Southern Religion

Who once believed the clerical sexual abuse crisis was an anti-Catholic media campaign?

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, there was a time when Ratzinger saw the sexual abuse crisis as an anti-Catholic media campaign. John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter wrote this week:

Ratzinger’s attitude toward the crisis at the time can perhaps best be gauged from comments he made on November 30, 2002, during an appearance in Murcia, Spain, at a conference organized by the Catholic University of St. Anthony. During a Q&A session after his talk, Ratzinger was asked: “This past year has been difficult for Catholics, given the space dedicated by the media to scandals attributed to priests. There is talk of a campaign against the church. What do you think?

“This was Ratzinger’s reply:

In the church, priests are also sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower. In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than one percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the church.

Making Ratzinger’s defensive tone all the more striking, his comments came after a summit between Vatican officials and American cardinals, as well as officers of the bishops’ conference, in April 2002 to discuss the American crisis, a meeting in which Ratzinger participated.

For the record, in claiming “less than one percent” of priests were guilty, Ratzinger was relying on an analysis by writer Philip Jenkins, published in the mid-1990s, of the Chicago archdiocese. In the end, the U.S. bishops’ own study concluded that accusations have been lodged against 4.3 percent of diocesan priests over the last 50 years, and some critics regard even that total as under-reported.

Of course he changed his mind, Allen explains. Read the entire piece here.


March 20, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI | , | Comments Off on Who once believed the clerical sexual abuse crisis was an anti-Catholic media campaign?

Southern Baptist autonomy (not for women in the pulpit: for predators)

Put a woman in the pulpit and the ax of Southern Baptist discipline falls. The Georgia Baptist Convention is preparing to disfellowship Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta because the Reverend Mimi Walker is a co-pastor there. While critics write the South Carolina Baptist Courier to abjure Eau Claire Baptist Church for calling Kelly Dickerson Strum to be co-pastor, one suggesting that church discipline is in order.

Yet amid the recurrent revelations of Southern Baptist pastoral sexual abuse, again documented by Christa Brown, no equivalent scripture-laced outpourings about applying the force of denominational discipline to the protection of the young from sexual wolves in Baptist clerical cloth. Or disfellowship of churches which ship predators of the cloth along to other congregations without a word of warning.

Oh no. Policy is clear: Women in the pulpit are a danger to the entire denomination. As are homosexuals welcomed into the pews. For the proliferation of predators, however, Southern Baptist Churches are autonomous. No denominational consequence for negligence.

March 19, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , , , , | Comments Off on Southern Baptist autonomy (not for women in the pulpit: for predators)

Implicit SBC clerical sexual predator policy [Neglect?]

The inflexibility with which the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) disfellowships member churches which affirm homosexual behavior may surpass Roman Catholic application of excommunication to other issues. The Catholic Church is more tolerant of homosexuality, but like the SBC, faces unrelenting problems with clerical sexual abuse.

The 500-member Royal Lane Baptist Church of North Dallas, Texas, recently placed itself in peril of ejection from the Baptist General Convention of Texas and from the SBC when the diaconate voted to rewrite the About Us section of its Web site to include:

Royal Lane Baptist Church is an inclusive, multi-generational congregation joined in Christian community. We are a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and denominational backgrounds.

That did not represent a change of heart by the church, as Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News reported:

“In effect, this is a collective coming out about who we are and have been for a long time,” said Ruth May, vice chair of the deacons.

. . .

[The Rev. David] Matthews, who became Royal Lane’s pastor last year, said the Bible “understood through the prism of Jesus” calls for full acceptance of gays and lesbians.

Debate over the issue immediately related BGCT/SBC action against local churches with regard to homosexuality and their failure to apply similar force to sexual predators. Nathan Barnes wrote:

The leadership of the SBC and apparently the BGCT are not willing to sacrifice church autonomy to catalog and track sex offending clergy but are willing to sacrifice it to keep GLBT folks from serving the Lord.

In rejoinder, another commenter said, “If aberrant behavior is to be accepted as normal and within God’s provision for human sexual expression, why not pedophilia, or bestiality, or??” and Barnes responded:

BUT pedophila is already accepted. No church has been disassociated from the SBC or BGCT for passing on sex offending clergy to other churches.

It’s not a double standard. It’s the standard.

Christa Brown said at Stop Baptist Predators:

Mr. Barnes got it exactly right. Baptist leaders have so twisted the doctrine of local church autonomy as to make it little more than an easily manipulated excuse to serve their own ends. It’s pure contrivance for Baptist leaders to say they can’t do anything about clergy predators because of local church autonomy. After all, look at how quick they are to interfere with churches that admit to having gay members.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the SBC is attempting to assert ethical/spiritual authority in the midst of a long public parade of evidence of its failure to protect young Christians from predatory members of its own clergy.

