Catholic sex abuse cases share window in Baptist house
April 5 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

It can be too easy and self-satisfying for non-Catholic Christians to smugly observe from a distance the clergy sex abuse controversies that torment the Catholic church.

We are naively thankful the debauched, deviant behavior of sick “celibate” priests did not occur within the confines of our churches, our schools, our education classes, our youth groups.

Knowledge of blatant perversions by priests has come to light now far beyond Boston and other American dioceses. The news is full of similar debauchery in Germany and Ireland and now Italy. European Catholics are calling for church law similar to the zero tolerance standard that Catholics enacted in the United States following the lawsuits that brought to light hundreds of damaged lives and cost $3 billion to settle.

The backlash has reached the Vatican where a beleaguered Pope Benedict XVI is trying to fend off charges that he mishandled cases of clerical sex abuse before becoming pope — when he was merely Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the mantle of infallibility had not yet settled over his frail shoulders.

Catholic travails are recited here first as a lesson that their aftermath spreads far beyond Catholic walls. They besmirch and defile the reputation of all Christians in leadership roles — ordained or not — and betray the trust built over centuries by those who profess to love Jesus above all else and to purely love and serve those whom Jesus loved.

Second, sex abuse cases also rock Baptist churches. Individually they are just as bad, and collectively we are doing a lot less about resolution than are the Catholics.

Sex abuse in the church is not a Catholic crisis alone. Don’t you think a skeptical public repulsed at news of a priest abusing 200 deaf boys lumps local church leaders into the same putrid pot?

All Christians are being stained in the sweep of the same broad brush. According to a Baylor University School of Social Work study released last fall the tainting is not without foundation. The study found just over three percent — or seven women in a typical congregation with 400 adult members — have been victims of clergy sexual misconduct since they turned 18.

“We knew anecdotally that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a huge problem, but we were surprised it is so prevalent across all denominations, all religions, all faith groups, all across the country,” said lead researcher Diana Garland, dean of the school. “Clergy sexual misconduct is no respecter of denominations.”

At least American Catholics have instituted rules that immediately and forever remove a man from the priesthood who is shown to be guilty of abuse.

Pope Benedict XVI has apologized for the sexual abuse of minors and pledged that pedophiles would not be allowed to become priests in the Catholic church.

The Vatican has even instituted reforms to prevent future United States abuse by requiring background checks for church employees and has issued new rules disallowing ordination of men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

Southern Baptists as a national entity still have nothing in place to prevent abusers from carrying their satchels of pain to another church or to yank credentials from an abusive clergyman. A motion to institute a national registry of abusers was rejected by the Southern Baptist Executive Committee in 2008 on the basis of church autonomy. The Executive Committee recommended instead that churches run background checks through an already available U.S. Department of Justice system.

But that system contains names only of those “convicted” of a crime. How many times does a church force a minister to leave and keep the reasons unstated to avoid lawsuits or embarrassment? We want to forgive and redeem so we too easily accept apologies and promises of the offender never to do it again.

Web sites such as and list Christians charged with sex abuses and crimes and a shocking number of them are Baptists. The list of stories related to the arrest of Baptist church staff across the country for crimes against members of their flocks stretches on and on.

As hard as it is to say, I come to the awful realization that parents should no longer unreservedly trust unproven church staff or volunteers with their children. Wise churches exercise stringent care to be sure those who work with children and youth are of impeccable character.

Writing recently about churches and sexual abuse, Christian ethicist David Gushee said, “The Baptist situation may be no better than the Catholic, only shielded more deeply from view. This situation demands reform, immediately, for the sake of the vulnerable and abused children among us — not to mention for the sake of the gospel witness, so desecrated by the abuse behind our stained glass windows.”

Stories of abuse in the Orlando Sentinel are listed under a headline “The Last Refuge of Scoundrels.” How is it that reprobates end up “serving” in the Church?

I don’t remember who to credit with this idea, but it struck and stuck when I first heard it: that some Christians who are struggling with sexual and emotional demons seek refuge in seminary or the church, thinking the devil cannot follow them past the entry gate or the front door. Instead they are tormented with renewed vigor because now they are in a position where personal failure will cause even greater harm to the Name and those who bear it.

