. Excuse my hyperbole, which I use here for emphasis, but Protestant clergy are more autonomous and are looked at by their congregations as morally superior, not that they shouldn’t be but many are not, and many are revered as a pope to that congregation. They are placed on a pedestal that few of us, if any, deserve. This makes them vulnerable to temptation which comes from those that perceive the clergy as a power figure and are tempted by this perception. Many Protestant clergy fall to this snare of Satan. The Catholic priest does not have the same situation. Congregations know of the sinfulness of their priest who confesses regularly to their congregations that they sin in thought, word and deed lest there be any doubt of our sinful nature. This has a dual effect, the priest remains humble as a result of his confession and the congregation does not place the priest on a pedestal as happens in Protestant congregations.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph

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