Both have other priorities.

Like hiding what they can behind confidentiality agreements. To protect the church’s reputation and authority, of course.

As the Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse wrote in 2009 that the Catholic Church pre-occupation”in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse” was “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets.” Not the protection of the children.

Suffering little children are a lower priority for the SBC than keeping women pastors out of the pulpit, keeping homosexuals out of the pews and barring otherwise somehow insufficiently fundamentalist churches from affiliation.

Realistic minds in both denominations must foresee, absent restoration of their reputation as safe places for the young, a future of empty pews.

[H/T: StopBaptistPredators]

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, SBC | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Using the attacker’s words to blame the victim

Abused by Baylor University when she had to courage to report being assaulted by “murdering ministerMatt Baker when he was a student there, Lora Wilson is still a target of reflexive abuse.

Blame the victim is a hideous American practice, not exclusively a Southern Baptist sin — one at which Christa Brown fired back when Lora Wilson was maligned with Baker’s words in a recent blog comment.

The smear continues in part because the Southern Baptist institutions which are at fault have failed to acknowledge their responsibility. Christa writes:

To this day, no Baylor official has made any public expression of remorse. No one at First Baptist of Waco, a church that had two reports of Baker’s abuse, has expressed any sorrow about letting the man move on without consequence. No one at the Baptist General Convention of Texas has offered any explanation for how someone with so many abuse and assault reports could move so easily through its affiliated churches and organizations. And no one in Baptistland has made even the feeblest of effort to reach out to the many more who were likely wounded by “murdering minister” Matt Baker — the many who are probably still silent.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Using the attacker’s words to blame the victim

A predator’s phrase dictionary in the Matt Baker murder trial testimony

Christa Brown parsed the verbal signatures of a sexual predator from the testimony about Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker in his Waco, Texas, murder trial.

Excerpting from Erin Quinn’s trial blog, Brown created a hair-raising phrase dictionary of sexually predatory grooming and controlling intimidation by a pastor who is systematically misusing his authority. For example, Baker’s former mistress, Vanessa Bulls, testified that:

  • He told her to “just date your pastor.” [isolation]
  • Baker took the divorce counseling he provided Bulls at church to a new level. He started saying she was beautiful and asked her to come over. [abuse of a dual, pastor/counselor role]
  • He told Bulls during counseling “that God is such a forgiving God. I don’t think that God believes that a person can be with just one person for the rest of their life.”
  • He told Bulls that no one would believe her if she told anyone what he did because he was a preacher. [use of pastor role to intimidate | the jury believed her]
  • Bulls told Baker to turn himself in [for murdering his wife Kari by smothering her with a pillow] and he told her “God has forgiven me.”

She was testifying to events in a world where clerical predators flourish because in well-documented ways, they are allowed to flourish. Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland and Christen Argueta have documented the psychological profile and technique of sexually abusive pastors. The common themes of the church environment which allows clerical predators to flourish and as Brown says, “church-hop through Baptistland,” have also been well-explained.


The murder of Kari Baker and surrounding human devastation showed with startling drama how tragically lives spin out as a result of Baptistland’s refusal to apply well-known remedies to clerical predation. Investigators found evidence that Matt Baker had for years led “a secret life as a sexual predator.” Brown wrote:

Prosecutors said that he had made advances and assaults on at least 13 young women, including 4 minors. Yet, despite multiple reports of sexual abuse and sexual assault, Matt Baker was always able to continue his career through churches, schools, and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

When a Waco, Texas, jury found Matt Baker guilty Wednesday, it by implication indicted Southern Baptist failure to act forcefully to stop clerical predators in its midst.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Crime, SBC | , , , , | 1 Comment

Two churchmen sentenced for sex crimes, one so inadequately

An Argentine judge sentenced former Archbishop of Sante Fe Edgardo Storni to eight years incarceration for abuse of his power to sexually exploit a male seminary student. That sentence punctuated a long running scandal in which a book was published documenting the abuse, the Vatican launched and abandoned an investigation and a succession of victims saw their cases dismissed by various judges.

Not similarly concerned with the abuse of power in such relationships, a California judge sentenced “the youth group leader at Miracle Land Korean Baptist Church in Cypress was sentenced to 90 days for having sex with a 15-year-old girl.”

Both abuses occurred in close association with church events, making obvious the link between clerical authority and the sexual incidents.

Both assailants enjoyed the public support and protection of their church communities, as though their were something acceptable about their crimes. That misguided view of clerical sex crime contributes to the isolation of and harm to victims.

