Patricia Nell Warren

The Other Shoe: Child Molesting by Non-Catholic Clergy

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | April 15, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: child molestation, clergy sexual abuse, pedophile ministers, pedophile priests, pedophilia, priest abuse

The other day, a CNN headline read "Preacher Killed Wife, Stuffed Body In Freezer, Police Say." Other publications headlined more simply, on the order of "Preacher Kills Wife." Not till you get a paragraph or two into the story do you learn that evangelical preacher Anthony Hopkins, 37, pastor of the Inspirational Tabernacle Church of God in Christ in Jackson, Alabama, allegedly molested minor children, including his own daughter since the age of 11.

Yes, Virginia -- there is child molesting among the non-Catholic clergy. In fact, there is quite a lot of it, judging by the caseload to be found if you start combing the search engines. But you would never know it, judging by the low profile that hedges these non-Catholic cases -- not only in the media but the political arena as well. Especially when compared to the screamingly high profile put on child molesting by Roman Catholic clergy.

So when is the other shoe going to drop? When will we see the screamingly high profile on child molesting by clergy of other religions?

According to a Christian Science Monitor report in 2002: "Despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not clergy or staff, but church volunteers."

The Monitor went on to reveal, "These are findings from national surveys by Christian Ministry Resources (CMR), a tax and legal-advice publisher serving more than 75,000 congregations and 1,000 denominational agencies nationwide. CMR's annual surveys of about 1,000 churches nationwide have asked about sexual abuse since 1993. They're a remarkable window on a problem that lurked largely in the shadows of public awareness until the Catholic scandals arose."

In Texas, right now, a similar "Preacher Killed Wife" story is in its closing stages and once again, the child-molesting part gets buried halfway down the page. Former Baptist minister Matt Baker is being sentenced for murdering his wife several years ago. The case almost didn't come to trial because the wife's death was originally ruled a suicide. It seems that Baker was a long-time womanizer. Along the way Baker allegedly had sex not only with adult women but also with underage girls. But no real investigation of these statutory-rape cases has happened.

The $64 Question

Why are major media and non-Catholic church authorities so eager to low-profile these non-Catholic crimes?

Because, by and large, the deed is being done by clergy who are usually married... and therefore supposedly heterosexual.

In other words, religious authorities and politicians can't play the "gay card" with these cases, the way they've fallen over themselves to do with the Roman Catholic clergy, who are required to be celibate.

Thus, all these years that the Catholic scandal has lasted, blaming the sex crimes of Roman Catholic clergy on the alleged illicit urges of closeted gay priests has been the major focus of investigation. It has touched off a tidal wave of anti-gay repression and witch-hunting within the Roman Catholic Church. Some Catholic authorities even come forward with the old fake theory that "there's a link between homosexuality and pedophilia," thus perpetuating the myth that all gay men are potential child molesters.

As a result, less attention has been paid to festering sex crimes against children of the opposite gender. Some Catholic parents are furious at the church's eagerness to blame it all "on the gays," thus minimizing the molesting of these parents' daughters by priests. According to SNAP, female victims of these offenses are often overlooked. The organization says, " 'Of the priests we've evaluated, more abuse girls than abuse boys,' says Gary Schoener, a Minneapolis psychologist and expert on clergy sexual abuse."

This minimizing of clergy crimes against minor girls sends the oft-repeated dreary and heartless message of our culture that females matter less than males.

Further on the comparative lack of attention paid to sex crimes committed in other religions: it's true that the trusty media have given us some screaming headlines on prosecutions of a few Mormon renegades like Warren Jeffs, who molested minor girls in his pursuit of old-time polygamy, But these cases are almost the exception.

ReligiousTolerance.org points out that the media actually believe "the percentage of Roman Catholic priests who abuse children and youths is much greater than for other Christian and non-Christian religious leaders (gurus, imams, ministers, pastors, priests, priestesses, rabbis, etc.).

But RT goes on to point out: "Even as media articles in the first few months of 2002 highlighted abuse by priests within the Catholic Church, a former Episcopal priest was convicted of molesting a 14-year-old boy, a Baptist pastor from South Carolina was starting a 60 year prison sentence for molesting 23 children, another Baptist pastor was dismissed from his church in upstate New York over allegations of abuse, a pastor in DeKalb, GA, was found guilty of 25 charges of molestation of a male teen-aged church member, and an Orthodox rabbi was about to go on trial for groping two teenage girls."

Roman Catholics are justifiably outraged and heartbroken at the ongoing revelations of sexual abuses in their church. The wildfires of their outrage are roaring up through the ranks of hierarchy, consuming bishops and cardinals alike, with the flames of their furious demands for accountability now licking right at the foot of the papal throne, and the Pope's slippers.