Journalism professor Paul Moses wrote on the blog of Commonweal, a Catholic magazine, “this story still calls out to be covered because some of those who failed to stop repeat abusers remain in positions of authority.”

In Baptist life the “authority” in such matters always has been and remains in the local church.

Your church has a responsibility and spiritual obligation — even a legal obligation in the case of minors — to knock the legs out from a person who abuses power, trust or authority so that person once discovered in your body, cannot move to the next victim pool.

You may feel you owe compassion to the predator, but what is your obligation to the innocent?

If your antennae say something is not right, don’t let it slide. Catholics in America took specific steps. We can do the same.
4/5/2010 7:17:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 10 comments

table coffee
I would just say one thing to you and that is, “FANTASTIC”!! Keep it up and wish to get more details from your blog.
5/3/2010 9:14:42 PM
Gene Scarborough
I am grateful for this honest editorial. Anyone reading Paul's Letters finds sexual misconduct is addressed. Strangely, Paul is sometimes conjected to have had some kind of STD as the basis of his "thorn in the flesh."

What to do is the real question!

I differ with any who claim Autonomy prevents its formal resolution among Baptists. Every ordained person--including Deacons--was given it in good faith supposedly after proper examination by the ordaining church / association.

What prevents a simple RE-EXAMINATION and prompt removal of the certification for anyone sexually molesting another person?????

It is a matter of responsibility, in my opinion. It's not how high you jump, it's how straight you walk when you hit the ground that counts. Few, if any, of these incidents occurred in a vacuum---someone knew something and turned their head for fear of "causing church trouble."

Clearly, sins of Omission are as deadly as those of Commission--if not worse!
4/29/2010 8:25:02 AM
bible believer
celibacy argument is not valid! The fact that Catholic priests are celibate is not the reason for the recent actions of many Catholic priest. If it was their desire they would be accused of partaking in prostitution. Child molestation is deviance not desire. and many times it is with young males which is perversion
4/27/2010 11:06:28 AM
Ron's points are well made. I had a paragraph in my original editorial about infallibility and wondering when that cloak falls across the shoulders of a man who was "fallible" until elected pope. Does he become infallible when ashes from the white smoke signaling his election settle into his hair? No man is infallible and the pope may well have to account for his actions as a cardinal when he may have perpetuated the coverup of priests abusing children. But, my point is that Catholics are not alone in this awful dilemma. A Christian's inability or unwillingness to keep his or her fleshly desires uner control - even to the detriment of children - is a broad, bold and horrible denial of Christ in us.
4/19/2010 3:26:32 PM
Dr. James Willingham
Some one took issue with my statement regarding the celibate priesthood. All I was doing was stating a historicl issue for Catholicism. One can find many comments on the internet by Catholics themselves on the need to end celibacy. I was not denying that the problem was broader than that denomnination. In fact, I pointed out that due to the sexualization of society, the problem has become wide spread. One of the reasons I earned a Master's degree in counseling was that I had five cases of incest in a 3 month period. If it were not for resons of confidentiality, I could say more. No doubt, the dissemination of pornography is one of he contributing factors. No doubt, there has always been a problem where ever people live, but it is exacerbated by pornography,subliminal seduction techniques in advertising, and by various practices of society which deny one of the basic drives of human nature. Also I am not totally against celibacy even as the Bible is not.
4/16/2010 1:38:08 PM
Ron Dahlke/Messianic Jew
While it is true that there is sexual abuse of one kind or another in many Judeo-Christian denominations, I think the reason that it sticks out so much is that,
A. The Catholic Church makes no bones about their idea that they, and their pontiff
"represent" Christ on earth. They put this whole thing together by claiming that
the popes are "infallible." Thus, they claim that the pope's words are, therefore the
words of God, Himself.

