Friday, March 28, 2008

How would people find out?

A recent Massachusetts case illustrates how much easier it is nowadays to find out about a Catholic priest accused of abuse than about a Southern Baptist minister accused of abuse.

Allegations about the sexual abuse of a minor were made to the Fall River diocese review board in January 2008. The allegations involved retired priest Bento Fraga. An investigation was conducted, and the review board found the allegations to be credible. Fraga was removed from ministry, and in March 2008, a letter from the bishop was distributed at mass in every parish where Fraga had worked since 1956.

Thus, within just 3 months’ time, people in the pews at every church where Fraga had worked were informed about the “credible accusations” against him. And they were informed by a person of authority within the faith community so that there was little room for doubt about the seriousness of it.

Consider what this meant for people. Parents gained the possibility of talking with their kids – even their now-adult kids -- about the allegations against Fraga. The victim who reported Fraga gained the peace-of-mind of knowing that others had been warned. And any other still-silent victims saw that they would be supported if they too spoke up.

Fraga wasn’t convicted of anything. He wasn’t even charged. This is true of most clergy child molesters because, by the time a victim is psychologically capable of reporting the abuse, it is usually too late for criminal prosecution.

This reality -- that most child molesters can't be prosecuted -- is why Catholics and other major Protestant groups instituted review board processes. They took up the mantle of responsibility for oversight of their own clergy rather than relying solely on the criminal justice system.

Review board determinations also allow for the community-at-large to be informed because they provide reporters with substantiation for writing about “credibly accused” clergy. The Fraga article wasn’t about a criminal conviction or even about a civil lawsuit. Rather, it was the determination of a Catholic review board that allowed the public to hear news about Fraga.

By contrast, Southern Baptists don’t have such review boards, and so the public winds up hearing nothing about the vast majority of accused Baptist clergy child molesters.

Without any assistance from denominational leaders, even the most outspoken victims often find that their efforts are futile when they try to expose Baptist clergy perpetrators. Victims cannot alone do the job of trying to protect others.

For those of you who have been down this road and who have attempted to report Baptist clergy sex abuse, can you even imagine how much better it would have been if you could have reported your perpetrator through a review process such as the one in the Fall River diocese?

Oh sure, you’d still have the trauma of the abuse itself, all the nightmares that go with it, and all the difficulty of coming to grips with it. I’m not diminishing that in the least. But with a review process like the one in Fall River, at least you wouldn’t have the retraumatizing effect of an endless stream of Baptist leaders who turn a blind eye, who bully and shame victims, and who leave perpetrators in their pulpits. At least you wouldn’t have the constant struggle of trying to figure out on your own how to warn others and of worrying that he could be hurting someone else in exactly the same way he hurt you. And at least you wouldn’t have the maze of dark alleys and dead ends that Baptist church and denominational leaders use to misdirect victims who report abuse.

For those of you who are parents in Baptist pews, wouldn’t you like to know about Baptist clergy who are “credibly accused” of child molestation? And wouldn’t you prefer that such serious news should come from someone in leadership?

But who’s going to provide you that information?

In Southern Baptist circles, no one has taken on the mantle of responsibility for informing people in the pews about credibly accused clergy. No one.

The tragic result of such an institutionalized lack of accountability is predictable. People in Baptist pews don’t usually find out about clergy sex abuse, and credibly accused clergy simply continue in ministry.


Unknown said...

Autonomy as an excuse just doesn't hold water.

Anonymous said...

I know that Christa speaks the truth. I greatly appreciate her speaking up and hopefully someone will listen, who can help to bring about the necessary changes to help protect our young people from such great harm.

I still do not understand how Baptist leaders can put themselves above the protection of children.

" Where there is a will there is a way "

So why do they not try to find a way ?

Thanks to Christa

Debbie V

Anonymous said...


I think you should write a book about your experiences. I think you could get a book deal on it and it would put more pressure on the SBC to respond appropriately when under the spotlight, it might take a few years to write, but your style is great and it would be landmark. Some of the stuff I hear from you about how you've been treated just blows me away, and I'm a survivor too. You're such an advocate, and my thoughts and prayers are always with you. Take care.


gmommy said...

are there any books out there about Baptist clergy sexual abuse?????

Anonymous said...

Michelle writes that if Christa writes a book, it would put more pressure on the SBC to respond appropriately when under the spotlight. The SBC needs to respond with integrity even when no one is watching. What is done in secret is seen by God.

Unknown said...

Dee Ann Miller's "How Little we Knew" is one book about Baptist Clergy sexual abuse.

Christa Brown said...

Michelle: Thanks for the encouragement.

Elisabeth: Thanks for mentioning Dee Miller's book, which is indeed about Baptist clergy sex abuse. As I recall, the book doesn't actually name the denomination, but it's about Dee's own experience as a Southern Baptist missionary. You can read a synopsis of it here.

Anonymous said...

Dee also has a yearly retreat for survivors.


Anonymous said...

Clergy abuse was one of the seeds of the Reformation. It is time for another one. In Acts 15 Paul expressed how sexual intigrity was one of the first things required by the Gentiles in following Christ. Nowdays too many other rules are being emphasized like no smoking, not that I am advocating that, but then would C.S. Lewis be allowed to preach or eat in a local restuarant. There is way too much emphasis on the externals and not enough on character.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you that the SBC should respond appropriately regardless of where the spotlight may or may not be. From personal experience with a different denomination, that isn't going to happen any time soon. It was like a death, when that fact hit me. I grieved for a long time, and now it's time for me, personally, to fight to make sure those I love are safe, and to find justice and healing.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. I am the individual who was sexually abused by Fr. Fraga (from the Fall River Diocese) in August of 1979 at his home on Cape Cod.
Your writer is the ONLY person captured the true reason and purpose regarding why I came forward nearly 30 years later:
"Consider what this meant for people. Parents gained the possibility of talking with their kids – even their now-adult kids -- about the allegations against Fraga. The victim who reported Fraga gained the peace-of-mind of knowing that others had been warned. And any other still-silent victims saw that they would be supported if they too spoke up."
You have no idea how cruel people have been who support this man at the expense of me and my family. It was a family decision to remain anonymous whereas my parents & siblings still live in the parish in Attleboro, MA, where this priest was the pastor (AND a "family friend" no less...) Slowly, my identity is becoming known although I am not sure how my name got out... Regardless, I am not ashamed of my actions to address the abuse experienced by this "man" who continues to deny his actions. It was never a plan to press charges, go to court, and get monetary compensation. My intent has always been to get documentaion of this assault placed in the personnel file of this perpettrator in the event that someone seeks resolution of their own abuse years from now - whether or not Fr. Fraga was the abuser or another individual. To all perpetrtators who read this posting - YOUR ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES! Thanks for the opportunity to share my side of this unfortunate situation. J. Castro (formerly of Attlebor, MA)