What strikes me as creepy is the self-righteous outrage against Catholicism expressed by conservative Protestant clergy -- for instance, the Archbishop of Canterbury's comment the other day that the Irish Catholic Church has "lost all credibility" because of its cover-ups. It seems to me that the Archbishop ought to be focusing on crimes of this nature committed by his own clergy -- some of which are detailed here.

An Extra Rational for "Ex-Gay" Strategies

As far back as the mid-90s, information on non-Catholic child molesting was hiding in plain sight, in low-profile venues on the Web. For instance, when America Online was still fairly new and maintaining its first community forums, one of these included a Christianity Today forum that had a number of message boards devoted to different issues. One board was a open discussion of child molestation by Protestant clergy. I stumbled across it during my original research on the religious right, and used to read the postings with my hair standing on end.

Inevitably the message board disappeared -- suggesting that conservative Protestant leaders suddenly realized that they didn't want to point public fingers at their own clergy -- though they didn't mind pointing at the Church of Rome.

No wonder the Protestant religious righters are so vociferous about the alleged ease with which homosexuality can be "cured." It helps them with damage control when their own ministers -- Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Paul Barnes and others -- are caught with their pants down in a situation that clearly reveals their gay sexual orientation. Following the twisted logic of rightist ideology -- if homosexuality and pedophilia are linked, and these pastors are doing homosexual things, then they must be viewed as potential child molesters as well. So if you cure the gayness (righters believe), you also cure the urge to molest children.

When is the other shoe going to drop? When are these crimes by non-Catholic clergy going to be investigated and prosecuted with all the rigor of the law...and of prime-time top-of-the-news media exposure?

When is some high-mucky-muck Protestant leader going to be threatened with arrest for his alleged role in a high-level cover-up? And when is the whole sorry array of other religions' cover-ups going to be exposed? When are all of the children, male and female, going to get justice -- not just some of the children?

I, for one, am waiting and listening for that sound of something hitting the floor.


Further reading:

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP (multi-denominational)

Page detailing Protestant abuses


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I think a big reason we aren't going to see a big scandal over non-Catholic clergy sex abuse, is because of one of the fundamental differences between Protestant and Catholic churches. In Protestant churches, ministers are hired by individual churches. There isn't a hierarchy that assigns ministers to different congregations and then moves them around. And so when the congregation finds out about a minister is abusing people, what usually happens is that that minister is fired and reported to the police. I'm sure there are plenty of cases that have slipped through, don't get me wrong, but the system for dealing with problems like this is very very different. The reason the Catholic church scandal is as big as it is has less to do with the abuse and more to do with the cover-up. The number of protestant ministers that abuse children is probably proportionally the same as the number of catholic priests who do, but because of their different organizational structures, the number of children abused by catholic priests is probably much much higher than the number abused by protestant ministers.

You do have a point, in that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is quite massive and complex.

But most Christian religions -- the major ones, anyway, are governed by some sort of hierarchy that extends above and beyond the individual church. The U.S. Presbyterian Church, for instance. Its hierarchy has over 11,000 congregations which are organized into 173 presbyteries (district governing bodies) and 16 synods (regional governing bodies). Ditto the Anglican Church, whose hierarchy goes all the way up to Archbishop of Canterbury.

All these religions have to have top people who decide on doctrine, handle canon and disciplinary matters, etc. When ministers are "de-frocked" because of serious offenses against church discipline, it is usually done at the upper levels. So there is every reason why the higher-ups in Protestant churches can -- and should -- be held accountable when it comes to any cover-ups of child-molesting by ministers at the congregation level.

Another example: Ex-gay pastor D.L. Foster is pursuing the issue within the COGIC at ReportCOCICabuse.com.

As am example, if a clergy person within my faith were found to be doing this he or she could be subject to dismissal from the local congregation ans subject to removal from the clergy or the organization. These are two different things. We don't assign clergy to places and local groups have a free choice in who they have as clergy. We differentiate between those who have reached the educational requirements and those who are serving at local appointment.
But we have no hierarchy that allows for a person to be hired or fired from the top.
If a local congregation decided to keep a person who had been excluded from our body of clergy that group would have no representation on the body.
Each religious organization does thing differently but very few have a hierarchy which can protect and move an offender.
I am appalled that they would even be willing to protect and move an offender.
In the one instance where I had to deal with an offender of this sort it was a guy who was trying to train for clergy. He was given our equivalent of complete excommunication.

Whatever the details, I imagine that every religion recognized by the IRS -- right down to the smallest Pentecostal splinter group -- is compelled to have some sort of process in place to remove problem clergy.

In some cases, punitive action may have to go to the top of a hierarchy -- in other cases, the action could be taken by the decision-makers at the local level. There are a variety of actions that could motivate a church group to do this -- whether it's an actual crime like child molesting, embezzlement of church funds, drug use, etc. -- or an action that goes against church belief, like a pastor's adultery, or teaching of something that the church regards as "heresy."

