Victims' advocates: Abuse not just a 'Catholic problem'
by Peter Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 25, 2018 — 5:00 AM EDT
Christa Brown of Tennessee has for years called on Baptist churches to set up an independent panel to evaluate allegations of sexual abuse by clergy — such as the youth minister who sexually assaulted her as a teenager — and to keep predators from striking again at another church.
Pastor Jimmy Hinton — a Somerset Church of Christ pastor who confronted his own pastor-father about the sexual abuse that landed the latter in prison — has worked to educate churches on the ways child molesters manipulate fellow believers into trusting them with their children.
Melanie Jula Sakoda has made it her own mission to hold Orthodox Christian churches accountable for sexual abuse by their priests and others.
All of them agree on this: A future Pennsylvania grand jury could find as much evidence of sexual abuse and cover-up among other religious groups and youth-serving organizations as a current statewide grand jury is expected to find among Roman Catholic dioceses. That grand jury is expected to release a mammoth report if it clears ongoing legal challenges by individuals identified in its report.
“Some people assume this is a Catholic problem,” Hinton said. “It’s not, not at all. There are plenty of Protestant and nondenominational churches that cover up abuse and knowingly pass abusers from church to church, or quietly dismiss a known abuser and don’t bother to check up on the abuser and don’t know where they settled.”
Too many Protestant leaders deny the seriousness of the crisis, are too quick to forgive and restore a predator who speaks the lingo of repentance, and try to contain scandal, he said. And so they allow pastors or other offenders to reinvent themselves in a new church somewhere else.
A grand jury investigation would find plenty of evidence that it’s every religion’s problem, he said.
“One of the things I see is, through investigations, eventually you’ll get people who are honest — whether that’s accidentally or whether somebody is just fed up with the way leadership handled cases of abuse,” said Hinton.
And youth-serving organizations, beyond religious ones, are also implicated. In April, the director of the Allentown-based Cadets drum and bugle corps resigned after nine women accused him of sexual harassment and assault over decades, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“The practice of covering up for predators is not limited to the Catholic Church, or even to religious groups,” said Sakoda, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The cases of Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, both serial pedophiles convicted on numerous charges of sexual abuse of children, “are examples of institutional cover-ups outside of faith communities.”
Evangelical Protestants have been swept up in the #MeToo movement. A Memphis megachurch pastor resigned over sexually assaulting a teen girl years ago when he was her youth minister.
Two of the most venerated leaders in the nation’s largest body, the Southern Baptist Convention, have been felled by scandal. Paige Patterson was fired in May from his Texas seminary presidency for callous treatment of victims of domestic and sexual assault. His longtime ally, lay leader Paul Pressler, also of Texas, faces allegations of sexually molesting teen boys in his youth group.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office declined to comment when asked whether a broader investigation were merited.
The attorney general would need to spare investigators on a long research project that, like the Catholic investigations, may yield lots of history but not many prosecutions due to the criminal statute of limitations
Further, few religions are as centralized or as fastidious about record keeping as the Catholic Church. Each diocese has archives of personnel files and other records, including candid internal documents that bishops and other administrators never assumed were going to be made public. That’s a potential target-rich environment for investigators.
While some religions have similar hierarchies, many of their records are kept at headquarters in other states, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York and the Mormons in Utah. Others, such as Baptists and the network of independent congregations known as the Churches of Christ, are decentralized and have no uniform protocols for saving records.
That said, victims’ advocates say there is a gold standard for such a sweeping investigation: The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. The multiyear investigation by this organization, which employed hundreds of staffers, revealed a “national tragedy” of astonishing scope.