Sex abuse becomes an epidemic

LGBT people no more likely than heterosexuals to be perpetrators, but all organizations should take precautions to protect youth

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HELPING THE VICTIMS | David Clohessy, right, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, appears at a press conference in Vermont in 2007 alongside a victim who didn't want to be identified. Clohessy said the St. Louis-based SNAP, which began 23 years ago, now has 10,000 members around the globe. (Associated Press)

 

Webb-DavidThe seemingly never-ending reports of lawsuits and criminal complaints being filed by people alleging they were sexually molested by members of the clergy might make one wonder if directing worship is, or ever was, the main objective of those seeking ordainment.

Since my youth I’ve heard people grumble that the pastors, priests, rabbis and others calling the faithful to their churches on Sunday mornings were interested primarily in personal glory and how much cash they could raise from their flocks, but I never heard anything about them expecting a donation of flesh as well.

That is, I never heard about it until the mid-1980s when the scandals involving Catholic priests sexually abusing male youths began surfacing.

When the media first began covering the scandal I imagine the reaction of most people was that a few cases would surface, and that would be the end of it. Who would have ever dreamed that 25 years later the scandal would have grown to epidemic proportions and spread worldwide to other religions and institutions as well?

Just recently after reporting about a pastor who was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a church member, I heard from the executive director of an organization of which I knew nothing. The organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP (snapnetwork.org), was founded 23 years ago, and it now boasts 10,000 members around the globe.

David Clohessy, who has led the St. Louis, Mo.-based group for more than two decades, said it has expanded far beyond its original mission of providing support to people who were sexually abused by Catholic priests.

“Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops  and Protestant ministers,” Clohessy said in his e-mail to me. “And in recent years, we’ve heard from and helped many who were hurt in other institutional settings such as athletic programs, schools, camps, day care centers, etc.”

The scope of what he is talking about is mind-boggling, but a quick review of the news headlines covering only the past year or so confirms what he is saying. There is an epidemic of sexual abuse of young people under way in almost every walk of life they might encounter.

Male-on-male sexual abuse seems to stand out more in my mind in connection with the problem, but another scan of the headlines reminds me of the many cases of female high school teachers accused of seducing male students and male teachers seducing female students.

Obviously, the problem is universal. SNAP notes on its website that half of its members are women.

The SNAP literature maintains that “homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than are heterosexuals.” It explains that reports of boys being molested are more prevalent because men tend to express their anger outwardly as in litigation, whereas women are more likely to direct it inward. It adds that women are more likely to resolve their pain through therapy and support groups, and that male-on-male sex is more salacious and more likely to attract attention.

Whatever the nature of the revelations, it is clear that all young people are at risk of being sexually abused in some area of their lives.

Unfortunately, their relationships with members of the clergy, school teachers, caregivers and all other people with whom they come into contact must be closely monitored by parents.

It’s a world of worry that is hard to fathom based on my own childhood experiences. I never had a teacher, a Sunday School instructor or anyone else charged with my care ever make any sort of inappropriate move on me, but it’s been 50 years since I was a child. A friend of mine with whom I grew up assures me that neither he nor his brother ever experienced anything inappropriate at his Catholic Church. It was just unheard of at the time, but that could be attributed to a reluctance of victims to come forward.

A pastor I spoke with recently told me that his church had already taken steps to ensure that no employee or volunteer of the church has private access to children or other church members. All of the offices will have windows in the future, he said. Other steps will also be taken to make sure everyone behaves as they should, he said.

Those are pretty drastic steps, but it would probably be a good idea for all organizations to implement such precautions in light of what we now know about sexual abuse and harassment. It appears this unfortunately is the way all organizations need to be run today.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. He can be e-mailed at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Megachurch wants choir to sign anti-gay covenant

Associated Press

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Several choir members at Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral say they’re upset over a document they’ve been asked to sign that takes a strong stand against homosexuality.

The “Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant” recently handed out to members states that they should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.

Former and current choir members say they are particularly offended by a statement in the document that refers to homosexuality. Longtime church members say this is the first time they have seen the cathedral take a firm stand against homosexuality and are disturbed by it.

“I understand that in an era where images of family relationship and personal sexuality are often confused, Crystal Cathedral Ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view,” the covenant reads. “I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.”

Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the founder and senior pastor of the megachurch, issued a statement saying the document is intended to “clarify expectations placed on them as ministry leaders.” Coleman also apologized for the pain the covenant has caused some choir members.

Ann Moore Waltz, a longtime church member and former choir member, said she does not agree with the statement in the covenant.

“If I were still in the choir and if that was presented to me, and if a gay person had walked out, I would have walked out with him or her,” she told the Register. “If you are a Christian group and people come to you, you should be a good servant, love them and shine the light of Jesus on them — regardless of who they are.”

Don Neuen, the cathedral’s longtime choir director, left the church last year because he disagreed with Gretchen Schuller Penner’s view that choir members should be “vetted” to make sure they are good Christians, the Register reported.

Penner is a producer for the cathedral’s Hour of Power program, broadcast to audiences worldwide.

Larry LaBonte, a church member for more than three decades, said he disagreed with the clause in the covenant with regard to homosexuality as well.

John Charles, a spokesman for the cathedral, said this does not mean gays are banned from the choir.

“This contract is to educate choir members about what our church believes in,” he said.

The megachurch has dealt with a series of controversial issues over the last several years, including a family rift that prompted the founder’s son, Robert A. Schuller, to split from the church and salaries and housing allowances for Schuller family members.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 18, citing debts of more than $43 million. The church has ordered major layoffs, sold property and canceled its annual “Glory of Easter” extravaganza.

—  John Wright