Most ethicists agree that betraying the trust of and abusing the authority of the ministry to secure sexual favors does not and cannot result in mutual consent.

The result is instead a form of rape.

Punishment at every level should fit the crime, should it not?

[H/T: Christa Brown]

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, SBC | , , , , | Comments Off on Two churchmen sentenced for sex crimes, one so inadequately

Do we still believe this kind of apology?

Religious sex offenders are the worst, indicates the available data.

Why believe an apology from Phillip Garrido, the man accused of kidnapping and raping Jaycee Dugard in 1991? Is there anything credible about his claim of some resolution via religious experience (or any other claim like that)? The facts reported by John Simerman of the Contra Costa Times speak to this instance:

Promises of a religious transformation date back decades for Garrido, who served 11 years of a 50-year federal sentence for the 1976 kidnapping of a South Lake Tahoe woman he raped. Standing before a Nevada judge during sentencing on the rape charge, he told the judge he was expecting a spiritual rebirth after troubles with LSD and marijuana use.

Certainly we have learned by now that even spiritual vocations are no inoculation against sexually predatory behavior, as the almost 500 complaints of sexual abuse against the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) seems to suggest. As if the ongoing, decades deep, multinational, Catholic and Protestant clergy predation scandal were not already enough.

Have we learned?

Some of us have far to go toward dealing realistically with this issue and its cousins.

November 15, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Crime | , , , | 1 Comment

Richard Land plowed down for sexual predator double standard

Christa writes:

So I listened in wonder as [President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention Richard] Land seemed to express such outrage over “Hollywood elites.” [with regard to Roman Polanski] Where was his voice of outrage about the Southern Baptist minister who repeatedly molested and raped me when I was an underage church-girl? Where was his outrage about the music minister who knew about it, then and now, and called it “consensual”? Where was his outrage about Texas Baptist officials who put my perpetrator’s name in a secret file of “known offenders,” but then kept quiet about it while the man continued to work in children’s ministry? Where was his outrage about the 18 Baptist leaders who were informed about my substantiated report of clergy abuse and did nothing?

Like most other high officials of the Southern Baptist Convention and its bureaucratic appendages, nowhere in sight, then or now.

As Christa explains in detail that we recommend to you at Stop Baptist Predators.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Law, Satire, SBC | , , , | Comments Off on Richard Land plowed down for sexual predator double standard

Put celluloid pastor/priest Polanski in prison [Addendum]

Original poster for the 1968 film "Rosmary's Baby," directed by Roman Polanski

A celebrity then as now, three decades ago Roman Polanski drugged and raped a protesting 13-year-old girl during a photo session a lesser artistic light might not have been able to arrange.

Polanski fled to France in 1978 on the day of his sentencing, was arrested in Switzerland on Saturday and is predictably the focus of special pleadings on his behalf. For example, the French who protected him for years now argue that there is a case for mercy based on Polanski’s “exceptional artistic creation and human qualities.” Polish Filmmakers Association chief Jacek Bromski told the Associated Press that Polanski had paid for his crime “by not being able to make films in Hollywood.”

They sound like Southern Baptist ministers seeking special treatment for a clerical sexual predator or star believer at sentencing time while the predator is in denial. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. at On Faith indicates the appropriate reaction:

Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal. Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize. Religion reporters would be on the case with the encouragement of their editors. Editorial writers and columnist would denounce the knights as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church to sexual abuse.

And they would all be correct.

And I would join them

As should we all. Special pleadings for Southern Baptist sexual predators, Catholic priest sexual predators and Academy Award winning director sexual predators are all “elite deviance” and when those pleadings succeed, their success tends to foster repetition of the kind of crime involved.

Sociologists Anson D. Shupe, David G. Bromley define elite deviance as:

…illegal and/or unethical acts committed by persons in the highest corporate and political strata of society who run little risk of exposure or serious punishment, even though their deviance poses danger to the well-being of many others.

The film industry and the French should fall into shamed silence and Polansky should go to prison. There is no special standing which should be permitted to excuse use of one’s celebrity, authority as an adult and ability to manipulate to rape an adolescent who was placed in one’s care.


Mollie at GetReligion conducts an arch survey of the blog duel over Polanski’s fate.

Along the way we were reminded that Polanski’s plea bargain, three decades ago, was itself a clear example of “elite deviance.” Polanski was to be allowed to plead guilty to one of six charges – unlawful sexual intercourse – and have his sentence commuted to time served.

Polanski fled when the judge indicated he might reject the plea bargain – a worthwhile thought given Polanski’s forcible rape of a 13-year-old – and sentence Polanski to prison.

