Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our selective curiosity on sex scandals

In today’s Denver Post, columnist Vincent Carroll ponders the question of why Baptist sex abuse scandals don’t get the same type of scrutiny over their wider patterns as do Catholic sex abuse scandals. It’s a good question. And while I disagree with some of what Mr. Carroll says, he nailed it on this point: There is no data to suggest that Baptists have any less of a problem with clergy sex abuse than Catholics.

Vincent Carroll also got it right in noting that the recent case of Eddie Long is a case involving a “Baptist megachurch leader.” It seems that many others in the media have dodged and minimized the story's “Baptist” connection.

But the most important question should be the question of what various faith groups are now doing to systematically address clergy sex abuse and to lessen the likelihood of church-hopping predators. On that question, Baptists are way behind as compared to Catholics and other major Protestant groups. They are behind not only for prevention purposes but also for compassionate care of the wounded. It’s because even denominationally-affiliated Baptists have leaders who use congregationalist polity as an excuse for do-nothingness and unaccountability.

And while the Catholic Church keeps administrative records on priests, the largest Protestant denomination in the land -- the Southern Baptist Convention -- doesn’t bother with any record-keeping on its clergy. For Baptists, it’s “no records, no trace, no trouble.” That makes cover-ups and concealment a lot harder to track.

Below is the start of Vincent Carroll’s column. You can read the rest of it in the Denver Post.

“Is the Baptist ministry prone to sexual abuse against minors? Just wondering.

After all, four young men have accused Baptist megachurch leader Bishop Eddie Long in suburban Atlanta of luring them into sex when they were teens, and it's hardly the first time a well-known Baptist preacher has been linked to such scandal. Yet the case has been framed in news accounts mostly as an example of possible hypocrisy: Prominent anti-gay pastor accused of having sex with male teens.

No one, meanwhile, is suggesting the Baptist ministry is a refuge for pedophiles, as is commonly said of the Catholic Church.

Is that because Baptist ministers are less likely than Catholic priests to have sex with minors? That may be the popular impression, but no one actually knows. Hard data on sexual abuse by ministers simply don't exist, any more than they do for scoutmasters, school teachers, guidance counselors, staff at juvenile detention facilities, and other professions dealing with youth.

'Sexual misconduct appears to be spread fairly evenly across the denominations, though I stress the word appears,' maintains Philip Jenkins, Penn State professor of history and religious studies. 'Astonishingly, Catholic priests are literally the only profession in the country for whom we have relatively good figures for the incidence of child abuse and molestation.'

Jenkins wrote those words in 2003. I asked him recently if they remained true. 'Definitely,' he replied."


Related post: "Twenty years behind," 10/1/10, with Valerie Tarico of the Huffington Post pondering similar questions.

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