Culture At Large

Sexual abuse in the church: not just a "Catholic problem"

Andy Rau

Have you been following news about Pope Benedict's visit to the US? There are a lot of issues he'll undoubtedly address before the visit concludes, but the one that's attracting the most attention is the ugly history of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church. He's already made some comments on the issue, although given the gravity of the scandals, one suspects and hopes that he'll have more to say in the next few days.

It's tempting to see these horrible instances of sexual abuse within the church as a "Catholic problem," something unique to the Catholic church and its clerical hierarchy. And of course there's the "it could never happen here" line of reasoning (and that's a hard line to resist—I can't imagine a sexual abuse scandal happening in my church, even though I know the statistics say it could).

But there's a timely article this month at Christianity Today about sex abuse in the church that cautions against such assumptions. In fact, it suggests that many churches lag behind secular organizations in facing the reality of the problem:

In the last three years, an average of 23 new articles each day have appeared in secular media sources revealing sexual abuse allegations arising in Protestant churches in the United States. Protestant denominations have been tempted to call sexual abuse a "Catholic problem"; this is simply not true. Within the past eight years, verdicts, judgments, or settlements exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars have been levied against Protestant churches for sexual abuse allegations arising from children participating in ministry programs.

The church and its children are increasingly endangered by sexual predators whose opportunity to ensnare children elsewhere is growing smaller, while the church opens its doors to anyone. Sexual abusers looking for access to children will gravitate to activities and organizations where there are fewer protective measures in place. Secular organizations have responded to this inevitable truth by implementing policies and training to reduce risk. Many churches, however, have done little, because ministries fail to recognize the risks or are laboring under the misconception "it won't happen here."

The article goes on to dispel common myths about sexual abuse in the church (think your church is safe and legally covered because you do criminal background checks, or because you downloaded a generic abuse policy from the internet? Think again...). And it concludes with some good suggestions for intelligently approaching the possibility of sexual abuse in your church.

Not a pleasant topic to think about. But if your church isn't thinking about it, well, with the issue in the news again, "right now" is a good time to get on it.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church