Is Clergy Abuse Just a Catholic Problem?

In recent years, news medias have redefined the heinous crime of clergy sexual abuse as the “Catholic problem”. Reports of clergy abuse are often paired with images of cathedrals and black-clad men wearing white clerical collars. In conversational usage, the words “Vatican” and “diocese” no longer represent institutions of charity, education, and spiritual nourishment. Instead, people identify these Catholic establishments as defenders of priest pedophilia.

So what are the facts? Is clergy abuse just a “Catholic problem”?

Catholic Priests

Over the last four decades, approximately 1.5% of the estimated 60,000 Catholic clergy members have been accuses of child sexual abuse. Source: The Washington Post

According to Dr. Thomas Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, “80 to 90% of all priests who in fact abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent boys, not prepubescent children. Thus, the teenager is more at risk than the young altar boy or girls of any age.”

According, to the Dallas Morning News, two-thirds of the nation’s bishops have allowed priests accused of clergy abuse to continue working.

Four in ten nuns report having been sexually abused during “religious life”.

Tom Economus, former president of The Linkup, a national survivors’ advocacy group, claimed that most victims of sexual abuse were male members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Protestant Ministers

The United Church of Christ reported that 48% of its female employees have been sexually harassed by a male clergy member. Research conducted by the United Methodist Church (1990) concluded that 38.6% of its ministers had sexual conduct with a church member. The Southern Baptist Denomination claims that 14.1% of its clergy has sexually abused church members.

The Presbyterian Church declared that 10-23% percent of its clergy has expressed “inappropriate sexual behavior or contact” with other clergy members and employees.

According to “Pedophiles and Priests”, an academic study by Penn State professor Philip Jenkins, between 2 and 3% of protestant ministers are pedophiles. In the same study, he concluded that between .2 and 1.7% of Catholic clergy members are pedophiles.

Other Clergy and Mental Health Professionals

Rabbi Joel Meyers, the executive vice president of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, reported that 30% of rabbis who changed positions in the year 2000 did so involuntarily as a result of a sexual abuse scandal.

Between 3 and 12% of psychologists have engaged in some sort of sexual contact with a client.

Whose Problem Is It?

A quick examination of the statistical data listed above should reveal that clergy abuse is not just a Catholic problem. It is a universal problem. The only way that this heinous debacle is ever going to be resolved is if we continue to reinforce transparent communication and awareness regarding every form clergy abuse, not just pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, subscribers to all faiths need to encourage an open dialogue about sexual abuse, even if that dialogue involves a well-respected clergy member. Silence will not resolve this issue. In a sense, clergy abuse is a “silence” problem.

Why Do Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse Need a Lawyer?

Most people know that sexual abuse of a child is a crime. In the criminal case, however, the prosecutor does NOT represent the abuse victim. The victim may be a witness in the case, but his or her best interests may or may not be well represented. If you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse and feel your needs are not being represented, you may want to find a lawyer to represent YOU. You may even want to contact a lawyer if the state has decided not to prosecute the accused in criminal court because of insufficient evidence or the time that has elapsed since the abuse occurred. You may still have recourse for your suffering.

Most states have a statue of limitations on sexual abuse. This is the time period in which the perpetrator may be prosecuted or sued. Time varies from state to state and is generally longer for cases involving children. Contacting a lawyer as soon as possible is important, so that he or she can assess if you can still bring suit against the perpetrator.

How Do I Choose the Right Clergy Abuse Lawyer?

If you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse, you should find a lawyer who is experienced at handling your type of case. There is no single right way to find a good lawyer. Most people start with the phone book or a recommendation from someone they know and trust. The Internet is also a good resource for finding lawyers in your area.

Once you have identified some potential lawyers in your area, ask the following questions:

  • Does the lawyer provide a free consultation?
  • What are the fee arrangements? In lawsuits, many lawyers offer a contingency fee arrangement, where you only have to pay them if you win your case.
  • Has the lawyer handled clergy sexual abuse cases before? How often, and what were the outcomes?
  • Can the lawyer provide a client reference from a previous, similar case?
  • How long has the lawyer been in practice? Where is he or she licensed? Most of the time, the lawyer needs to be licensed in your state to represent you in court.
  • If the lawyer is not comfortable handling your case, can he or she provide reference to another lawyer who can?

Finding a lawyer experienced and skilled at representing clergy sexual abuse victims can help you get the representation you deserve. Remember: there is a statute of limitations on sexual abuse. If you delay in contacting a lawyer, it may result in an inability to receive compensation for your suffering.

How Do I Protect My Child from Sexual Abuse?

“Child sexual abuse is something we all have to be concerned about. It really does take a village to raise a child, but much of what will keep our children safe must be learned in the home. And parents need to take that responsibility very seriously.”

-Karel R. Amaranth, executive director of the J.E. and Z.B. Butler Child Advocacy Center at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York

Protecting your child from sexual abuse involves an array of communicative measures that reach far beyond “don’t talk to strangers”. Although avoiding strangers is an important aspect of your child’s safety, most sexual perpetrators are known to their victims and their victim’s family. Here are seven steps that you and your children can take to avoid child sex abuse:

  1. Basic Sex Education: You should teach your child some fundamental truths about human sexuality at a very young age. You don’t need to go into the details of anatomy and sexual reproduction, but you should teach your children that no one should touch the “private” parts of his or her body.
  2. Your Children’s Bodies Are Their Own: Teach your kids that their bodies belong to themselves and to no one else. It is okay for them to refuse a hug or certain kinds of physical contact if it makes them uncomfortable.
  3. Strong, Transparent Communication: Develop effective communication skills with your children. Encourage them to talk about their experiences. If you find some of their experiences unpleasant or wrong, help them find the right path. Be slow to anger.
  4. Know Who Your Children Spend Time With: Get to know your children’s friends and their friends’ families. Remember, sexual abuse typically occurs between individuals that know each other.
  5. Transportation Rules: Make sure that your children know not to get into a vehicle with anyone without your permission. Even if your child knows the driver, they should not enter the vehicle without your approval.
  6. Bolster Your Child’s Confidence: Teach your children that sexual advances from “grown-ups” are wrong and illegal. Encourage them to be assertive and communicate their unwillingness to participate in immoral and illegal sexual acts.
  7. Listen to Your Children: Sexual abuse against children often goes unreported because the child feels too ashamed or confused to talk about it. In some cases, the abuse goes unreported because a parent or other authority figure refuses to believe the child. In your home, encourage clear, open communication. Tell your children about some of your negative experiences and mistakes throughout life. This will help them understand that they are not alone when they experience something negative. Creating an environment that bolsters open communication can be uncomfortable at times, but it is healthy and it teaches your children that good communication is not always easy.

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