Sunday, September 9, 2007

Episcopal example of action

The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday on how the Episcopal diocese of Texas handled a report of clergy sex abuse involving a priest who worked at Episcopal schools and churches in Austin and Houston. Here is what the diocese did:

  • It hired an independent investigatory firm, with experience in clergy sex abuse investigations.
  • It took on the burden of tracking down people whose school years coincided with the priests' years of employment.
  • It also notified parishioners in both cities “in an effort to determine if there were any other victims and to offer the Church’s assistance.”
  • It mailed letters to faculty, staff and church families, informing them of the sexual abuse allegations. It also mailed letters to former students and families.

As a result of the diocese’s outreach efforts, others brought forward accounts of abuse. A total of nine made written reports, and the diocese received anonymous phone calls from still more people claiming abuse.

  • Two high-level church officials personally contacted those who reported abuse and offered assistance, along with an apology.
  • Finally, the diocese made a public apology. Here is part of what it said:

“Despite the passage of time, the diocese has a moral and ethical obligation to seek out the truth, deal appropriately with past misconduct, and aid all who were hurt by Tucker’s actions and the actions of the Church.”

For all of you who have attempted to report abuse to Southern Baptist church and denominational leaders, can you even imagine what it would be like to hear someone say such a thing and then act like they meant it? I can’t.

Do Southern Baptist leaders even recognize any moral or ethical obligation with respect to clergy sex abuse? Do they ever make an outreach effort to try to find other victims? Do they ever freely offer assistance to the wounded?

I haven’t seen any of those things happen in Southern Baptist circles.

I’ve heard from so many of you who have tried to report abuse, not only to church deacons and national leaders, but also to Southern Baptist officials in state conventions all across the country - from Florida, to Georgia, to Missouri, to Texas, to Oklahoma. The immoral, do-nothing response seems to be the same everywhere among Southern Baptist leaders. I have yet to see a single instance in which an abuse survivor was given assistance. Nor have I seen any effort anywhere in this denomination to try to reach out and find other victims. Reported perpetrators stay in their pulpits, and no one seems to care whether there might be other victims.

Instead of helping the victims, they preach to them about “forgiveness.” They lecture them on “autonomy.” They shame them and call them “divisive.”

Even worse, girls have been called “tramps” (and other things I simply won’t say). And adolescent boys sodomized by adult Baptist ministers have been sermonized on homosexuality when they try to report it.

I would not have believed such extraordinary self-righteous ignorance was possible in this day and time, if I hadn’t heard so many similar accounts.

The Episcopal diocese ended its statement by saying that “the Church remains committed to its mission to seek justice, peace, and healing.”

As best I can tell, those are not values that Southern Baptist leaders hold dear. They may say “peace,” but in truth, “there is no peace.”

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