Monday, February 23, 2009

Long road

Last week, a woman made public the fact that a priest was found to have sexually abused her when she was a minor. As reported in the San Antonio Express-News, the abuse occurred in 1980 and the priest’s religious order validated the woman’s claim in 2007. However, the religious order didn’t publicize its finding so as to reach out to other possible victims. So the woman herself finally made the information public.

Obviously, the religious order should have taken onto its own shoulders the burden of making the information public, and there’s no good excuse for the fact that it didn’t. However, look at all the other good things that happened in this story -- things that almost certainly would NOT have happened if this woman had been a Southern Baptist abuse survivor.

  • The priest, Charles H. Miller, “was forced to resign two years ago after his religious order validated a claim that he sexually abused an underage woman.”

    For Baptists, there is no established process for validating claims.

  • The religious order “wrote her a letter in 2007 deeming her claim ‘credible.’”

    For Baptists, there is no process for assessing whether an abuse claim is “credible.” Nor is there any process for giving a survivor a letter with the result of an abuse report assessment. Such letters are extremely important because, even when a diocese doesn’t publicly disclose the result of its assessment, the letters provide the media with documentation that they can report and they provide an independent organization with the information on which they have been able to compile a database of credibly-accused abusive priests. (

  • The religious order “barred Miller, now 75, from public ministry.”

    For Baptists, there is no process for barring men from ministry.

  • The Catholic “review board backed the woman and offered her therapy.”

    For Baptists, there is no “review board” to which a report can be made and there is no policy of offering therapy to the victims.

  • The woman wrote a second letter to the religious order in 2007 -- a formal complaint -- “specifically requesting its review board take up the matter.”

    For Baptists, there is no established process for making a “formal complaint” and there is no “review board” that will consider a clergy abuse matter.

  • “She also wrote the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which she thinks helped expedite her complaint.”

    For Baptists, it typically does no good whatsoever when an abuse survivor writes to the regional or statewide organization. There is no process for receiving complaints from abuse survivors, much less any possibility of expediting a complaint.

  • “U.S. bishops crafted the landmark charter policy in 2002….”

    For Baptists, no national policy yet exists for systematically addressing clergy sex abuse within the denomination.

Make no mistake about it: U.S. bishops didn’t craft their 2002 policy out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it in response to massive media pressure.

It took the voices of hundreds of survivors to bring that change to fruition.

SNAP had been working to expose the Catholic problem for over a decade before that 2002 policy was enacted. It was a very long road.

It continues to be a long road as SNAP works to hold Catholic leaders accountable to the very standards that they themselves adopted. That’s one of the significant benefits of systematized standards -- they at least provide a yardstick for assessment. Again, this is something that Baptists still don’t have.

Baptists are just beginning to set foot on the clergy accountability road that Catholics started down almost two decades ago. Baptists haven’t even gotten their shoes dusty yet. It’s going to be a long road.

But think about the potential benefit to Baptist abuse survivors who arrive further down-the-road.

This Catholic woman didn’t have to suffer the same horrors that many earlier Catholic survivors did in the reporting process. That’s a huge advancement.

For many clergy abuse survivors, the trauma of attempting to report the abuse inflicts nearly as great of wounds as the abuse itself. This was certainly true for many of the earlier Catholic abuse survivors, and to this day, it remains consistently true for almost all Baptist abuse survivors.

I hope and pray that there will come a day when Baptist abuse survivors will not be so savagely re-wounded in the reporting process.

I hope and pray that there will come a day when Baptist abuse survivors will receive the same benefits that this Catholic survivor received.

I hope and pray that there will come a day when Baptist leaders, Catholic leaders, and all other religious leaders will take on the full burden of protecting the vulnerable, reaching out to the wounded, and making public disclosure of all credibly-accused clergy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Christa, I honestly believe that that DAY WILL COME!