September 29, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Crime, Cultural, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Put celluloid pastor/priest Polanski in prison [Addendum]

Why predatory clergy flourish

Clerical sexual abuse of adults is commonplace in considerable part because churches create social and working environments in which predatory adults flourish as clergy. Churches are as a result inadvertently attractive to appropriately skilled predators, who are known to invest as much effort in grooming their social environments as in grooming their victims.

Consider those four of the five “common themes” identified in a study of sexual predation of adults by clergy [.pdf] are also well-known characteristics of church communities.

Those four of the five named by Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland and Christen Argueta are:

  • Church as sanctuary: Church is typically regarded as a place where both the congregation and its leaders can be trusted. This is a highly valued and carefully cultivated characteristic of religious groups. Trust created by this sense and expectation of safe sanctuary makes church members especially vulnerable to self-serving manipulation by predatory clergy.
  • Culture of niceness: Church members are often tolerant, understanding and forgiving of fellow church members. Members tend to overlook or ignore behavior by other members “that we know to be socially inappropriate, rather than naming the behavior and risking embarrassing, angering, or hurting them.” As a result, victims refrain from reacting critically to the inappropriate grooming behavior as predatory clergy desensitize them for what is by the legal standards of many states, statutory rape.
  • Lack of accountability: Not only do religious leaders “often have unparalleled lack of accountability for where they spend their time and with whom,” they may rarely be held to close account for their use of church resources and facilities. Targeted congregants are often also not be held to account for much of their behavior. The combination helps permit predatory clergy to groom (seduce) their targets undetected.
  • Multiple clerical roles: Clergy are often involved in parishioners’ lives not only as religious leaders but also as professional counselors. The dual role gives predators extraordinary power. They are invested with power by a church community virtue of having been ordained as ministers. They add to this the power of counselor or therapist. The result is enormous, dangerous influence they thus have over the perceptions and lives of their victims.

The fifth common theme is personal and community failure to reject abnormal or inappropriate behavior. Although that is not in our view a widely-recognized characteristic of church communities, it is the most frequently identified precondition for sexual abuse of adults by clergy and does underline the predator’s exploitation of his clerical role.

Garland and Arguenta write:

Most (n=23) of the offended said that they had felt uncertain of what was happening in their relationships with their religious leaders. Spouses and friends and other congregational leaders also were uncertain about the meaning of what they observed, and so they did nothing. Their trust of the leader was stronger than their
trust of their own perceptions of the situation. In fact, it altered how they interpreted what they were experiencing.

All five help make it relatively unlikely that a clerical predator will be punished for any given offense. Small likelihood of punishment may be as important to predators as the ease with which the church environment is turned to their purposes. Once a rogue cleric has developed skill in a religious profession and established himself in a church and/or denomination, his expectation of punishment is so low that sociologists Anson D. Shupe, David G. Bromley and others describe it as “elite deviance.” Garland and Arguenta define elite deviance as:

…illegal and/or unethical acts committed by persons in the highest corporate and political strata of society who run little risk of exposure or serious punishment, even though their deviance poses danger to the well-being of many others.

Examples of elite clerical deviance (which eventually resulted in some punishment) in the wild are seen here, here, here and here.

More generally, Shupe writes in his book In the Name of All That’s Holy: A theory of clerical malfeasance:

Almost everything written on the subject of clergy malfeasance … fundamentally identifies the power inequity issue as being at the heart of the problem. It encompasses a fairly regular sequence: perpetration, victim denial and fear, recidivism of perpetration, organization coverup, later disbelief among some believers, anger and disillusionment of others, and the entire chain of victimization and anguish.

Neither churches nor denominations are helpless to deal with predatory exploitation of the environments of trust they labor to create.

Sound, denomination-wide policies are most effective in helping churches separate the clerical wolves from the real shepherds [.pdf].

For example, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will circulate minister career information for hiring by churches only with a complete criminal background check attached.

At almost the opposite extreme, the Southern Baptist Conventions (SBC) maintains a MinisterSearch database while disavowing responsibility for the contents of that database. The SBC, via LifeWay, does offer a discount background-check program. And free advice. The background-check program was in its first year used by one percent (450) of SBC member churches.

In 2008 the SBC rejected a workable, effective approach — creation and maintenance of a “central database of staff and clergy who have been either convicted of or indicted on charges of molesting minors.” That action won for the SBC sixth place on Time Magazine’s list of the Top Ten Underreported News Stories.

The pervasive nature of clerical abuse of adults established by the Baylor School of Social Work study offers the SBC an opportunity to redeem itself by establishing a database of all identified clerical predators, as well as following the lead of the Disciples of Christ by requiring all clergy to attach an approved criminal background check to their profiles in the public but strangely disavowed minister search database.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, SBC | , , , | 3 Comments