Perhaps you've seen the Robert Duvall film "The Apostle." A classic case of what happens in a small independent evangelical church, and a cover-up around a preacher whose actions are problematical but who gets his way with personal charisma. The church's board becomes concerned at the preacher's temper and bullying of his wife when she tries to divorce him and get custody of his children. They vote him out of his position at this church he actually started.

Outraged, the preacher assaults the wife's boyfriend, who dies of his injuries -- making the preacher a murderer. The preacher goes on the run and disappears into a rural backwater of the South where he finds a tiny community needing a church and adopts a pseydonym, calling himself The Apostle. There he puts his charisma to work and starts one more church before the law finally catches up with him. As the film ends, we see him in convict clothes, preaching to a chain gang.

One interesting thing about this story was the complete failure of the folks in the new community to insist on a background check of the new preacher who walked into town with no car, just the clothes on his back. They were overwhelmed by his charisma and took him at face value because of all the fiery energy of "Holy Ghost preaching" that he could project. Also the preacher had a surprising number of supporters, who aided and abetted him on the run -- who KNEW he had committed a homicide and had no problems whatever with this. Thus they were party to a cover-up.

Now imagine if The Apostle had been caught molesting children at his former church.

"The Apostle" gives an almost documentary look at how cover-up acts in the smaller, less hierarchial areas of American religion. Granted, cover-ups don't work the same way at the evangelical grassroots as they do in the larger, urban, more structured churches. But a cover-up is a cover-up, whevever and however it occurs. So there are always the people who collude with the perpetrator, to help him or her to evade the day of reckoning (to use a phrase out of the Bible).

Another interesting footnote to this film is that Hollywood honchos didn't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Duvall had to do it as an independent film, including with his own money. It shows how touchy is the subject -- cover-ups of any kind, in a United States where so many people don't want to look under the surface of what their religion is doing.

Way to go Patricia, another great observation.

Do I expect the other shoe to drop? Yes and it already is. Even tho not a religion (one could think so in its hate for the lgtb family), the boy scouts are having their laundry aired.

Wouldn't it be something if the more-men (mormons) are next?

Hmm, food for thought.

Organized religions always have been a tax exempt scam preying on the weak and mentally ill protecting those who claim to "know god" while they have engaged in the most immoral, hurtful and illegal activities, e.g., child molestation, wife beating, etc. As I've said previously, I have no use for any of it and do not think it should be institutionally protected by government. If people want to come together within churches to support each other and practice their cults and rituals, so be it. But there should be no tax advantage for it or protection from the law.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 16, 2010 9:37 AM

I think there is a natural tendency among non Catholics to particularly mistrust the Roman church and blame it severely for it's many imperfections. After all, this is what Martin Luther and the Reformation were all about. The Roman church had assumed the power of governance of all kings and previously allowed no dissent.

Now that she faces her own inquisition there will be many who say "about time," but scapegoating gays is not going to work. Not this time. America is unique among western countries for how many still attend church. The other shoes will fall, but sadly, I have known others who were abused by choir directors, teachers, scout leaders, anyone in authority of children. Everyone should be equally accountable to civil law AND pay their property taxes into the bargain. Thank you Patricia.

THere are a few websites for males who have been molested; some of the victim's stories can make the hair stand on end. Many perps were usaully relatives, even pastors who molested their own boys etc etc. Catholic priests do not have a monopoly on molestation. The papacy and hierarchy forgot "those without sin let them cast the first stone." Dogmatic theology seems to push moral theology aside. Heresy vs a few 'sins' - well, we know what happens when one goes from the Grand Inquisitor to Keeper of the Keys.

Fellini could have a good time with this stuff & his version of "O felix culpa...."

gg

Another insightful article about religion and fanaticism, Patricia. I grew up more Catholic than the Pope and grew more disillusioned the older I got. I say hooray for Oscar Romero. Hooray for Gene Robinson. Boo to fanaticism, oppression, and predatory behavior of any kind. Boo to spindoctors.

As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I passed Planned Parenthood where there was a praying crazy catholic (as usual)... It hit me why the catholic church is so opposed to abortion. They need a supply of disadvantaged children to molest! Suddenly, for the first time, it made sense....

I remember a great documentary that entirely revolved around dispelling the myth that Catholicism was the only Christian religion that had a molestation problem. It gave a plethora of examples of molestation among the Protestant religion. If anyone knows the name of the documentary, please let me know. Thanks.

I don't believe I've ever seen a more biased article in my life.

Thank you for this article!!! It is nice to see something written about the other side! I in no way defend the actions of the Catholic church but I do get tired of constantly hearing it being bashed for child abuse like they are the only religion to deal with it.