Monday, July 14, 2008

Credibly accused

The Diocese of Davenport just released the names of 24 priests who were “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist officials won’t even establish a system for assessing the credibility of sexual abuse reports, much less for releasing the names of credibly accused clergy to the public.

If you listen to the excuses and rationalizations of Southern Baptist officials, you might imagine that SNAP had asked them to do something radical and unprecedented in imposing clergy accountability measures. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We asked Southern Baptist officials to do LESS than what most other major faith groups are already doing. And still they thumbed their noses.

We didn’t ask Southern Baptist officials to exercise authority over local churches, or to control the hiring decisions of local churches, or to revoke the ordination of ministers.

We simply asked Southern Baptists to create an office where victims may safely report clergy abuse, and where their reports will be responsibly assessed. And we asked Southern Baptist officials to inform churches of the outcome of those assessments.

In other words, while other major faith groups are actually removing credibly accused clergy from ministry, all we asked of Southern Baptist officials was that they inform people in the pews about credibly accused clergy.

And Southern Baptist officials refused.

By now, we’ve all seen how they distort their autonomy doctrine to rationalize refusing to act on this. But that’s just one of their excuses. I’ve also seen much whining, wailing and gnashing of teeth about the “credibly accused” language.

“What’s the standard?” they ask. “How could anyone possibly decide whether someone was ‘credibly accused’?”

And then they act as though the very posing of the question renders the answering of it impossible and thereby justifies their own refusal to act.

Of course, that’s ludicrous. It’s just more of their excuse-making.

Thanks to their own extraordinary recalcitrance, Southern Baptist officials don’t have to invent the wheel on this. Other faith groups have already done the work of developing standards for assessing the credibility of clergy abuse accusations. So, Southern Baptist officials could draw from the models, examples and standards that are already being used by other faith groups.

For example, as paraphrased in the news article, the standard used by the Diocese of Davenport to assess whether a clergy abuse accusation is “credible” is this: “The abuse must be more likely than not to have occurred, corroborated with other evidence or other sources, and/or acknowledged or admitted to by the accused.”

There are also professional investigatory firms that help in assessing sexual abuse allegations. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas recently used a professional investigatory firm to assist with reviewing clergy abuse allegations dating back to the 1960s.

All sorts of factors are used in these sorts of assessments, including documentary evidence such as letters and diaries, any corroboration from other witnesses, circumstantial information, the context in which the event occurred, and statements by the alleged perpetrator (e.g., perpetrators sometimes admit to the conduct but rationalize it in some way such as by calling it “consensual” or saying it was "just" fondling). These sorts of factors are weighed every day by the clergy abuse review boards of other faith groups, by social service agencies, and by investigatory agencies.

Yet, Southern Baptist officials persist in throwing up their hands and acting as though it would be an impossible task.

It’s not. That reality is demonstrated by the fact that other faith groups are already doing it.

But of course, there may be other unstated reasons why Southern Baptist officials don’t want to start assessing clergy abuse reports in the way that other faith groups do.

The assessments of a denominational review board are something news reporters can write about. And that serves to bring clergy abuse into the light of day.

Perhaps that is exactly what Southern Baptist officials don’t want to happen. By refusing to provide any system for the responsible assessment of clergy abuse reports, Southern Baptist officials effectively assure that the public will not find out about most Southern Baptist clergy sex abusers. The predators stay hidden.

This may help to temporarily preserve Southern Baptists’ self-aggrandized image as a moral beacon. But it does so at the cost of kids’ safety.

That’s why it’s an illusory image. There's nothing moral about it.


Unknown said...

And the public is finding more and more about the fact that Southern Baptists aren't doing much about clergy sexual abuse every time a high profile case makes the news.

The "moral beacon" keeps getting dimmer and dimmer, and the only ones who still have the illusion that Southern Baptist leadership is a moral beacon is the leaders themselves. I think that part of the reason why they do not act is they do not want to face the ugliness that is there.

Can you say "Head in the sand?!"

gmommy said...

I clicked on the website to see the latest sexual predator news.
So this coach and youth minister rapes a 14 year old while his own 2 daughters are near by and he gets LESS than 2 years!
I WISH I could put my head in the sand.

Christa Brown said...

Gmommy is talking about Tennessee Southern Baptist minister Timothy Byars who has now pled guilty to rape of a 14-yr old. But even before he formally pled guilty, investigators said he had admitted the rape. Yet, SBC headquarters in Nashville kept Byars on their ministerial registry for about 18 months after his admission. (Oops - I mean ministerial "directory". I got criticized a few days ago for calling it a "registry" instead of a "directory".... as if that makes a difference... !!! Pardon me if I just don't give a hoot whether SBC guys call it a registry or a directory. I think they're missing the point... duhhhhhhh)

I too WISH that I could put my head in the sand. Isn't it amazing how WE are the ones who are incapable of NOT seeing this stuff and feeling its horror, and yet SBC leaders - the guys who are supposed to be the shepherds - seem completely incapable of seeing it. Or if they do see, they just don't care.

Anonymous said...

They had this guy on their registry? Jerks!

Christa Brown said...

Yes, they had Byars on their registry even after investigators said Byars had admitted to it and - get this - even after EthicsDaily publicly pointed out to them that Byars was on their registry despite the charges against him. That was in March 2007. And the SBC still did nothing. Byars was finally removed from the registry just a few days ago, after his presence on the registry was AGAIN reported - this time in the Tennessean.

gmommy said...

But only 2 years for rape????
If I hurt an animal, I would get more jail time.

I click on one of your links describing the long term health issues linked to sexual abuse.
YEARS of pain, health, and emotional problems for victims....but this pervert gets 2 years.
2 years in jail for raping a 14 year old girl.
How many victims did he leave behind at other churches he worked at?
How many victims will there be when he gets out in 2 years???

When he is extended cheap grace and forgiveness...who will be there for his victims?

Christa Brown said...

That's right, gmommy. Our society gives a lot of lip-service to how "precious" our children are, but in reality, children are often treated like 4th-class creatures. Lots and lots of people don't really treat this crime seriously - and that includes even lots of judges.

Something else I thought was interesting is that the most recent news article didn't even mention that he was a Southern Baptist minister. Instead, it reported him as a volunteer track coach. I've seen this before - where the news fails to mention that the perp was a Baptist minister. Can you imagine a priest who admits to raping a 14-yr old, and the news article doesn't even mention that he's a priest? But hey - this is the South - and Southern Baptists are dominant here.

Anonymous said...

Mabe the reason they did not mention that he was a minister was because they knew that that would not upset anyone but maybe being a coach would! The decline of the respect for hte ministry is unbelievable. Those who know the truth have lost respect and many of those who are ministers want to be "one of the boys" rather than people of God.
Our greatest hope is the ongoing effort to educate the masses with solutions and compassion for the victims.
John Harrison

Anonymous said...

It is a good thing that other faith groups did not wait for the "moral beacon" to lead the way in doing something to stop and treat the problem of clergy sexual abuse. We would still be waiting.


Christa Brown said...

gmommy said: "But only 2 years for rape??? If I hurt an animal, I would get more jail time."

Actually, you could hurt a tree and get that much time. Today's news in Austin: A developer has been indicted "on a charge of criminal mischief, accused of illegally cutting down a large cedar tree.... [He] faces up to two years in prison if convicted...."