Monday, May 17, 2010

Sexual abuse of children crosses faith lines

By David Briggs
Association of Religion Data Archives
May 17, 2010

"The Rev. Dick Darr and his wife, Anne, were model missionaries. They sent their children to boarding school so they could focus on saving the souls of others in remote African villages.

In 1957, while in the country today known as Mali, Darr said he found out his 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were sexually molested by another missionary. When Darr reported it, the missionary was sent back into the mission field. Darr said he was told by the president of United World Mission, “You know the first thing some people want to do is ruin a man’s ministry.”

He left United World Mission in protest, and joined the Gospel Missionary Union, eventually becoming its president. In the early 1990s, he learned his children and others had been the victims of sexual and physical abuse at Mamou Alliance Academy in Guinea, West Africa.

For years, despite his efforts, the Gospel Missionary Union turned its back on the victims, neither admitting responsibility nor offering counseling.

It is a pattern repeated by faith groups everywhere.

Recent news reports about Catholic malfeasance at the highest levels are again shedding important light on the problem of sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. Yet it would be a mistake to give in to the convenient temptation that this is “a Catholic problem.”

A growing body of research affirms what I have discovered in more than a decade of investigative reporting: Young people have been and are being sexually abused in evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, in mosques and synagogues and temples.

The initial response is largely the same. Religious leaders protect the institution, often angrily condemning or ignoring the victim lying wounded on the side of the road….

Who is responsible?

In his important work “The Question of German Guilt,” German philosopher Karl Jaspers challenged his countrywomen and men and the world to examine their own responsibility in acts of omission and commission in enabling and permitting the atrocities of Nazi Germany. If you knew what was going on, whether you were sitting at a breakfast table in New York or a guard in a concentration camp, what did you do to stop the genocide? The sexual abuse of children deserves similar introspection…..

It is difficult to come up with precise numbers regarding the sexual abuse of children by religious workers. Despite the media attention focused on one religious group, however, available evidence suggests the rates of abuse, from 2 percent to 5 percent – are similar across religious boundaries.

What we do know from hundreds of studies is that the dangers are the same.

Abusive clergy and youth workers are drawn to working with children. In their own minds, many see the extra attention they devote to the children they abuse as a sign of caring. Religious institutions have long offered such workers not only access to young people, but lift them up as trusted representatives of God.

We know it takes extraordinary courage for even one victim to come forward amid the shame associated with sexual abuse. Most clergy abusers are likely to have several victims, and should never again have access to children.

Yet when the unimaginable happens, few are willing to believe the victim. Congregants remember the minister, rabbi or imam as someone who visited them in the hospital or comforted them at funerals. Religious leaders tend to view them as friends and colleagues, and are likely to take their word over the victim’s word or give the abuser a second or third chance. Fear of lawsuits or damage to the institution hardens their hearts further.

And the children suffer, many for the rest of their lives.

A review of 500 studies of child sexual abuse found that about half of long-term abuse victims will suffer long-term mental health problems. Depression, suicide, substance and behavioral addictions, failed marriages are among the outcomes for those who attempt to bury their suffering inside, as so many people even among their own families have advised them.

The most religious, those who are most likely to accept a cleric’s authority and most dependent on their faith to cope with tragedy, are the most vulnerable…..

The stories of each of the scores of victims I have spoken with are seared into my being…. There are tens of thousands of [clergy abuse victims] in churches and mosques and synagogues and temples throughout the world. And we need to hear their stories and seek justice in whatever religious setting they find themselves.

Decades of sexual abuse of children by religious workers did not happen because a few Catholic hierarchs like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston transferred abusive priests from one parish to another.

Millions of people over generations were complicit in these crimes, from religious workers who failed to report the abuse to large swaths of ordinary Christians, Muslims and Jews who did not hold their institutions accountable and chose not to embrace but to lash out at those seeking to bring these horrors to light…. "

[Speaking of “lashing out at those seeking to bring these horrors to light,” consider the message that Southern Baptists send by nominating Frank Page to lead the SBC Executive Committee. Page is a man who, in his prior capacity as SBC president, publicly denounced clergy sex abuse survivors as “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” And he has never even apologized.]


Larry and Beth Jameson said...

We applaud your efforts on behalf of children everywhere. There is truly a need for "mote removal" in the world today. Keep up the good work.

DM said...
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LuciWest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LuciWest said...

Thank you, Christa, for posting David Briggs' very insightful article. It's so important for people to learn that the horrors of clergy child abuse are not only taking place in the Catholic community - and how far reaching the impact is.

For anyone who would like to find out more about what happened to the Darr children at the Mamou boarding school and how they (with support of their parents Rev. Dick Darr and Anne Darr) eventually confronted the Church that ran the school, please check out our documentary film "All God's Children":

- Luci Westphal (producer)

James H said...

I linked this article today and also linked it too the untold Catholic Sex Abuse Story.

When you see the Catholic abuse Scandal story reported what is missing? Well the Catholoic laity.

As I mentioned we have long passed the time period where Catholics have had so mnay Priests, brothers, and nuns to attend to our every whim from the Cradle to the grave. In the time period where we can tell that the abuse peaked there was huge LAY involvement. CYO Folks, CCD folks, Catholic Coaches, Catholic Teachers etc etc.

Yet we hear nothing about this. I suspect that the Catholic laity is not immune to this evil. Did the Bishops "cover up" on sex abuse as to celibates. Doubtful.

THis is ine reason why I think the Protestant Abuse scandal does not get much coverage. The Catholic Laity is fine with dealing with issues involved strange celibate folks. However you go elsewhere and those people start to resemble them more and more and it gets uncomfortable.

Likewise Protestant pastors sort fo look like them. BUT WAIT HE WAS MARRIED AND HAD KIDS!! He was in the Lions Club with me. It takes it to a much closer level and of course in a real practical sense the liability explodes further.

This is one reasson why I suspect the Baptist delegates at their convention voted down the whole sex abuse database. It is just not Baptist ministers but issues where there is tremedous lay power and responsibility the Church has jurisdication and oversight on.

Squirrel Fantom said...

My stepdad was the deacon at our church and after the pastor was informed, nothing was done. They had a baptist background but were supposed to be non denominational I think. Blogs and stories and comments like these help so much in the journey of healing. I started my own blog last year coming out about this. I just started a new one that's more anonymous so that I could be more honest Thanks so much again. Even to the comments, it really helps a lot.