B. Their "priests" (Jesus is our High Priest, and ministers for us in Heaven), because they
are part of the Church hierarchy, therefore cannot sin, per se. Their priests cannot marry. Thus, so many hide their sexual practices because they, like all men, have varying degrees of
sexual needs. They claim they had the right, based on a misinterpreted text about Jesus and Peter and "the rock."

The point I'm making is that the Catholic Church's doctrines, themselves, are why so many priests are eventually discovered because their victims grow up and are unafraid to tell what
happened to them as children. Catholics are, themselves, very loving and sweet people. But the
strong arm of flesh method of salvation doesn't work. We can't save ourselves.
4/14/2010 12:47:45 AM
Lynn Clayton
A great editorial speaking to a glaring sin of Baptists and other denominations. Many churches do not want the unpleasantries of dealing with someone so close and often so loved. And, they don't want the public to know their churches had a criminal on their staffs. So, under the misdirected "forgiveness" and "compassion" they gently turn the person loose to inflict lasting pain on more folks, young and old, from other trusted staff positions. Finally, these clowardly churched had rather inflict the person on another congregation than deal waith it themselves. A predator can be forgiven, but still should face the consquences of their actions in these cases. Now, the Catholic church has issued guidelines for dealing with sexual predators, but the proof of corrections will be in their following their guidelines. The Catholic hierarchy has known of their problems for at least decades and not dealt with them. Their organizational system is almost talior made to perpetuate abuse and covering abuse. In the meantime, what will Baptists do to take the beam out of their eye? Keep up the good work and keep our feet to the fire on this.
4/9/2010 11:22:35 AM
russ rentler
"There are several issues in this editorial which were never addressed. One is the celibate priesthood which has been a problem for the Catholic Church ever since it was instituted in the early Middle Ages"

the very fact that sex abuse occurs in non-celibate clergy including rabbis at a rate equal or slightly greater than priests negates your above statement. Isn't that the whole point of jameson's article?

4/8/2010 10:43:47 PM
Dr. James Willingham
There are several issues in this editorial which were never addressed. One is the celibate priesthood which has been a problem for the Catholic Church ever since it was instituted in the early Middle Ages. Having done research in all two thousand yrs. of church history, I can say that there is evidence of a problem with sexual immorality and perversion through out the the whole period of the Faith. It can be noted in the NT writings where one such incident in I Cors.5, a matter of an incestuous nature. But with the adoption of monasticisim, especially involving all men or all women in confined quarters, the problem took on larger dimensions. And with the adoption of celibacy immorality escalated. In our modern period, we have in addition to the above problems, the sexualization of society by movies, t.v., magazine and various publications. There is also the use of sex in advertising with what is called subliminal seduction techniques. The most innocent of advertisements might have hidden and suggestive sexual images that the subconscious mind recognizes, but the conscious mind says they would not do that. this means all of our society is over stimulated in the sexual realms, and ministers are not immune to such stimulations. Two things are involved in our own church situations, namely, church discipline and healthy marriages are the lack of the same. O yes, the matter of biblical truths concerning the Fall of man and human susceptibility to evil influences due to a corrupt nature. Salvation by grace through faith needs to be better understood along with what are called the doctrines of grace and how they are to be employed in dealing with man's innate tendency to sin. None of this admits of an easy solution. We must be willing to pay the price to reassess the original teachings of the Bible and the relation of those teachings to the issues confronting us today. Like Bunyan, I think it was, stated something to this effect, "This hill though difficult I covet to ascend; its hardships will not me offend."
4/8/2010 9:03:03 PM
Brent Hobbs
Its disappointing, even in our own churches, how we fail to follow the biblical admonition that those in public leadership roles are to rebuked publicly when they sin. (1 Tim. 5:20) Sexual misconduct should not be kept quiet or swept under the rug - it should be dealt with openly and firmly (and as compassionately as possible for the victims).

Its a fine line to walk to protect people from being falsely accused while also blowing the whistle loudly on those actually guilty. I don't know if the SBC taking steps is the best way or not, but we would certainly be better off to follow the clear teaching of our Lord through the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy. Pastors and church leaders are to be above reproach.
4/6/2010 1:20:57 PM
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